By Jacob K. Lupai
April 13, 2014- “Bor Community Association in Alberta, Canada has written to the three governors of the Greater Equatoria, South Sudan, urging them to take care of the welfare of their displaced people currently seeking refuge in the region.”
The above quoted piece by Bor Community Association in the Diaspora was released on the 9th April 2014. The Bor community urged the governors of Equatoria to promote a peaceful co-existence between the local communities and the displaced population from Bor. It asked the offices of the governors to appeal to the people of Equatoria to be more understanding and to continue to temporarily share resources with the displaced people while the country is finding a lasting solution to the problem.
The appeal from Bor Community Association in the Diaspora to the governors of Equatoria for the welfare of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Bor was interesting. One would have expected that the appeal should have been instead directed to the Bor IDPs, earnestly urging them to embrace peaceful co-existence with the communities in Equatoria. The Bor IDPs have been violent on the local communities.
Who are IDPs?
This is not meant to be a sarcastic or a cynical question but rather for an understanding. IDPs can be defined as people who are forced out of their homes or ancestral lands within a region or a country either by natural disasters or man-made problems. Natural disasters include floods that destroy homes and man-made problems include conflicts that may become bitterly fought wars, displacing thousands of people within the state, region or the country.
In the case of South Sudan currently IDPs are a reflection of the on-going conflict in the country. The division of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) into SPLM in Government and the SPLM in Opposition and the subsequent conflict, has created massive displacement of people from their homes and ancestral lands. This in turn has produced enormous populations of IDPs where some are housed by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) camps. Other IDPs find their way to the adjacent states for security or to the neighboring countries to become refugees.
Bor IDPs in Equatoria
For the people of Bor the safest place to enjoy security is Equatoria. This is not only during the current conflict between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) into SPLM in Government and the SPLM in Opposition but even during the 21-year old war of liberation. Equatoria has always been a safe haven for people of Bor. It is not clear whether the Bor IDPs in Equatoria have been complaining of any mistreatment by the host communities.
It is important to note that the people of Equatoria and those of Bor are of two distinct cultures. The people of Equatoria are predominantly sedentary farmers in contrast to those of Bor who are pastoralists. As farmers the people of Equatoria are mindful of boundaries and won’t encroach into a neighbor’s field. In contrast the main livelihood of people of Bor is cattle keeping and the movements of cattle are conditioned by the availability of pastures.
As always cattle do not distinguish between pastures and food crops. This is where problems occur between sedentary farmers (Equatorians) and pastoralists (people of Bor). Quite often pastoralists deliberately let loose their cattle to feed on food crops in the fields. When the farmers protest the pastoralists have no sympathy but instead threaten violence in protecting their cattle in feeding on food crops.
In Equatoria, Bor IDPs have been the problem. They are always armed, arrogant and insensitive of the feelings and situation of the host communities. Instead of behaving like guests, the Bor IDPs behave like the masters of the land or landlords. What would one expect? Of course resentment from the host communities who are powerless because the IDPs seem to have the support of some powerful quarters.
IDPs in host communities
Generally IDPs are like uninvited guests of the host communities. However, because of the conditions that have made people IDPs in the first place, the host communities are sometimes sympathetic. Land is availed to the IDPs and the host communities may be willing to share resources with the IDPs.
People of Equatoria are well known for being peaceful. This may explain why Equatoria is the safe haven for most warring pastoralists in South Sudan especially IDPs from Bor. The peaceful nature of the people of Equatoria has attracted people from any corner of South Sudan to make a home in Equatoria.
Somebody may say Equatoria is a part of South Sudan and so any South Sudanese has the right to settle in Equatoria. This is true. However, how can people abandon their ancestral areas undeveloped just to settle in Equatoria? Who will develop those areas for a high standard of living for the people there? Those who have travelled length and breadth of South Sudan confirm that Equatoria is moving fast in development while other areas hardly see any meaningful development. Those areas are lagging behind.
People of Bor seem to take their status of IDP as an advantage to occupy the lands of Equatoria and then use the barrel of the gun to oppress the people. The current conflict in the country is not the only one that has pushed the people of Bor to Equatoria as IDPs. During the 21-year war of liberation, Equatoria was the safe haven for all, flooded with IDPs from the other regions.
After the 21-year old war ended did the IDPs from Bor move back to Bor? Never! Instead they consolidated their hold on lands in Equatoria. The Bor IDPs in Nimule are an example of brutal occupation of Equatoria lands with constant threats of violence on the host communities. So the appeal from the Bor Community Association in the Diaspora to the governors of Equatoria is adding insult to injury. The Bor IDPs in Equatoria are well armed, arrogant and intimidating the local communities on daily basis. The Bor IDPs in Equatoria are the problem but not the peaceful people of Equatoria. This should be noted by anybody who has common sense.
Appeal to Bor IDPs
The Bor Community Association in the Diaspora is well advised to instead appeal to their community leaders in Equatoria to urge their violent IDPs to embrace peaceful co-existence as the people of Equatoria are already peaceful. The people of Equatoria have neither threatened violence on Bor IDPs nor harm their cattle. It is instead the Bor IDPs that are wanton in behavior and deliberately letting loose their cattle in a sadistic manner to destroy food crops, thereby causing unnecessary food insecurity to the people of Equatoria.
The Bor Community Association is informed that the Bor IDPs will always threaten violence whenever their cattle are stopped from feeding on food crops in Equatoria. Now to where should the appeal for a peaceful co-existence be directed. The Bor Community Association in the Diaspora should stop being tribalistic if it is truly nationalistic. Tribalism is already tearing the country apart. How far should we allow this to happen?
The Bor Community Association in the Diaspora appeal to the governors of Equatoria would have been in place if the people of Equatoria were behaving like pastoralists who were always inclined to threats of violence on the peaceful people of Equatoria. The Bor IDPs in Equatoria were welcomed and respected but have now abused that respect.
As the story of the Arab and the camel goes the Bor IDPs cast their eyes on Equatoria lands with unrestrained appetite to occupy them permanently with no due consideration for the local communities and their legitimate right of ownership of the land. The IDPs virtually refused to return to Bor because probably some powerful elements were on their side until the current conflict is adding more IDPs to the existing ones.
Equatoria is a peaceful region and any IDP is expected to reciprocate to integrate. However, pastoralists IDPs in Equatoria have introduced a culture of brute violence where land grabbing is done by force. IDPs deliberately let loose their cattle to graze on food crops by force. Everything is a macho culture.
In conclusion, the members of Bor Community in the Diaspora who have experienced peaceful co-existence in their respective adopted countries should pioneer the concept of peaceful co-existence among their pastoralist communities. The sedentary people of Equatoria are ever peaceful and they do not need a lecture on peaceful co-existence from culturally violent people who have no sense of peaceful co-existence. The problem is of pastoralists own making and they need to solve it. People of Equatoria are peaceful and respectful, and they do not expect less.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org