Can the Wunlit model end the endemic tribal conflict between Apuk and Aguok Dinka?

Posted: September 18, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël in Columnists, Commentary, Contributing Writers, Daniel Juol Nhomngek, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

“When Truth is Denied, Peace Will Not Come”

By Daniel Juol Nhomngek, Kampala, Uganda

Gogrial state

September 18, 2017 (SSB) — The conflict between Apuk and Aguok has become a major concern not only to the people of Gogrial State but to the whole of South Sudan. The need to get permanent solution has recently prompted authorities to come up with the disarmament policy, which is currently going on.

The question is, therefore, is disarmament alone without more a solution to the conflict between Apuk and Aguok? The answer to this question depends on how individuals look at it and also how he understands the conflict between the two communities.

 However, the fact is that disarmament per se is not a permanent solution though it is an interim solution that can be used as an entry point in finding a formidable solution.  To get the permanent solution to the conflict between the two communities, there is a need first to understand the dynamics of the said conflict.

The conflict currently prevailing between the two communities is rooted in history. This is why it is hard to deal with it. Where the conflict is deeply rooted in deeply divided communities, which is rooted in deeply rooted ethnic tension, the only solution is to engage the parties in deep discussion accompanied by deep reflections among themselves that will eventually result in forgiveness and the agreement that will govern their future relations.

In this context, the conflict between Apuk and Aguok is historical in nature but it is now maintained through the use of modern warfare tactics and equipment. This kind of conflict which has its background in history and continues in modern society is hard to find a solution where the modern approach is adopted without going back to make history as the starting point. Failure to historicize the solution makes the conflict keep on resurfacing in several aspects but an interrelated and dangerous face.

As it has been the case in the conflict resolution between Apuk and Aguok, those who are involved in searching for a solution to the conflict between the two communities try to end the conflict through the modern method which is the use of force through the forced disarmament.  The weakness of applying the modern approach to traditional communities who need traditional approach makes it hard to tackle the conflict between the two communities. Consequently, the conflict between the two communities continues with devastating consequences on two communities and Gogrial State.

The matters are further made worse by the fact that the general conflict at the National level has caused a distraction from efforts to address the said conflict. For all the above reasons, it is hard to predict the time the conflict between the two communities will end or when will the appropriate solution is to be found.  Hence, the hope for getting the permanent solution to the conflict between the two communities is dwindling as all attempts have so far failed to materialize.

In order to get a lasting solution, there is a need for an immediate change of appropriate from relying on a modern method to the hybrid one. The hybrid means adopting traditional conflict resolution method alongside method which will help in maintaining peace between the two communities. The question that then comes into play after proposing the change in the approach is, can the new proposed approach be effective to permanently end the conflict in Gogrial State?

 In the opening of this work, I clearly pointed out that the conflict between the two communities is rooted in history. Thus in my opinion, where the conflict is historical in nature, there is a need for historical approach though after getting a solution the modern approach is applied to maintain peace. This is done by creating a forum for People-to-People peace to freely to talk out their historical problems perpetuated by the current complicated problems facing South Sudan.

To get the permanent solution to the conflict between the communities, the question that should be put across here is what is the appropriate approach that can bring an appropriate solution? Can Nuer-Dinka Wunlik approach help in solving tribal conflicts between the two communities? The next question, which is invited by this question is, what is the Wunlit Approach?

 The Wunlit Approach as referred to above, was an approach adopted in the resolution of the conflict between Nuer and Dinka. Wunlit was a place where the conference was held. Wunlit is found in Bahr El Ghazal, Sudan by then but it is now found in South Sudan. The conference was held on 27th February-8th March 1999 and it was facilitated by the New Sudan Council of Churches as well supported by the SPLM/A.

The conference brought together the people from the six Dinka and Nuer counties bordering one another on the West Bank of the Nile River. The Wunlit Peace Conference was attended by three hundred and sixty (360) delegates.  These delegates were divided equally between Dinka and Nuer (i.e. 180 each). In accordance with that division, thirty delegates were invited from each county from the six counties as already pointed out above. During the selection of the delegates, each county selected delegates in a way that there were 15 chiefs and 15 other leading persons including representatives of traditional leaders, women, and youth. All these persons were crucial in the peacemaking process in playing different roles.

Besides, each of the teams came with an entourage of advisory and support persons such as chiefs, elders, spear masters, women, youth, ethnic militias, church leaders – raising the total number to well over 1,000 persons. In addition, numerous observers were invited to the conference as well as six Nuer chiefs and two Murle chiefs from the East bank of the Nile were invited with the hope of encouraging them to undertake similar peace initiatives in their respective areas.

During the conference local authority officials were involved, including the SPLM County Commissioners and the Executive Directors from each county as well as the military and security personnel. There were also external observers that included church leaders, representatives of sponsors, donors and several reporters.

The Wunlit Conference was then opened with the ceremonial sacrifice of a large white bull, provided by the chief of Wunlit, Gum Mading. The reason for killing white bull (Thon Mabior) in form of sacrifice was taken to be a sign of commitment to peace and communal reconciliation. Apart from the traditional ceremony of bull killing, the Wunlit approach combined with Christian practices as the Christian Prayers were also conducted.

