The Arrow Boys and NP
From our base in Nzara we traveled by Land Cruiser for two hours through the lush green forest on red rutted roads splashing through puddles up to our door panels. We stopped in a boma* a few kilometers from the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). We were in the heart of what is referred to as the “LRA Affected Areas,” those parts of South Sudan, the DRC and the Central Africa Republic where Joseph Kony and the Lords Resistance Army currently operate.
It is the rainy season. Crops will start to be harvested soon. The LRA will be coming to look for food. They usually travel in groups small groups of nine or less and attack even smaller groups.
We met with 25 “Arrow Boys” and the chief of the payam. The Arrow Boys, armed with bows, arrows, spears and home made single shot rifles patrol the bush surrounding their bomas. They walk every day through dense undergrowth tolerating rain, mud, tsetse flies and snakes. A few have boots. None have rain gear nor first aid.
They are frustrated. When threats appear, it takes the Sudanese army 2-3 days to respond. UN agencies and NGOs withdraw.
The Arrow Boys see no other ways to protect their communities. As one told me, “It is kill or be taken.”
So there we were: Nonviolent Peaceforce and the Arrow Boys.
I admired their courage and commitment. I recalled how Gandhi observed that nonviolence and cowardice are contradictory; how he could make a Satyagarahi out of a soldier but that he could not make one from a coward.
We weren’t there in a vain attempt to try to convince them to lay down their weapons. We were there to find our common ground in terms of protecting civilians.
The NP team met the next morning and strategized how to develop the relationship with the Arrow Boys, based on our principles and mandate:
- Training on Conflict Early Warning/Early Response.
- Training on Unarmed Civilian protection including child protection.
- Advocacy with the UN mission to increase their patrols of the area during the harvest season.
- A regular presence of NP peacekeepers.
- Advocacy on the international level to negotiate a settlement.
It was a humbling encounter. The Arrow Boys want to hear back from us. We will return with our offer and talk. NP will remain nonviolent. The Arrow Boys will retain their weapons. As we authentically engage with each other, we all will learn a lot.
By Mel Duncan
*A quick tutorial on social organization in South Sudan:
- A tukul is home to the family, often round with mud walls and thatched roof.
- A boma is a small village of 10-20 tukuls.
- A payam is a grouping of 8-10 bomas.