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.
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.
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)?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org