Local justice and accountability between Dachuek and Ayual

With justice and accountability echoed as priorities in conferences, workshops and international agendas across South Sudan, we can lose sight of the potential in traditional approaches to provide redress in ways that have legitimacy and relevance to the communities involved. The recent process between Dachuek and Ayual reminds us of this potential.

Jonglei state has been central in the war of liberation, borne the brutal effects of decades of conflict, inter and intra communal conflict and total lack of development, particularly road infrastructure. Most parts of Jonglei state are inaccessible from May-February each year and only have limited access from months of February to May. Flood, insecurity and lack of road access top the list of challenges in the state and general lack of responsive governance. Revenge killing, child abduction, roads ambushes, cattle rustling are some of the known insecurity factors in the state and for years effort to end these issues remain a dream.

From 2005, when South Sudan attained its autonomous status as a result of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), a contest over the ownership of Wangkulei Payam headquarter of Nyuak ensued, between Dachuek and Ayual. Both are sections of the Twic community who are custodians of Wangkulei, where Dr. John Garang hails from. The contest over the payam headquarters continued until it came to a head in 2009, when the first shots were heard. Subsequent violence over revenge attacks and killing continued and worsened in 2010. This conflict claimed thirty lives, and injured thirty five. Though the communities shared one payam (Nyuak), they could not visit each other, could not marry or share social functions, or even come to each other’s aid in times of need. Traditions requires that, until a bone breaking ritual is done, the two remain rival enemies.

By the end of April 2023, both communities agreed to end the violence. The diaspora and elites of both Dachuek and Ayual community decided to pay for the blood compensation, as required by tradition and custom. A total of 1,829 cattle have been purchased to bring this conflict to an end, reflecting an impressive level of commitment to the process. To this effort, the community leaders of Twic East County, led by leaders of Dachuek and Ayual, requested Peace Canal to cement its 2022 initiatives, this time by supporting a ceremony allowing communities to exchange cattle for blood compensation and subsequent bone breaking to see the two communities restore the social fabric that has been broken by over 10 years of revenge killing.

Numerous attempts to end this conflict have been made by many actors, including Twic East County authority, Jonglei State and members of the national Government between 2011 and 2012, supported by Lutheran World Federation. The Lutheran World Federation is reported to have attempted to help the community resolve this conflict in 2014, but was thwarted by political elites.

In 2022/3, through funding support from Swiss Development Cooperation, Peace Canal engaged these two communities in a series of peace building activities directed to all the 16 payams of Greater Bor counties. These dialogues culminated in the two communities requesting their leaders to sit with them, which this took place in June 2023.

The compensation process

Blood compensation process between Ayual and Dachuek is supervised by the State delegated Judiciary Oversight Committee, whose role is to ensure that the judicial process is completed to facilitate reconciliation between the two communities. The process of compensation for the 30 lives and 35 wounded is arranged in three phases. Phase 1 – to compensate 10 lives and 12 wounded; phase 2 – to compensate another 10 lives and 12 wounded, and phase 3 – to compensate 10 lives and 11 wounded.

What motivated a resolution to 10 years of conflict between Ayual and Dachuek communities?

Members of the two communities who met in various consultation meetings said their community realized that they are weakened by the conflict, that their children could not marry, that they could not be given administrative roles due to their division, that they are displaced, that their headquarter could not be protected from flooding like other headquarters, that they lack development services, that they could not be a strong force defending against external insecurity as they used to, and that they lost the economic strength they used to have because traders were displaced, leading to failed livelihoods activities.

In the meeting with the families of the victims, it was revealed that their role in calling for unconditional compensation for their loved ones moved leaders to reconsider court processes they were involved in. The families of the victims want to raise offspring for their deceased family members, should compensation be carried out as required by law and the tradition.

Youth, both girls and young men, played a key role in initiating an end to the violence. The girls said, ‘since their young men engaged in fighting one another, there were no men to marry them.’ They also said, both girls and young men have either their maternal or paternal uncles on both sides. The girls resolved to break the cycle by organizing peace songs and dances that called the young men involved and courted them. Both girls and young men who want to marry each other played a vital role, whose influence reached the ears of decision makers – their community leaders and elders.

The judiciary oversight committee is a body formed by the Jonglei State Judiciary to oversee the blood compensation process between Ayual and Dachuek sections of Nyuak community. The committee is composed of 5 individuals – all men, well experienced, led by Chief Aweng Deng Chol. The committee is tasked to oversee exchange for blood compensation, resolve disputes between families, and address concerns raised with the urgency it needs. It is only before the judiciary oversight committee where exchange for blood compensation can take place. The judiciary inspect cattle before any exchange and return disqualified cattle for immediate replacement.

Challenges to the compensation process

Various community meetings and consultations conducted with Twic East County Administrative officials, the Judiciary Oversight Committee and community chiefs have informed the writing of prevailing challenges that will likely slow down compensation process moving forward. It should be acknowledged that Nyuak community commitment to the compensation process is immeasurable, both within and outside of Twic East County. Notably, the following are major challenges identified during the meetings:

  1. Scarcity of cattle for compensation in the markets: the communities struggle to get cattle for compensation. They said they have to wait for traders who go all the way to Padiet, Ayod and Uror amidst roads ambushes and insecurity to purchase cattle.
  2. Rising prices of cattle purchase: community leaders informed that daily rise of prices for cattle make it more difficult for those buying cows for compensation.
  3. Some chiefs of Ayual section are engaged in Duk-Twic East conflict. Three chiefs of Ayual, key to the blood compensation for their section, are engaged with the highland issue involving the death of three wrestlers. Their absence will lengthen the process for a few more months.
  4. The flood: Community leaders are concerned by the expected flooding, already swelling up, threatening existing home dykes. They said that if the flood interrupts the process, it will displace people and threaten lives of the cattle already handed over for compensation.

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