Why the Lakes state conflict is a result of a continuous misdiagnosis of its genesis?

BY: Agok Takpiny, AUSTRALIA, OCT/06/2014, SSN;

There has been a rapid escalation of violence (mostly revenge related killings) within greater Rumbek. The violence pitted Agaar against Agaar and or Agaar against GOK. The cycle exploits the discontents among Lakes state citizens towards the state government.

Some people who are not close to the people of Lakes state may think that the discontentment towards General Matur Chut’s government may be that the people after all were happy with previous governor Mr Chol Tong.

This isn’t true, when Chol was elected, there were high hopes that Chol Tong (a civilian) would be able to solve the state’s conflict. Those hopes were dashed when Chol Tong failed miserably to quell the unrest, in fact, he was even accused of taking sides.

Hence, when Gen. Matur Chut was brought in by the president, there were terrible expectations of the people that he will not be like previous governors. However, as it turned out, Gen. Mature chut is only a different face of the exact same coin (failure).

A million dollar question that ought to be asked is why are all successive governors of Lakes state failed to bring a stop to this protracted violence that cost so many lives?

Depending on who you are, there are multiples answers to what exactly makes Lakes state conflict uncontrollable. Understanding the problem in its entirety is a first step in solving it.

However, in the case of Lakes state governors, there is only one approach to solve the conflict and that is brute force. What they (governors) don’t know is that as the philosophy of the Chinese martial art (Tai Chi) teaching says: “if one uses hardness to resist violent force, then both sides are certain to be injured at least to some degree. Such injury, according to Tai-Chi theory is a natural consequence of meeting brute force with brute force”.

Undoubtedly, this has not only been gruesomely felt by the people of Lakes state alone, but by everyone in the country as the roads through Rumbek are becoming death traps.

The continuous use of brute force by the governors as a way to resolve the conflict is a result of not knowing the problem itself.

There are three legs to this conflict that need to be identified and solved one by one.

Firstly, cattle theft or robbery is one leg, the second leg is revenge killing, and the third leg is lack of cooperation between the state government and the community.

Now we have broken the conflict down into mini issues, let us then try to analyze these mini issues individually. We will start with cattle rustling, which has seen a rise recently.

Cattle theft
Dinka have been practicing a bride price system of marriage for generations. When a young man reaches the stage of marriage, he must have at least 20 cows or more in order to get the girl he wants. To make sure that his wife will have something to eat when she arrives, his relatives and friends usually contribute some 30% to the overall dowry charged by the girl’s relatives.

Thus, if the girl’s parents charge 20 cows as their daughter’s bride price that a groom must pay and the groom has only 20 cows, the 30% contribution by friends and relatives will save the groom 6 cows which he will use to feed his wife.

However, this is not the case anymore, as we speak the average bride price in Lakes state is 150 cows. Of course, if this were wages, no one would argue because the cost of living in economics point of view does increase annually, hence it would be irrational to think that wages remain the same for about a decade.

Laughably though, in Lakes state nothing has changed, only the bride price which has seen a substantial rise in recent years. Can you see the problem?

As the bride price increases, parents or relatives of the girls have become more “protective” of their girls. In the perspective of the girl’s relatives, whoever impregnates “your” sister or daughter did not just impregnate the girl, he literally “killed” 150 cows as the girl who got pregnant outside wedlock is deemed “worthless”. Many people have died in Lakes state because of this.

Moreover, economically, people of Lakes state have not moved an inch upward, that mean getting a cow now is exactly the same (hard) as it was in 1964 (half a century ago). Unless of course you are the son of a corrupt SPLA General.

So, for a young man who has an average father (not a politician or SPLA General) to be able to get at least 80 cows in order to marry a girl of his choice, he must understandably steal or rob somebody’s cows and sell them and then buy “clean” cows for his marriage.

Here the other young men whose their cows are stolen or robbed will then regroup and launch counter-stealing, and the cycle continues. In this process, hundreds, if not thousands died. This is exactly what is happening in Lakes state.

Have you identified the problem yet?

In an ideal world, a world where conflict or even tragedy is analyzed and turned into an opportunity to put things right in order to avoid a similar fate from happening again in the future, you would have thought that strict regulations on dowry payment would have been introduced a long time ago.