During the conference as a way of reconciliation, the method used by the participants in identifying issues was through four ways namely: storytelling and issue identification, working groups, synthesis and plenary presentations and consensus building and approval of covenant. After the identification of the issues, the second part was the truth-telling that was started on the second day.

The second day was a day of celebration and reflection and at that point, the people who gathered at the conference began to speak of the wrongs that have been committed against them. This was possible because Nuer and the Dinka believe that reconciliation is possible only after the truth has been shared. Because of that fact, in that peacemaking process, a little more than a full day was given to either side to tell their stories to the other. This phase involves storytelling.

During the discussion, one side was given a chance to tell the stories of the atrocities committed against them. Then the other side was given a chance to do the same and to respond in rebuttal. The time of telling the truth as it is always was a painful time as all speakers recalled their losses and sufferings. It was tense. Those telling stories would recount atrocities and name the people who committed them. Each tribe was given an equal amount of time to share their grievances.

In the process of talks, there was a time the talks might break down into accusatory and personalized attacks. However, despite the potential of anger and hatred, the talks continued peacefully. The stories ranged from raids, battles, abduction, and rape to slavery. The old wounds of past were reopened. The meeting hall is awash with memories, tears, and sadness. When the issues were identified, the participants engaged in intense discussion and by the end of the discussion they declared that:

“All hostile acts shall cease between Dinka and Nuer whether between their respective military forces or armed civilians. A permanent cease-fire is hereby declared between the Dinka and the Nuer people with immediate effect; that Amnesty is hereby declared for all offences against people and property committed prior to 1st September 1999 involving Dinka and Nuer on the West Bank of the Nile River;  freedom of movement is affirmed and inter-communal commerce, trade, development and services encouraged; that local cross-border agreements and movement are encouraged and shall be respected; that it is hereby declared that border grazing lands and fishing grounds shall be available immediately as shared resources.; that displaced communities are encouraged to return to their original homes and rebuild relationships with their neighbours; that the spirit of peace and reconciliation this covenant represents must be extended to all southern Sudan.”

After agreeing and then came up with the above declaration, the participants concluded that all resolutions adopted by the conference were hereby incorporated into the Wunlit covenant. The participants further appealed to the SPLM/A to endorse, embrace and assist in the implementation of the covenant and its Resolutions. The parties further appealed to the international community to endorse, embrace and assist in the implementation of this covenant and its resolutions.

As it can be understood above, by appealing to the SPLM and the international community to assist in the implementation of the covenant, the participants were alive to the fact that even if they agreed to end their conflict for such an agreement to hold, there must be a central authority to enforce it.  Moreover, for an agreement between the two communities to stand, there must be a strong authority as well as the independent judicial system to punish those who will breach the agreement in order to maintain the agreement intact, which is vital for maintaining peace after the agreement.

In summary, for everlasting peace to be achieved between the two communities, the similar approach that was adopted during the Wunlit Peace Conference as discussed in this work should be adopted. In fact, the same approach was adopted in the past between the two communities in form of Kal Kuel Covenant between Apuk Giir, Aguok Mou and Kuac Ayok that was signed, on September 27th, 2008.  The problem is not that people communities are not willing to go into a compromise to achieve peace but the problem is that there is no political will on the part of National and State Governments to enforce what the two communities have agreed.

The agreement of the warring parties can stand if it is enforced as they have agreed to it without the authority in charge of enforcement applying discretion. Any discretion will be viewed by the party affected as being bias or partisan. The only way of dealing with issues that need some flexibility is to call the parties together and decide over something that needs flexibility or discretion. In short, for the agreement between two communities or other communities to achieve peace, it must be enforced as agreed by the parties but not as the authority enforcing it deems fit.

It should be concluded with the recommendation that for everlasting peace between the two communities to be achieved, the Wunlit modality should be adopted so that people are engaged in truth telling to say all that happened to them in the past. In doing that they should be given humble time to discuss all the issues and root causes including the atrocities they have committed against each other. It is after the parties have said all that has been causing them to fight that is when they can come up with a declaration to commit themselves to peaceful co-existence.

After all these, the remaining part is the enforcement of the Agreement, which should be the duty of the State Government to enforce it as parties have agreed not as the authorities of the state think. Without these being done, even if the disarmament of the two communities is carried out several times, there will be no peace. The disarmament should be a short-term solution to create a conducive atmosphere in which parties can engage in peace talks.

NB//: The Author is a lawyer by profession; he graduated with honors in law from Makerere University, School of Law. He participated in various workshops and training in community mobilization in awareness of their constitutional rights in Uganda. He is the member of Public Interest Law Clinic (PILAC) and NETPIL (Network of Public Interest Lawyers) at Makerere University; he is currently doing research with NETPIL on private prosecution; he is trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR); he participated in writing Street Law Handbook on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Uganda. He is practicing with Onyango and Company Advocates Bunga—Ggaba, Road Kampala He is currently staying in Kampala Uganda where he is undertaking bar course training. He can be reached through juoldaniel@yahoo.com or +256784806333.

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. SSB do reserve the right to edit material before publication. Please include your full name, email address and the country you are writing from.

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