South Sudan: A Slow Liberation


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A Slow Liberation

Read the full text. Tools Request permission Export citation Add to favorites Track citation. Share Give access Share full text access. Share full text access. Please review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article. Volume 80 , Issue 3 Fall Pages Related Information. Close Figure Viewer. Browse All Figures Return to Figure. Previous Figure Next Figure. Email or Customer ID. Forgot password? Old Password. In order to mobilize larger groups of Dinka raiders than would have traditionally been possible under the age-set system, the leadership of the SPLA enforced a break in these deeply entrenched social systems, mandating a hiatus in the practice of age-set ceremonies and competitions.

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This was the first time that Dinka raiders had ever fought alongside men they did not know on a personal basis, and it was at this time that the group first began wearing uniforms—or, in the absence of clothing, tying palm leaves around their wrists—to identify their own fighters. Following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, these groups were loosely absorbed into local government. Titweng militias were used in governance activities such as tax collection, local elections, and the enforcement of court verdicts.

In , select groups of titweng were uniformed, trained, and salaried as community police. Pastoralists, historically marginalized, are often suspicious of government and organized forces on all sides. Riek Machar, despite his rhetoric, is said to have little authority over the current iteration of the Nuer White Army. Therefore, whoever can capitalize on unhealed wounds between communities, or maintain a supply chain of material goods in the form of cattle or arms, will be able to bid for their alliance Breidlid and Arensen ; Jok ; Young Sadly, this does not mean that raiding has subsided to its pre-militarized state, when tit-for-tat raiding occurred at a relatively stable level, far from it.

Instead, heavily armed, in some cases, military-trained, and completely disinhibited from any forms of cultural authority that may have once held them in check, raiders mount deadly attacks on a routine basis. Political leaders like Kiir and Machar, having undermined the traditional mechanisms that once governed violence in order to further their individual political interests, no longer have control over these raiders either.

The result is a security vacuum filled with opportunistic and deadly raiding. Historically, conflict within South Sudan has taken three forms: the liberation wars in which the south fought the north in the old Sudan; ethnic feuds over resources, especially among cattle herding communities; and rivalries between political leaders…The most devastating stream is that of political wrangling among various leaders vying for power, whether at the national or state level, as politicians […] reach for the ethnic card, drawing their kin into conflict by explaining to them that it is the survival of the whole group that is at stake.

In this sense, the last two trends, the ethnic composition of the country and the political rivalries, are interlinked, and they are at the root of what happened in Juba on December 15 th. Though the root causes of the political conflict are complex, on a local level, there may be measures to significantly mitigate violence and reduce civilian insecurity.

At present, however, few such disincentives are in place. Disarmament would be a positive long-term goal, but it has not been a successful strategy to date, nor is it viable as a short-term or one-off solution. Disarmament campaigns have a history of being used as ad hoc, reactive responses to violence. In part, it is too difficult to coordinate the simultaneous disarmament of various pastoralist groups.

Even without ulterior political motivations, disarming one community without sufficient protection from state forces exposes them to threats from other raiders. Another obstacle to disarmament campaigns is that respect for state authority among pastoralist communities is insufficient to avoid encountering armed resistance Brewer ; Breidlid and Arensen ; Small Arms Survey, — Finally, small arms and ammunition are readily obtained through barter of livestock and across state lines throughout East Africa.

While controlling the flow of firearms is an important security measure, it is not a solution to inter-ethnic violent feuding so long as the drivers of conflict remain as potent as they have been over the past decade. Likewise, modern law enforcement alone is unlikely to be an effective deterrent. First, pastoralist communities often view government and state forces with suspicion and generally prefer to resolve disputes within their own social structures. But perhaps more importantly, the conceptual underpinnings of modern conceptions of justice are foreign to the traditional forms of restitution practiced by pastoralist communities.