However, in our world, South Sudan world, nobody bothers to give it a shot. Nevertheless, it is not too late, bride price must be reduced to 15 cows or less. This would not only reduce cattle theft as bride price would be largely affordable to everyone, the incentives to forcefully deny a girl child a much needed education would be largely diminished.

The number of girls completing their high school without to being forcefully married off by their parents would triple.

Therefore, regulating the bride price will save lives and enhance girls’ education. Punitive measures incorporated into the legislation to punish whoever breaks such a law must be strictly implemented.

Revenge killing
Currently in South Sudan, killing a person (intentional or unintentional) is considered as a wrong payable rather than a crime. A murderer is normally only required to pay cows as blood compensation and nothing more.

To pay the cows, the murderer is usually backed up by his tribe to pay the blood cows to the victim of another tribe. Here, the members of the murderer’s tribe bear the responsibility to pay for what their member had committed. The total of cows for blood compensation is normally 30 cows.

The idea is to lessen the burden bored by the offender and to signal awareness and deterrence upon the offender’s tribe to be careful in the future undertaking and to avoid further bloodshed.

Upon receiving the blood cows, the victim’s immediate family has no right to keep all 30 cows for themselves, the whole tribe must share the blood compensation of their slain son/daughter. In some cases, the victim’s immediate family (parents, spouse, and siblings) can only get 10 cows out of 30 as their share of blood cows.

Yes 10 cows for the life of “your” brother, husband, son/daughter. It is absurd, isn’t it?

The absurdity doesn’t end there, however, the nature (health, gender, and age) of the cows for the blood compensation is obliquely defined. The victim’s family or tribe representative is only allowed to choose 5 out of 30 cows, the murderer and his tribe are allowed to bring any type of cow (barren, males, sick etc.) to make up the remaining 25 cows.

Additionally, sometimes the murderer without remorse for what he did or feel sorry for the victim’s family would come again and steal the very cows the court asked him and his tribe to pay as blood compensation.

Here, do you think justice have been served? For me this is not enough to let loose the murderer to continue enjoying his life and possibly brag about his “bravery” (brutality).

This is exactly what is happening in Lakes state and thus the victim’s family is left with no choice but to take revenge.

To correct this situation in my view need no brainer, by applying common sense one would come up with a solution. The solution is to change this medieval legal system.

Firstly, a person who committed homicide (intentional or unintentional) must be taken as a person who committed a crime against the state (not against the victim’s family although the lost will affect them the most).

Secondly, blood compensation must be changed from cows to money in the region of about SSP 50,000.

Thirdly, to ensure that the victim’s family receives blood money for their lost, the state needs to pay this money and not the murderer or his tribe.

This is not a new thing at all, in many countries, including Australia, where I live; the government must pay substantial amount of money to the family of every road accident victim.

Fourthly, the recipient of the blood money must be explicitly defined, that’s if the victim is a married man/woman and both his/her parents or one parent are/is alive, the blood money must be divided between the victim’s spouse and his/her parents only. If the victim is single, the parent(s) must be the only recipient of the blood money, in other words, the blood money must only be given to the closest next of kin of the victim.

By putting such a law in place, the victim’s family will feel that their government is there for them and that the justice will eventually be rendered.

Coupled with making revenge killing a first degree murder, the victim’s family will feel that there is no need to risk losing another family member trying to avenge the death of their loved one since the government will pay the money and the murderer will be put away for the majority of his life or even for good.

In determining the appropriate punishment for culpable homicide (unintentional murder), the state could impose imprisonment for a term which may extend to twenty (20) years, and shall also be liable to fine if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.

If the act is done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death, or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, the state government can impose imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten (10) years or with fine or with both.

Moreover, the state reserves a right to impose the death penalty or life in jail without parole for First Degree Murder (intentional murder). However, to introduce such important reforms, the state government must involve the community led by chiefs from the scratch right to the implementation of the legislations.

Failure of communication
Although I was born in the later years of the stable united Sudan, I have learned that the traditional institution of Chiefs played a significant role in the united Sudan and has continued to exist during the early periods of our twenty one (21) years of struggle.

