(25 January) The problem of nomadic herders from outside Equatoria driving their cattle into villagers’ gardens escalated into violence in Lobonok, claiming five lives. A joint committee formed to resolve the dispute reports its progress.
In early January, fierce clashes were reported between migrant cattle keepers from the Bor area and local residents of Lobonek Village in Juba County. At least five people were confirmed killed in the violence, and hundreds were forced to flee their homes. Lobonok is the home village of Vice President James Wani Igga.
According to local witnesses, the fighting started after cattle keepers drove their herds into the gardens of Lobonok’s villagers. As subsistence farmers, the villagers depend on the produce they grow to feed their families and utilise surplus for purchasing essential commodities at the market. Any destruction of crops has serious consequence for households.
Attempts to prevent the cattle from grazing on their gardens sparked a violent response from the herders. This quickly escalated into three days of running battles between the herders and the villagers.
Having contained the violence, a joint committee comprising members from the state and from neighbouring Jonglie, was formed to resolve the underlying tension. The consensus was that the cattle herders were at fault and the estimated thousands of heads of cattle were required to leave the Lobonok area with immediate effect.
Following a recent visit to Lobonok, the chair of this committee, Professor Ajuoi Magot, reported that the cattle herders had indeed started moving away from Lobonok. But he conceded that the pace of their return to Jonglei was much slower than was to be expected.
Speaking to Eye Radio, Professor Magot disclosed that “They don’t move every day, you move and stop in the garden place, and then they move after two days, or three days, and in the end of the day they will reach to Jonglei.”
He went on to warn that herders who refused to return to Jonglie would be evicted. Unfortunately, the incredibly slow pace of return hints at a lack of will to involve security forces in enforcing the eviction order.