SWM 2014: The impact of violence on communities in Boma Sub-County, South Sudan
Case study by Paul Oleyo Longony
This research is the result of a month-long participatory research study undertaken by the Boma Development Initiative, funded by MRG with support from CAFOD.
In December 2013, a confrontation between Dinka and Nuer soldiers quickly escalated into a major civil conflict between President Salva Kiir Mayardit and former Vice-President Riek Machar. The ensuing violence, which has taken on a strongly ethnic dimension, has resulted in thousands of deaths and widespread displacement. Even before this latest outbreak, however, communities of ethnic Murle in Boma and Pibor have been exposed to the continuous threat of human rights abuses, including arson, physical attacks and sexual assault.
Between February and March 2014, the Boma Development Initiative dispatched a research team, headed by Paul Oleyo, to a number of villages in Boma Sub-County to assess the impact of continued violence on local communities. The research focused on developing a comprehensive picture of the situation for residents by drawing on testimonies from a wide variety of stakeholders, both male and female and spanning a range of different age groups. Despite ongoing security issues during the research, the team was able to conduct interviews with approximately 40 people and informal discussions with many more. These inform this summary situation report.
The primary focus of the study was the impact of violence and hate speech on the fabric of communities. The findings highlighted that, beyond the immediate impacts, protracted instability in the area has also undermined many other aspects of everyday life, including basic governance. In particular, local information-sharing and decision-making structures are currently in a state of near collapse. The regular practice of cattle rustling by armed militias from other ethnic groups in the area exposes communities to a constant threat of property loss and even death.
Another side effect of insecurity in the area is that many villages in Boma lack access to essential services – a fact that may drive local residents to flee and discourage others from returning to resume their lives. Education has been disrupted as many school children, as well as their teachers, have had to flee the area for their protection. Educational facilities were also looted during fighting between the Yau Yau militia, a Murle insurgent group, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
Health care, too, is almost non-existent. In the past Boma only had one rural hospital, which served almost the whole of Greater Pibor and neighbouring Eastern Equatoria. However, after fighting erupted between the army and the Yau Yau militia in early 2013, all the facilities in the hospital were destroyed and the wards burned down, with staff evacuated to Juba. Food supplies are another challenge due to the presence of many armed soldiers. As a result, hunger and malnutrition are widespread.
Clean water is another ongoing concern in the area for communities in Boma. Often supplies are collected from stagnant ponds and in some cases communities have moved to other areas in search of water for human and animal consumption. This means that cattle rustling may take place between different ethnic groups during the dry season, sustained by the proliferation of small arms in the region.
An important first step in addressing the ongoing dynamics of violence and insecurity is to identify the main drivers of conflict in the Boma region. Respondents highlighted a number of factors perpetuating inter-ethnic conflict in the area:
- Water access: Inadequate water supply triggers conflict among cattle herders and their neighbours.
- Grazing land: During the dry season, most pastoralists seek out green swamp areas for their livestock. In the process, they may come into contact with herders from other ethnic communities – and this is when raiding often occurs.
- Theft and seizure of property: many young people traditionally consider raiding animals as a means of generating wealth for their families.
- Outside conflict: External tensions between ethnic groups and hate speech in the media, reinforced by local politicians, can also exacerbate insecurity in the region and lead to further conflict.
Addressing these issues requires a variety of different measures. A central issue is the mediation of peace between the different armed groups, including the Yau Yau militia and the rebel forces of Machar, active in the area. Restoring security is essential for community members to resume farming and other essential livelihoods. This should include the full commitment of the SPLA to respect human rights and avoid abuses of any kind, as well as halt the supply of small arms to individuals in the area. At the same time, this needs to be accompanied by the restoration of basic services such as health and education, as well as the urgent supply of humanitarian assistance to alleviate the current gaps in food and other resources. Ultimately, however, there must also be an emphasis on long-term and transformative solutions to improve the situation of minority communities in the region, particularly their participation in government at both the state and national levels.
This article appears in MRG’s annual flagship report State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014. View the full report.
Photo: Along the road from Bor to Juba, South Sudan, August 2009. Copyright: Minority Rights Group International