The Chiefs play a significant role as a bridge between the grassroots and the government fostering a two-way communication between the government and the community. Chiefs also used to preside over customary courts, which handle more than 90% of all cases tried in the then Southern Sudan.

In those days when chiefs have all of their powers, the communities in villages and cattle camps used to listen to what they had to say.

However, as the SPLM/A grew bigger and the central command became too far away from the community, two-way communication was quashed. The SPLM/A adopted guerrilla style of managing people.

Everything was done according to how the local commander wanted it, chiefs were used by SPLA commanders to get what they want (food, transport and human resource) from the people.

For example, if the chief fails to collect the milk, bulls or other food items for rations or failed to bring a number of conscripts, the commander in charge of that particular operation usually punishes that particular chief by whipping him and taking some cows. There was no respect for chiefs.

Surprisingly, it got worse after the signing of the CPA. As we speak, chiefs don’t preside over customary court cases anymore, commissioners who are both organized criminals who are only after the money have created countless courts headed by gangs.

The aim of creating as many cuts as possible is to generate income for the commissioner by robbing the community through issuing unnecessary fines which are not based on any legislation.

All of these made traditional chiefs toothless in the eyes of the wild youths (gelweng). Understandably, the chiefs are now reluctant to engage with the state government to find a way forward.

To rectify this, the Lakes State government with all county commissioners needs to become more responsible, responsive and sensitive to people’s needs and expectations.

Quite frankly, one way communication and iron fist style of rule is no longer workable. People have to be taken on board and policies for them have to be made with them. The state government need to come closer to the community to be able to understand their felt needs, problems and expectations.

It should be taken further down to the village levels and cattle camps. Every cattle camp has its leader, the state government must add them into the payroll together with all chiefs.

This is particularly important because as seen in many reports about Lakes state conflict, the state police often claim that “the community has refused to share any information which may lead to arrest of the criminals with the police”, therefore using the chiefs and the head of the cattle camps to act as part of the government could go a long way to put a stop to this protracted violent.

In a country where there are no addresses or street cameras to locate criminals, the best solution is to employ chiefs and the heads of the cattle camps to track down the wrongdoers.

Now you have read the whole article, do you think all these are unachievable (legislate and implement)?

Agok Takpiny

Disclaimer: views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author. Agok Takpiny is a concerned South Sudanese in Melbourne Australia. He can be reached on agoktakpiny@ymail.com


  1. info@southsudannation says:

    From Editor:
    Mr. Agok Takping,
    This is probably the best article that has shed a lot on the real issues facing Lakes State and the Dinka of that region.
    However, my main objection to your analysis is that Lakes State must accept and must incorporate the civilized legal system we had and still have in South Sudan. The Dinka must of necessity transform for peace, adopt and adapt to the legal jurisprudence (call it Western legal system).
    Indeed, long time ago, in the United States of America wild West and even in Australia when the European migrants — including those criminals from England– and also across must African countries, the system of blood money or other compensatory system of justice was much practiced by many. But now all these countries transited to the so-called modern legal systems.
    Please, let’s forgo this so-called ‘blood money’ compensation. A crime is a crime and must be judged in the proper court of law. Once convicted, a murderer must be hanged till death or sent to life incarceration in prison; only then our people will seriously think twice before killing someone.
    All these chiefs’ courts or tribal elders are things of the past and ‘primitive’ and of no utility in an enlightened environment. Many of your Dinka are now ‘civilized’ and cannot be needlessly subjugated and suppressed by an outdated system of so-called ‘justice.’ it’s totally anachronistic.
    Finally, it’s time the Dinka generally must liberalize their marriages and accept that marriage is a sacred bond and agreement between a man and a woman. What has the parents or the whole village got to do with it?
    As you so eloquently revealed, the corrupted SPLA generals and the stolen money that many of the Dinka now accessed and enjoy will surely end very soon when things change in Juba.
    Sad to end my comment with the following: Adapt or you Dinka will remain forever lawless!
    Best regards and kudos for this excellent article.