Bloodwealth payments, commonly known in Sudan as well as South Sudan by the Arabic term dia , are the pillar of traditional mediation. They are widely considered the most acceptable mode of restitution to the aggrieved party. Among most pastoralist groups in South Sudan, payment is rendered in cattle to the victim or to the family of the victim. The number of cattle is not fixed, but rather negotiated based on the circumstances behind the crime and the individual attributes or social status of the victim, and this flexibility is a key feature of customary law.

The process of bloodwealth compensation is designed to restore social order and to stabilize relationships between parties to prevent the perpetuation of revenge violence. By contrast, criminal proceedings are designed to deliver retributive justice through punitive measures such as incarceration and send strong signals of deterrence Deng This disjunction has been in tension since British colonialists tried to codify Nuer customary law in the region Johnson , and its implications for insecurity in rural areas are profound, since applications of statutory law without corresponding customary measures may fail to resolve the resentments that fuel devastating cycles of revenge raids if left unmediated.

They have done so using radically different strategies: Nyachol, a female prophet, employs a deterrence and offensive strategy, maintaining a heavily armed Nuer militia to deter attacks by Dinka raiders and, more recently, government forces. Though beliefs are not static, and certain aspects of traditional authority have been seriously eroded by decades of militarized conflict, the influence wielded by these cultural figures is far from obsolete Hashimoto ; Hutchinson and Pendle Policymakers should take cues from the caution with which Gatdeang was treated by Salva Kiir when, in , word reached Kiir that cattle belonging to Gatdeang had been raided by Dinka youth.


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Kiir was worried enough about the potential consequences for his upcoming political campaign that he paid a personal visit to Gatdeang in his home, dispatching two SPLA battalions to guard the community and ten armed policemen to guard Gatdeang himself Hutchinson and Pendle Long-term, ethnographically informed community-building initiatives should be featured alongside efforts at a national level.

Attempts must likewise be made to meaningfully incorporate locally legitimized civilians and cultural authorities into the peace process, because these individuals wield influence in the arena in which decisions to mount a raid or refrain are decided.

South Sudan’s Injustice System

The societal gatekeepers of cattle raiding should be primary targets for community-level peacebuilding efforts, and interventions attempting to work without the involvement of these figures are unlikely to have lasting success. Comprehensive studies of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms in South Sudan exist to support these efforts Bradbury et al.

These critiques highlight the fact that nowhere is precise and accurate ethnography more urgent or of more utility. Without an accurate understanding of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms, it is nearly impossible to effectively promote peace between pastoralist communities. Customary law in South Sudan is an inherently fluid process, the very value of which depends on its ability to adapt to the specificities of each individual case. Simultaneously, while guidelines have been established for practical measures to strengthen enforcement, there is little potential for such protocols to de-escalate raiding-related conflict in rural areas until gaps in the policing and judicial systems can be addressed.

However, intricate local practices for livestock branding and horn deformation already provide a functional equivalent to systematized branding. The ability to track and identify stolen livestock can unfortunately not address the fundamental state failures to establish security in rural communities and trust in its police force or to institute functional judicial mechanisms Human Rights Watch ; Small Arms Survey In the case of South Sudan, achieving security and cohesion at the community level is one of the major obstacles to conflict de-escalation.

Power sharing models between political elites do not sufficiently address local dynamics, and an approach far more inclusive than those currently being put forth will be required to build trust in state institutions and attain meaningful progress towards peace. Yet, these dynamics are inextricable from the political conflict consuming South Sudan. In order to achieve gains where the original agreement failed, this renewed attempt must broaden its inclusivity to encompass non-state armed groups and informal pastoralist armies United States Institute of Peace This necessity is made more urgent by the fact that the number of such non-state actors proliferates as the conflict draws on, accelerating the erosion of any capacity the state retains.

There must be a forum in which the grievances and agendas of pastoralist informal armies, in some cases dating decades into the past, may be understood and incorporated into the provisions of a renewed peace agreement. The implications for the peace process in South Sudan are profound and boil down to the crucial fact that the interests of political elite cannot be treated as equivalent to those of the informal armed groups who may under certain conditions fight on their behalf.

