As Cattle Migration Season Approaches, Farmers and Herders from Neighbouring States Meet at Joint United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Forum

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“I think we’ve been making progress on resolving tensions and violence that frequently arise during seasonal cattle migration,” says Luciano Sayo, Deputy Head of the Oversight Committee that monitors the implementation of the Marial Bai Agreement.

The obvious question: What is this Agreement and why is it important?

Every year between January and April, cattle herders from Tonj and Gogrial areas of Warrap, South Sudan move their animals to greener pastures near Wau, the capital of Western Bahr El Ghazal.

This annual migration of hungry cattle and their often armed owners across state lines creates tensions with farmers in the area, as cows often graze on food crops, destroying chances of a productive yield. They also affect available water sources negatively.

Disagreements caused by such movements sometimes escalate into violent clashes leading to a loss of lives, a phenomenon that in November 2016 made herders and farmers sign the Marial Bai Agreement, so baptized after a county with the same name.

Since then, this Agreement has been the bedrock upon which resolution of migration related struggles, procedures for seeking permission to move cattle and what compensation should be paid for crops eaten and livestock killed, are addressed.

The issue of compensation, according to Mr. Sayo, is a critical one, that was discussed at a three-day interstate conference jointly hosted by the Civil Affairs Division of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“Compensation for losses has always been a trigger for conflict between farmers and pastoralists. I am happy that the issue has been reviewed and agreed upon. Compensation for destruction of sorghum crops has doubled and for the loss of cattle, it is based on the market price,” he reveals sagely.

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The focus of this annual conference: To anticipate issues that may arise and find solutions to them ahead of time so that violence can be prevented.

One of the key interventions is running mobile courts to adjudicate disputes swiftly, according to Sam Muhumure, Head of the UN Peacekeeping mission’s Field Office in Wau.

“The mobile court helps people understand that there are unbreakable laws that will take their course. Any violation shall have repercussions and this, I believe, has helped address impunity and revenge attacks during seasonal cattle migration,” he avers.

Speaking at the conference, Mr. Muhumure urged the government to consider running an annual mobile court, with support from UNMISS, that can settle cases swiftly in hotspots and foster peaceful dispute resolution among the neighbouring communities of Warrap and Western Bahr El Ghazal.

“We have helped construct a number of police stations and, if these stations are fully staffed, I am confident we will notice a more orderly and organized migration, with much less conflict,” he added.

Mr Muhumure was supported by Sara Cleto Rial, Governor of Western Bahr El Ghazal.

“I will keep working with the Chief Justice to ensure that we make the mobile court into not just an annual feature in its current shape, but hopefully transform it into a permanent court. Having these strong justice institutions is key to reducing not only violence caused by cattle migration, but also every other type of conflict. Upholding the rule of law is key to enduring peace and development,” stated the Governor.

Numerous related issues were discussed at this important forum. Importantly, all gathered agreed that community leaders and members alike must adhere to the provisions of the Marial Bai Agreement for a peaceful migration early next year.

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Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).