    • Agok Takpiny says:

      Thanks for the compliment dear editor,
      I totally agree with you that South Sudan in general and particularly Lakes state must adapt the western legal system whereby a criminal is put on trial and convicted to death or whatever sentence, and that blood compensation should be stop altogether. I also agree with you that chiefs who are mainly old and have never attended any training should not continue to preside over cases, and that modern legal system which require qualified judges and lawyers must be the only recognise legal system. You have a point my dear brother, I live here in Australia where the legal system you want us to adapt is practice and I love it because it is the most fairer and thorough system (although too expensive for the poor to afford it sometimes) that nobody can object. However, I am just being realistic, first of all, 80% of Lakes state and indeed the South Sudan population have never even attended primary school and thus cannot read and write. so moving from where they are (current legal system) to the most advance legal system (western legal system) is beyond their comprehension, therefore what I am suggesting in the article is of course not the best but it is a transition type of legal system. changing it bit by bit is the best way to get to where we want to be.

      Again I chose to be realistic, I am a Dinka myself and I know how my people highly regarded dowry payment as many see it as a family pride. so changing it bit by bit is a right approach to rid it altogether. The things which I suggested in the article will allow us to buy time until such time that we achieve 50% literacy rate across the state and indeed in the country at large. By the time the number of educated population equal the number of uneducated population, we will have a chance of winning your argument (which is in fact the best argument) but in the meantime, I strongly believe that my suggestion would have a tick of many uneducated people back in Lakes state. The question is, who is going to try these minimal reforms in my state? I don’t see anyone anytime soon unfortunately.

  2. Deng says:

    Dear Editor and Agok,

    Agok’s article touched vital areas of problems in Lakes state but they are not the only causes! Dowry or bride price, Revenge killing and non-co-operation with the state government are some of the main factors in the conflict, no argument about that. The question is what makes people kill in the first place in order for the revenge cycle to ensue? What makes people not cooperate with their government including under the elected Governor? Why is bride price a problem now when all along people have been paying hundreds of cattle to get a woman in some cases, yet it never provoked such a vicious cycle of theft and counter-theft and in the process loss of lives?

    I have been here inside South Sudan for the last two years with one year fully dedicated to peace and reconciliation initiative in Lakes state and eastern part of Warrap. I drove and walked the remotest of places in greater Rumbek counties, Cueibet, Tonj East and Tonj South regions in the company of county commissioners, NGOs and local community leaders from across the ethnic lines cultivating peace; we witnessed brief lull in fighting in some places but kept flaring up time and again. In all the efforts, DIALOGUE as opposed to “BRUTE FORCE” was the main driving force. But I must say that some politicians and their local agents never took part in a meaningful dialogue nor encouraged it among the communities! This says a lot about an element of politics of sabotage in the conflict in the state. The attitudes of the people too play a key role in escalation of crises or restoration of peace and harmony. But it seems that many in the communities have allowed themselves to be tools of destruction of their own communities and land. There is clearly a refusal by many, particularly the so called intellectuals and political leaders to join hands and practically adopt a united stance and commit to tackling the problem once and for all. In fact, the communities are very respectful of a clearly defined and non-discriminatory policy to solve their problems; they only get crazy when double standards and hypocrisy is allowed to prevail in disguise of RULES being implemented.

    So, the Editor is right, the people must accept responsibility and responsible ways of resolving conflict. Minor issues such as elopement or impregnation of girls shouldn’t be allowed to cause unnecessary loss of life. In My view, many on the ground know the DIAGNOSIS and AILMENTS but simply are not coming out openly to address them. If there is any MISDIAGNOSIS, then it in the view of outsiders and those not practically here on the ground in Lakes state. Once people refuse to acknowledge where the problem is and deliberately choose to pin it down on wrong place because of political agenda, then that in itself becomes the mother of problems. DIAGNOSIS was done and continue to be done and root causes as well as catalyst factors are identified, but many refuse to officially disclose them or address them! Unless and until then, we will continue analyzing while our people die in big numbers.

