By Lotole Lo Luri
On the 8th of April 2015, President Salva Kiir issued the Republican Decree No. 17 ordering the evacuation of cattle camps from Equatoria to their respective States of Jonglei, Lakes, and Warrap. It was good news to local folks, particularly farmers in greater Equatoria as the presence of the cattle herders with their livestock posed a constant threat to their livelihood. Also, it transpired to the local folks that the pastoralists who are armed to the teeth are not only looking for grazing land and lush green pastures, but their main goal is a land grab and final settlement.
Of course, the regime did not spare time to use the event for propaganda purposes showing the President as someone living by example. The return of the so-called presidential cattle was widely publicised in the media. I quote two excerpts from Sudan Tribune on 06/05/2015 which reads: “About 3,000 heads of cattle belonging to the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir have arrived in Western Bahr el Ghazal State on Tuesday on their way to their last destination of Warrap State.” “The cattle were transported from Central Equatoria State to Bahr el Ghazal region, particularly to the president’s home State of Warrap using trucks guarded by heavy-armed soldiers.”
Two questions come to mind: Firstly – why did the President bring such a large number of cattle into Equatoria given the fact that there’s no lack of grazing land in Warrap? Let’s remember that the Misseriya nomads come to Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal during the dry season seeking green pastures for their livestock. They had never reached Equatoria in their seasonal journey southward as there’s more than enough for their cattle in the areas mentioned above.
Secondly – why should the government pay the bill for transporting the President’s private property? Here, ulterior motives for the first question and rampant corruption for the second question, form the gist of the answers.
It must be stated that the Republican Decree No. 17 was well received by the Equatorians as they thought it would put an end to the insecurity and loss of income due to the destruction of their crops by cattle grazing in their farms. Well, they were wrong big time. Their nightmare proved to be far from over. It got worse, forcing many to abandon their homes and farms in the face of a massive influx of cattle guarded by heavily armed herders who mostly wear army uniforms.
It was confusing to many local folks to see pastoralists in military fatigues belonging to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) which has now become the South Sudan People’s Defence Force (SSPDF). But not anymore. The truth of the matter is that a significant number of these cattle belong to the high-ranking Generals led by President Kiir himself. Many have heard about the so-called presidential cows that belong to President Kiir and said to be carrying a presidential badge.
Again, around the end of October 2017, and upon growing dissent and complaints by the Equatorians, President Kiir issued another decree ordering the cattle keepers to move their cattle out of Equatoria immediately or risk being forced out by soldiers. The last order was met with mixed reactions from the local folks. Some saw it as the beginning of the end of their ordeal with the pastoralists while others remained sceptical. Well, it didn’t take too long for the former group to discover that the whole thing was a sham. President Kiir is in the thick of it. Their hope for remedial action for the decades-long problem from the office of the President; vanished quickly into thin air.
I listened to the Voice of America (VOA) South Sudan in Focus Radio programme on the 25th of May 2020. John Tanza, the host, interviewed some pastoralists about their reasons for the mass exodus with their cattle into Equatoria. Their answers revolved around insecurity and failure of the government to provide security for them and their livestock. One of the responses was that there are no floods in Equatoria because it’s highland. Pageri, Magwi, Nimule, and Lo’bonok are the destinations of the cattle influx. What John Tanza left out in his interview, was the views of the local folks in the receiving areas. Their perspectives are more important than the opinions of the pastoralists because they are the landowners.
Hitherto, many remain ignorant about the magnitude of the problem. For example, some may not know that those in the refugee camps are not only the victims of the civil war but a great number of them were forced to flee the country by armed pastoralists. Perhaps one could gauge the immensity of the problem by learning what the Secretary-General of the Boat Trader’s Union in Bor town said in the VOA programme. Mr Elijah Tong Bor disclosed that since last month, 70,000 heads of cattle had been transported to Equatoria. They are still shipping more cows to Juba. We must understand that any shipment of livestock to Equatoria must end at the port of Juba under the watch of the authorities. It’s not like when the cattle herders drive their herds across States’ boundaries.
The above makes many people wonder as to what has become of the Republican Decree No. 17 especially when they see cattle transported or driven close to J1? Seventy thousand cows would, without a doubt, stir up enough dust to draw the attention of the President. And where are those soldiers that we were told will force the pastoralists out of Equatoria if they don’t comply with the said order? Furthermore, recent events have opened the eyes of the local folks to draw conclusions about what is going on. In a radio programme, one guy by the name of Thon had the audacity of telling the Ma’adi people to relocate from some of their ancestral lands to make room for the Bor Dinka and their cattle. The arrogance exhibited by that individual was beyond imagination. It’s not an isolated case for those who might try to find excuses. Some of us still remember what the former Minister of Interior, Gen. Aleu Ayieny Aleu said concerning the land grabbing in Ma’adi land. Aleu said the Dinka have the right to settle anywhere in South Sudan because it’s their country. But there’s a big difference between settling peacefully and legally in any part of the country, and grabbing land from their rightful owners and chasing them out of the homeland.
Here we are, the truth cannot be hidden from the masses anymore. The layperson in Equatoria and other parts of South Sudan now knows that land grabbing is a government policy tailored to benefit the Jieng community to achieve absolute dominance and total hegemony. Nation-building and peaceful coexistence have been turned into empty slogans.
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