Cattle raiding alone cannot explain the violence in South Sudan, but its role in the current conflict cannot be ignored. Cycles of raids and retaliatory counter-raids between communities sow the seeds of resentment that allow armed youth to be mobilized rapidly by political leaders.

South Sudan: A Slow Liberation

It need not be such a tinderbox. The next serious push for policies to resolve the conflict in South Sudan should begin now, and it should depart from past efforts by adopting an approach that encompasses all levels of cultural authority. Failure to genuinely integrate these actors into the process will only yield a peace constructed by outsiders and not respected by the raiders and armed groups who lend military credibility to political movements.

If Machar and Kiir could so handily dismantle the traditional mechanisms and rituals governing cattle raiding, the international community may be able to support local actors in restoring certain aspects of these practices and incorporating them into a broader peace process. To the extent that this remains feasible after decades of protracted intercommunal conflict, meaningful buy-in from cultural authorities including community elders and prophets, as well as an accurate understanding of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms, is essential to understanding what aspects of these institutions might be leveraged towards a substantive peace.

If any components of ARCISS are to be salvaged, the High-Level Revitalization Forum must be drastically more inclusive than the original agreement, encompassing a sufficiently broad range of informal armed groups and outlining context-appropriate provisions to create a forum to evaluate their grievances. The subsequent policy considerations are likely to require a significantly more granular and localized lens than has been applied to date in the peacebuilding process.

Such an approach will be rife with its own set of complexities and challenges; however, a broadening of the peace process is an urgent necessity in the push to de-escalate the violence consuming this smoldering young nation. HW conceptualized, drafted, and edited the paper. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Hannah Wild is an M. He specializes in conflict and security, reproductive health, and political violence. Ronak Patel M. Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Skip to main content Skip to sections.


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  • Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. The militarization of cattle raiding in South Sudan: how a traditional practice became a tool for political violence. Open Access. First Online: 02 March The root causes of the current conflict in South Sudan are notoriously complex and long standing. Undoubtedly, intervention at all levels will be required for any kind of long-standing peace.

    But local-level dynamics are neglected at a significant cost. As a Sudd Institute report states: For some communities, their ongoing experiences with ethnic and inter-communal violence is so intense and localized that the end of the North-South war and the independence of South Sudan may have little meaning for them in terms of their day-today security. Machar managed to convince the Lou and Jikany Nuer that any violence they conducted under the banner of political warfare would have no spiritual or material retributions.

    Of the consequences, anthropologists Sharon Hutchinson and Jok Madut Jok write: This new form of warfare transgressed all the ethical limits on violence that had been honored by previous generations of Nuer and Dinka leaders, swiftly transforming earlier patterns of intermittent cattle-raiding into no-holds-barred military assaults on Dinka and Nuer Civilian populations armed with little more than spears Jok and Hutchinson : Referring to the December 15, , outbreak of violence in Juba that ignited the current conflict, a Sudd Institute Report summarized the interplay between ethnic and political violence: Historically, conflict within South Sudan has taken three forms: the liberation wars in which the south fought the north in the old Sudan; ethnic feuds over resources, especially among cattle herding communities; and rivalries between political leaders…The most devastating stream is that of political wrangling among various leaders vying for power, whether at the national or state level, as politicians […] reach for the ethnic card, drawing their kin into conflict by explaining to them that it is the survival of the whole group that is at stake.

    Funding No funding was received for this article. Availability of data and materials Not applicable. Competing interests The authors declare that they have no competing interests. CSG Paper No. Z Ethnol —90 Google Scholar. Bradbury M et al Local peace processes in Sudan. A baseline study.

    South Sudan: A Slow Liberation South Sudan: A Slow Liberation
    South Sudan: A Slow Liberation South Sudan: A Slow Liberation
    South Sudan: A Slow Liberation South Sudan: A Slow Liberation
    South Sudan: A Slow Liberation South Sudan: A Slow Liberation
    South Sudan: A Slow Liberation South Sudan: A Slow Liberation

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