  3. Agook Mayek Riak says:

    While Agok’s piece is appealing, it must be clearly stated that the conflict dynamics in Lakes State, and similarly elsewhere in South Sudan are multifaceted and complex. There are so many layers attached to them. From an insider’s viewpoint, along side temporary solutions mentioned by Agok & Deng above, the long lasting solution is to break the chain of ignorance of our people living in the past.The only way to break the chain is to have well-rounded and selfless leaders, who would initiate ideas,pump the abundance resources to stir-up growth ( jobs creation),as well as prioritizing education in the country. Children must be educated to progressively connect with the sociocultural, economic and political dynamics in their communities and South Sudan as a whole. South Sudanese need to be dynamic and forward looking in their sociocultural values and practices. I have been fortunate enough to have stayed in various places in South Sudan, and to be honest the mentality is the same whether you are a Kuku, Zande, Dinka, Avokaya, Mundu, Baka, Nuer etc. The only difference is the mode of elimination(tearing each other apart mercilessly like wolves). While the people of Rumbek , for example, believe in the barrel of a gun, the people of Kajokejji believe in using the barbaric traditional charms to tear each other apart.

  4. False Millionaire says:

    Mr Agok:

    You have come out again with another great contribution.But if occupation of an SPLM/SPLA office is the precondition to getting access to financial means that can permit one to purchuse cows for marriages n also to maintain one’s own best conditions of living with one’s family,such seats must be hotly fought for.To consider that the temptation for such seats is too great,one can not deny that it is the cause that brings lakes state educated urban masses n politicians into struggle among themselves each individual seeking the right to obtain one.But if going there is by vote,every one must have constituents.We know very well the severe conditions of living n the non education dimension of our society therefore any electoral campaign could never b under taken in such a universal way as going to tell people:vote for me n I will bring you water.Vote for me n I will open schools for you.Vote for me n I will make good roads passing in your land.No.From this angle,the dirty game of cash to get voters can not b excluded.But if cash could not b enough for everyone against the facts that everyone contributes to success of one’s constituency candidate,it’s easy to judge that the citizens of such constituency,if given opportunity can find themselves tempted to go on a rampage robbing their neighbours’ cattle.Given opportunity,their neighbours’ reaction or action would b likewise.That If there are deaths on one action,there would necessarily b revenge killings on reaction.What could the elected candidates do as they should b sitting in the offices?nothing ofcourse.They owed the cash they didn’t pay for everyone already n could not b well disposed to seek to disarm or reconcile them.Has the situation gotten out of hand in lakes state from this stand point?we have no answer.But at this point unfortunately it seems likely that neither the brute force nor the force of conviction n persuasion would b of help to calm the situation for a long time to come.Why?becouse the force of conviction n of persuasion for solution of lakes state problems are the principles that must b contributed by thesame lakes state citizens themselves n never from beyond.period.

    But we are not ready to hang ourselves becouse of the too much pain out of the perception of an incurable tragedy in lakes state.150 cows dowery for a woman at this very world’s time is too much n rediculous.I want to ask you a question,dinka women who were married with cows who now live in Australia,are they really satisfying their homes?All that I know is that,the majority of them in North America,Europe n almost every where on earth beyond south sudan are divorced n are roaming as every man’s women.And the cows?lost to the nature forever.This is the dark side that has not yet been understood back home.

    Do you remember our exchanges during your last article?the basic solution to our problems will come from development projects that must begin with good road networks,cheap nationally refined fuel n good money circulation.That will permit everyone of goodwill to work his farm,reap his harvest,take it to the market,sell it n spent the money for his personal needs.He would no longer have any good reason of risking his life with a klachnikov to rob his neighbours becouse he would no longer b a victim of extreme living conditions.But for those of you in Australia,being men,your sexual experiences with non south sudanese women,are they not just thesame feeling?New revolution ought to come home.Business dimension in marriages must end.The questions of love n of sentiment must prevail.To marry with someone becouse you love each other is a principle.To divorce from someone becouse you are no longer in love with each other is also a principle.But in case of divorce no one should b held hostage to unbearable conflict becouse of the cows that have been paid for the dowry.As for the children,legal arrangements should b divised by the law giving best conditions for alternated care.

  5. john g says:

    Agok , you are honest and truthful to your analysis of problems facing lakes state. A prescription to a problem states with identification of that problem. Thanks

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