Briefly, I am narrating what befall my brother Thijin Rambang on the morning of 19 December 2013, Thijin was a Nuer by tribe and was killed by his own tribesmen Nuer for refusing to allow the killing of his Dinka colleagues and friends.
Thijin Rambang Yuol Khan was born in 1975; he hailed from Ulang County, Upper Nile. He worked as Taxation Officer based in Bentiu Unity state, South Sudan. On 19th December 2013 Thijin was traveling from Bentiu to Juba through Tharjath oilfield airstrip when the newly forming rebels in Unity state under the command of James Leah Diew former prisons guards director for Unity State stopped their bus to pick the Dinka travelers out from the bus.
It happened that late Thijin was traveling with his boss who was a Dinka along with other 6 Dinka tribesmen. At Kilo 50 police check point, the local youth and the rebels stopped the KushAir bus carrying passengers to Tharjath oilfield airstrip and the Dinka were asked to leave the bus. Mr. Thijin came out of the bus with his Dinka colleagues whom were separated from others.
There were three Dinka men from Panriang County in Unity state, one man from Rumbek, two from Bor. In total there were six Dinka men who were detained. At this point, Mr. Thijin argued with his tribesmen and pleaded not to kill the Dinka civilians. However, the helpless Dinkas were killed, but! Before they were killed, Thijin Rambang was shot and killed by the rebels after that the six Dinka were killed and only a mother and his one year old daughter were left to return with the rest of the passengers.
And this is what one of his sisters to say:
- You were not betraying your tribe (Nuer) as some would like to view you but you did not falter doing your ideological pledge as citizen that all are South Sudanese and the fight should be left where it supposed to be…
You met your death in the hands of your tribesmen trying to protect your colleagues as workmates and brothers as South Sudanese.
You did not think about your own life of heading toward lifeless.
You did not think about your kids of being fatherless
You did not think about your wife of being husbandless
You did not think of your parents of being sonless
You did not think about losing your workmates because of their tribe, just thought as a work of a lone wolf in Juba, not all tribe he comes from
You knew that you spend your young years fighting to achieve the birth of this country along with your other brothers from all ethnicities
You knew leadership problem was not a tribal problem
My family members and I will always remember you as brother, father, uncle, brother-in-laws, Nuer fellow-man and above all as a good citizen of South Sudan. Lest we forget! RIP!
I believe in this crazy conflict of South Sudan there are many Thijin who have sacrificed their lives to protect vulnerable individuals from different ethnicity. Some of them have managed it while some of them perished all together with the dear ones they have tried to protect. But there will be a day to bring the perpetrators to book for their crazy actions, soonest or later, the killers will wipe our tears in different ways.
When the fighting broke out in Juba on the 15th December 2013, people of Panaruu in Unity state were not aware that this conflict is going to turn into a tribal war between the Dinka and the Nuer tribes. But, very unfortunately on the 18th of December 2013 defected SPLA forces started to shoot their colleagues in Bonki boma in Aliiny payam. The fighting between the SPLA forced escalated to include civilians in the area.
The following gives detailed account about attacks on Panrieng County by Rebels from 18/12 to 31/12/2013
As a result of the attacks, the following facts are recoded:
Killing of civilians: 72 Dinka from Panrieng were killed in different locations
- Burning of houses: in Panyang payam, the rebels have burnt all the villages along Panyang-Jau road and some houses in Panyang town including destroying the only water yard in the town. In addition to Panyang payam, Adumbok village in Alilang payam is also burnt as well as Athoony market in Aliiny payam. In Nyiel payam, Nyiel, Yaar and Nyorial are burnt. In Biu payam, Agarak, Lele, Tur, Akot and Ariewriew are burnt.
- Damage and destruction of public and individuals’ properties: as a result of the fighting in the above mentioned locations, farms were destroyed, goats and cows looted or killed by the attackers from Bentiu and defectors from different brigades within Panrieng county.
- Massive displacement: all Biu payam in southern Panrieng, Nyiel payam, Wiunkur and Aliiny payams are all displaced. Panrieng town is left only for those who have arms and can fight. Most of the population have moved into the bushes to protect themselves from anticipated and continue attacks by the rebels to capture or destroy Panrieng.
- Destruction and damage of Athoony Oil Field Processing Facility.
This is the breakdown of civilians killed and locations they were killed:
– 5 people were killed in Unity Oil Field Processing Facility
– 5 killed and 4 lost in Tharjath Oil Field Processing Facility
– 5 people known to be killed in Bentiu but the exact number is still unknown, and also in Rubkona is unknown.
In Panrieng County, the number of the civilians killed is detailed as following:
The total number of the civilian killed from Panrieng is 72 people including women and children.
The Nuba refugees in Yida and Ajuongthok are living in a dreadful fear of unknown future in South Sudan Unity state.
