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Peace begins with good farmer-pastoralist relations: UNMISS reaches out to cattle camps

The flag is white: these heads of cattle are coming in peace. Sometimes, however, clashes between pastoralists and farmers occur. Photos: Isaac Billy/UNMISS

CENTRAL EQUATORIA - The United Nations Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, together with the national Ministry of Peacebuilding, Terekeka youth leaders and other stakeholders, has launched a “Peace Begins with Me” campaign in fixed and mobile cattle camps across the counties of Juba and Terekeka.

By reaching out to both Mundari pastoralists and Bari farmers in the area, the peacekeeping mission hopes to promote peaceful coexistence and reduce the frequently occurring conflicts between the two groups, mainly caused by a combination of scarce natural resources and an abundance of small arms in the wrong, civilian hands.

The first campaign event, held in Luri and targeting some 350 members of the Mundari cattle-keeping communities, kicked off with a cultural blast that shall live long in the memories of those in attendance.

While traditional song and dance performances are relatively commonplace everywhere in South Sudan, the distinct bovine theme on display would be harder to come by outside the country’s cattle camps. Flutes made of cow horns, urine and dung ashes from the same animals creating body paintings of sort and drums manufactured using cattle hides were all showcased amid frantic jumping and shuffling of agile feet, creating a veritable feast for all senses.

Once everyone had recovered from the onslaught, conversation turned to different aspects of peace and the process of getting there. What is the status of the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement signed in 2018? What remains to be done? How is the drafting of a new, permanent constitution going? More importantly, at least in the short term: What can Mundari cattle herders do to give peace, locally and nationally, a helping hand?

“You can only achieve peace if you practise, nurture, embrace, and allow it to grow inside you. That way, its fruits will be picked up and enjoyed by people around you, who will then become positive influences in the community as well,” said a philosophical Pitia Ajak, a youth representative from Terekeka, affirming that his Mundari people “are a peaceful tribe” that have let him down by engaging in fighting.

With the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, a body tasked to oversee the implementation of the peace deal, present in Luri, a comprehensive presentation of the status of its implementation was given. That act was followed by the UNMISS Political Affairs Division, who talked participants through the tricky political challenges, not least the creation of a permanent constitution, that must be overcome to pave the way for elections, meant to be held in December 2024.

Both did well to make the bigger, national picture easier to understand and absorb, but to discuss the burning local issues of conflict resolution leading to peaceful coexistence between communities with competing interests, Philip Pia, Under-Secretary of the national Ministry of Peacebuilding, was brought in.

Apart from stressing the importance of forgiveness and of breaking the cycle of violence, where one cattle raid is typically followed by a “revenge attack”, Mr. Pia used vernacular language to highlight education among boys and girls living in cattle camps as crucial to attain these goals.

“Education will enable the daughter of a peasant to become a managing director in the city. In the same vein, education can empower a lactating mother to correctly mix salt and sugar to save the life of a child who would otherwise have died of dehydration caused by acute diarrhoea,” he said, while adding that the participation of youth in building peace is paramount.

The Luri gathering of stakeholders was planned, organized, and funded by the peacekeeping mission’s Community Outreach Unit. It is set to be followed by similar events targeting farming communities and, further down the road, peace dialogues between men and women of crops and cattle, respectively.

“The fact that we are here today, with representatives of cattle camp communities, is an example of how we, as UNMISS, are committed to working with South Sudanese from all walks of life to advance peace efforts and assist in creating the conducive environment needed for holding free, fair and credible elections, as stipulated in the peace agreement,” concluded Shantal Persaud, representing the Mission’s Community Outreach Unit.