HUMAES enters conflict zone

HUMAES is currently engaged in a peace-building project funded by UNDP.  UNDP asked HUMAES to work with youth on peace-building and reconciliation in an area quite a long distance from Nimule but within the same county (Magwi County). 

The designated area comprises several districts, Lobore, Pageri, Magwi and Pajok.  Out of these, Lobore and Pajok are very hard to reach due to lack of roads and mountainous conditions, so this is a very tough assignment.  The area is home to three tribes, Madi, Acholi and Langi.  The program manager, Charles, is a Madi.  He took with him an intern called Samuel, who is an Acholi.  The Langi are related to the Acholi and speak Acholi as there have been many inter-marriages.  Between Charles and Samuel all linguistic issues are covered.

The Lobore area is so remote that they had had no communication with the outside world for many months.  Covid-19 was news to them in October 2020.  There is no phone network or electricity.  Water is fetched from the nearby river and is not very clean.  At some point the outside framework of a school was built but without partitions between classrooms.  It is doubtful if there are any teachers to teach there, and certainly no materials.  On the positive side, it is a very fertile area and the local people are food-secure. 

HUMAES conducted an initial survey some time ago to find out the situation in the designated areas.  Last week Charles and Samuel returned to seek permission from the local authorities and start to talk to local groups.  All went smoothly at first.  People in Pageri, Magwi and Pajok were very happy to take part in the project, which will include activities such as football, drama, art, peace-building and reconciliation workshops.

The problems began on reaching Lobore.  This could only be done on foot, crossing rivers and climbing a mountain.  There they discovered that some very serious problems had developed since the initial survey.  Local politicians have fomented rivalries between the Acholi and Langi villagers.  Acholis have been displaced from their homes and forced to move to the foot of the mountain.  Two chiefs were killed in the course of the fighting. 

The Acholis from Lobore are now officially in Magwi County, while the Langi are still in their mountain homes in Lobore but under the administration of Ikotos County.  This will mean another grueling trip for HUMAES to visit the Ikotos County Offices to get permission to work there.  However, it is essential to do this if they are to fulfil their peace-building role.

On their journey home, passing through Magwi Town, they saw three dead bodies including two old women, covered in blood, being transported elsewhere in the back of a rickshaw.  A local youth calmly explained that he and others had stoned them to death because they had ‘poisoned’ a four year old child.  The youths were still searching for a fourth person who they also intended to kill.  It is most unlikely that an autopsy would have been done on the child as there is no hospital, so there is no proof of how she died. 

Charles, the program manager for HUMAES, commented that there is clearly work to be done in Magwi too if tit-for-tat killings are not going to break out, as the victims’ relatives will definitely be out for revenge.

It should be explained that in a South Sudan context, poisoning does not necessarily mean feeding poison to somebody.  It can mean brewing a magic potion, but often means putting a curse on somebody in order to kill them.  It is not uncommon even in Nimule for this to happen. 

This project has turned out to be a very important mission for HUMAES.  South Sudan is currently in a state of lawlessness and turmoil, even though the peace agreement was signed in September 2018.  As can be seen, the violence is often localized.  It is important for South Sudanese NGOs, such as HUMAES, to involve themselves rather than waiting for outside help which may not come, especially to remote areas such as Lobore.

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