Reconciliation dialogues paying off as Lakes region registers fewer cattle raids than normal

Herdsmen from the Amading cattle camp in Pachong in Western Lakes say they have experienced significantly fewer incidents of cattle raiding compared to the past dry seasons.

Here and in the area surrounding our camp, we have lost more than a thousand heads of cattle [to droughts and diseases] between December last year and now. However, we got some breathing space because this dry season we haven't witnessed any cattle raids, as we usually do, says Beny Chuar, seeking shelter from the scorching sun, sitting under a palm tree.

The secret, we are told, is as simple as it is genial: by not attacking other herdsmen they have not been subjected to the revenge raids that tends to follow such hostile acts.

Cattle handlers in Amading trek some 5 km every day, to the neighboring Paloch area, in search of pastures green. A tempting target for other herdsmen keen on bolstering their bovine ranks, yet they have not been raided a single time during this dry season.

Their Paramount Chief, Tuol Aparaer Chuot, is credited with having started the campaign to resist the temptation of launching revenge attacks, and he managed to get his people on board.

Maybe because of his credibility as an advocate of non-violence, as Mr. Chuot's story is one of unusual self-restraint in the face of hostilities. His father and his elder brother were both killed in a revenge attack in 2014.

My father was a prominent person. His people loved him so much. When he was killed together with my elder brother, the people went to avenge his death, but together with my uncle, we stopped them. We told them this [cycle of attacks and retaliatory actions] had to come to an end, he explains.

As a result of his forgiving, peaceful ways, Tuol Aparaer Chuot was pulled out of school and made paramount chief at the extraordinarily young age of 25.

Asked if his people, especially the youth, respects his policy of not attacking others, Mr. Chuot simply says that his their leader.

I didn't choose myself, they chose me, so they must respect me. And as you can see, it is working. We haven't been attacked because we have not attacked anyone.

The current relative peace in the Lakes region, notorious for its persistent inter-communal clashes, is also believed to be the result of conflict resolution efforts made by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.

Through our Civil Affairs Division, we have conducted a lot of pre- and post-migration reconciliation dialogues between the warring factions in Lakes, especially the Rup, Pakam and Kuei communities. I would like to think that these activities have also contributed a lot to peaceful co-existence among the locals, says Kwame Dwamena Aboagye, head of the peacekeeping mission's field office in Rumbek.

Not having to spend precious time and resources on defending cattle comes with benefits, such as the potential for farming.

We have Kuei, Rup and Pakam cattle keepers in this same camp. These are the people who used to fight each other. We are now waiting for the rains to come so that we can also start growing crops, explains Makur Chol, another young herdsman in Amading. He expects rains to come within a month.

To consolidate this harmonious coexistence and mutual trust, and to avoid the temptation of raiding others, Makur and others have identified a factor that must be dealt with.

Although they [herdsmen from other communities] have not attacked us, they still have guns. So, the government must act quickly and disarm all of us at the same time.

According to Mr. Dwamena Aboagye, the UN peacekeeping mission is having some joy contributing to the disarmament process and thus the reduced number of killings.

We have talked to communities about the importance of a weapon-free environment. Without guns, grievances can be resolved through mediation and reconciliation by their own leaders. Our message seems to have gone down well.

Source: UN Mission in South Sudan

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