These two tribes of Leek in Rubkona and Jikany in Guit were engaged in deadly fights in 2007 leaving 21 people dead in spontaneous fights. The government led by former governor Lt. Taban Deng Gai a Jikany by tribe managed to quench the war temporarily. There were no resolutions put forth for the conflict to end, it was just daily doses of “do not fight, you are one people” or “this is the work of NCP!” or “wait the national government is planning to demarcate counties, communities borders, the problem will be solve soon and everybody will take its rights”. But there must be someone to pay the prices of the incidents to show that government or his Excellency the governor is serious, commissioner of that and this county is degreed out, dismissed!
In 2007, the two communities were asked to live peacefully side by side until the national government demarcates the tribal and clannish boundaries. Despite the promises to demarcate the boundaries, the boundaries were not demarcated and there are no signs of near future demarcations as long as the borders between South Sudan and Sudan are not demarcated.
Disputed areas by the two tribes:
Leek in Rubkona and Jikany in Guit have land problems with all their neighbors in the state. Leek have problem with Pariang to the north, and Guit to the east, they have problem with Koch in the south and Mayom in the west. Jikany of Guit has problems with Pariang in the north, with Rubkona in the west and Koch to south. These two communities have troubles all around, interestingly; they were under one chieftain and one county long time back. This joint history has contributed to complicating their conflict story. The conflict story goes like this: both communities calms ownership of these areas: 1) Yoaunyang Madersa 2) New Bentiu, south of Bentiu town, an extension of the town to accommodate the huge returnees to the state capital, 3) Suq Sabha, 4) Bentiu port.
It is very clear that the two communities are mad for lands, more lands. However; there is no evident that the two communities were influenced by their politicians. Taban Deng Gai was the governor of Unity state when the two tribes fought in 2007, he managed to reprimand the two communities using the big man tone “stop fighting or I will wipe you all out of this land”! The two tribes obeyed the instruction especially when the instructions were mixed with the doses of promises that the borders demarcations between counties will solved the problem soon.
Another factor fueling this conflict is that, Bentiu port and Suq Sabha and Youanyang Madersa are good places for business; there is all kind of taxation in Bentiu port, the same thing for Suq Sabha, (7 market). For Youanyang, there is the Madersa, the school is a good reason to fight for here, New Bentiu is also good business place, the tribe who owns it can decide how to distribute plots to new comers and take the money.
Recent fighting has left 9 dead from the police and the SPLA and 3 from the Leek. No reports about how many have died from Jikany. Because the incident involved the security forces engaged fighting with the civilians, the reported number of victims are not convincing, there is lot of secrecy around the real number of death among the civilians as well as the soldiers. It was said in the town sittings that, there were 200 men armed to teeth who mobilized themselves to revenge on the killing of their fallen brothers on 19 November 2013 by Jikany.
As result of the fighting on 28/2013, Rev. Thomas Maluit, commissioner for Rubkona and Mr. James Liyliy governor security advisor for security affairs were dismissed from their positions.
Is the problem solved and finished? No, not solved and finish.
yesterday agreed to meet at five, today for the whole day no phone going through, at 6 pm went through, phone not picked, few minutes later a man rang and said i have received a call from you who are you? I did not called you was the answer, if I have called her, malish! Bye, again the man called, why did you called my wife, who are you? I did not call your wife, if so, sorry, bang! Tritritri tritriri! Hi Al! Al: why did you called, I told you yesterday not to call today and that I will call you from another phone, now my sister is in trouble! He is about to kill her now, he is a SPLA soldier and can shoot my sister I do not know what to do now. If he calls you again do not answer the phone but if you answer the phone tell him that you are…and from B.. and you are a relative, what is your name again? She asked, I am…. ten more calls no answer, last was on 20:42 minutes when the phone was off for me to change the gear. Anychi! Heineken please! It is now 10:18, if he calls, I will bring out my AK47, or call my starred brothers.
Be careful with wrong numbers!
Our traditional system: vulnerable but effective
Chief Juoy Machar, chair of the town court
Question: why the chiefs are not using the COTAL building in Bentiu town?
Chief: in the first place, the minister for physical infrastructure in the previous government was reluctant and unwilling to allocate a piece of land to use to build the COTAL but the intervention of the former governor Taban Deng has facilitate land allocation for the COTAL. After completed construction of COTAL building, the ministry of local government turns it into a directorate for traditional authority.
Question: what will happen if a new building is constructed for the chiefs like town court?
Chief: if a new building is constructed for us, it will not be taken over again by the ministry of local government. We will seek written commitment from the state governor or his deputy to protect our properties.
Question: how many cases your court can settle every day?
Chief: we settle every day 13-14 different cases and around 200-300 people attending the courts.
Question: how many members are there in your court?
Chief: There are 18 chiefs who are members of the court. 2 out of the 18 are women. The composition of the court is like this Rubkona: 4 members, Guit: 4 members, Pariang: 2 members, Mayom: 2 members, Abiemnom: two members, Koch: 1 member, Mayendit: 1 member, Leer: 1 member, Panyijiar: 1 member
Question: What are the most cases brought to your court?
Chief: most of the cases brought to us for settlement are mostly cases related to women involvement like elopement, illegal pregnancies, adultery with some body’s wife, dowries payment and cow theft.
Question: who else help the chiefs do their job?
Chief: there are police guards who help keeps the order in the court and we have secretary who keeps records of the court
Question: do you have records of your cases and where do you keep them?
Chief: we do have some records but not all the cases are documented because we do not have an office and board to keep our files.
Question: how do you value your work?
Chief: we are the most important institution in the state in term of intensive work pressure, providing solutions social problems, keeping peace among the community members. We are working more than the government who have lot of money but do very little to people.
Signing of the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) in 2005 Africa longest civil war which was raged between the North and Southern Sudan was brought to an end leading to the birth of South Sudan nation in July 2011. According to different reports including UN, hundreds of lives are lost in a month on different tribal fighting over different matters mostly cattle raiding in different states of South Sudan. Eminent facts are that; before the war in 1983, tribal conflicts were not in frequent occurrence in South Sudan due to lack of arms, minimizing the possibility of youth and community members involving in cattle raiding and in addition to presence of strong and trusted community leaders led by paramount chiefs with credible powers to execute justice among the people. With massive armament of the tribes either by Sudan Army forces (SAF) or by Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) cattle raiding became a business of these war fragile communities. Over the years of struggle wars, communities of Lakes, Warrap and Unity states have never experienced peace because of hostilities; continuing-organized cattle raiding which has claimed the lives of old and young, women and men as well as clear lack of rule of law, no perpetrators are brought to book as well as blood compensations which is a practice in South Sudan.
It is important to revisit the cultures of the Nuer and Dinka tribes in relation to cattle raiding: It is because culture defined the system for making meanings that shapes human behavior both consciously and unconsciously while people are not always aware of its impact. Cattle in Nuer and Dinka culture are viewed as an exemplary sources and symbols of life, health, fertility, status, and prosperity. Cattle, however, are valued above and beyond their material contribution to human survival, cattle are the principal medium through which Nuer and Dinka create enduring social bonds among themselves and forge new alliances with outsiders. The important of cattle highlighted above, make it a deprivation of wealth as well as lives by the raiders. In the case of South Sudan, cattle’s raiding is an organized crime and not theft because in the culture of Dinka and Nuer tribes, theft is not tolerated in the communities instead; thieves are cursed or excommunicated from engaging socially with others.
The wars of cattle raiders “deserve serious national attention. This situation, is posing a critical challenge to state authority and credibility. This is because the provision of security is a domain that primarily belongs to the government. Failure to ensure security to all its citizens in order to promote harmony, peace and stability poorly reflects on the government, and severely undermines its authority, and even legitimacy, in the eyes of the public”. Zachariah Diing Akol, Sudd Institute. The current phenomena of cattle theft is attributed to some factors like economic crisis and weak rule of law in the country which has contributed to loose in social structures. To halt these cattle raiding tragedies, government and the humanitarian actors has to embark on improved economical activities.
There is no way that cattle raiding be stop unless the raiders find other means of livelihoods! Among the livelihoods activities should the government and humanitarian actors be serious and willing, is the encouragement of agricultural projects to provide alternative means of livelihoods. Since agriculture is the predominant income generation activity in rural areas, providing inputs and agronomic training to farmers can address both food security and livelihoods issues. UN agency like FAO should encourage and support cattle herders to transformation livestock herding for economical purposes and not prestige. This can be done through crossbreeding or hybridization to generate new breed of cattle for milk products and meat for market purposes.
One of the ways out of this nightmare and day tragedy is to empower the local authorities, the chiefs and community leaders because the problem is local which affect the nation at large. In the past, it used to be annual meetings for difference bordering communities to plan for dry season, settle disputes and compensation payment. These meetings are not there right now. Despite the fact that there are some conferences, workshops and meetings to solve cattle raiding conflicts, however, the disputes between the judiciary system and the traditional authority hamper the follow up of cattle raiding cases.
The security organs at the grassroots level should be neutral and not locally captivated. It is observed that local government is too local to consider national issues! Local Commissioner, local executive Director who act as the deputy commissioner, local administrative officers, local police officers and local CID. “It is my cousin who was involved in raiding the Nuer or Dinka why should I investigate seriously this case? I will have a share of his spoils if he return alive”. This localness employment was raised in one of the workshops to discuss the issue of cattle raiding between Warrap and Unity state; in fact it was raised by an Executive Director of one of the counties participating. As mentioned earlier, stealing others properties is a crime which requires criminal investigation, but behavior changing tactics can be tried to address this problem. These are some of the forums that can be use to change the behavior of the youth and other age groups that are involved in this conflict state owned FM radio stations, the churches and other faith groups. Restoring manhood attitudes which emphasize and encourage hard-earned living instead of stealing others properties should be encourage through social mechanism within these communities by all actors being government or community based organizations.
Applauds is due to different levels of government and international community as well as civil society in South Sudan for tireless efforts to apprehend the cattle rustling in the country. Even so, a progressive reconciliation and trauma healing efforts should continue using different tools like social carnivals for cultural exposure involving women, youth, and community leaders of the raids affected communities and tribes. Dissemination of previous and current peace agreements, challenges and reporting of new incidents is very important in the fight against cattle raiding in the country.
God Bless South Sudan