Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 2 March 2020

Why do Murle ethnic youth attack their neighbours?

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By James Gatdet Dak Lampuar

March 2, 2020 ---- This topic is a very big question even ethnic Murle themselves: their political leaders, community elders and their heavily armed youth, have never been able to satisfactorily answer it, or even try to answer it, at all!

It has become a curse of a vicious cycle of violence which haunts almost all the various ethnic communities in South Sudan’s Jonglei state, Pibor (Buma) Administrative Area, and beyond.

I did attend meetings with political leaders and elders of Pibor or Murle community inside Pibor town in December 2011.

The then Vice President, current First Vice President, Dr Riek Machar, pressed questions repeatedly to Murle leaders to answer. Questions like, why do Murle youth raid neighbours, steal their cattle, and abduct children, almost month after month, year after year, without being provoked? And why are the community elders and political leaders not doing anything about it?

This is after Dr Machar managed to stop armed Lou-Nuer youth who retaliated and captured many areas in Murle-land and were matching in thousands towards Pibor headquarters in order to capture it too.

The Murle do raid Lou-Nuer, Greater Bor communities, Anyuak, Central Equatoria communities, and even across the Ethiopian border, etc.

And of course, such hostile violent acts result to retaliations by some of the affected communities, hence more violence and loss of lives on both sides.

I was also taking notes in those meetings, hoping to get an answer from the Murle side as to the reason why they have been doing this and have refused to stop it, despite backfiring consequences at times.

No satisfactory answers!

Some Murle leaders or elders simply allegedly blamed the genesis of the child abductions on the Dinka Bor community. They would narrate that several decades ago Dinka Bor didn’t like illegitimate children, or those born out of wedlock, in their own communities, and would, therefore, disown them, and send them to Murle community, in exchange for a cow or two.

Then when the demand for children by the Murle increased, the Bor Dinka also increased both the supply and payment, from two cows to five cows, then to ten cows, etc., for one illegitimate disowned child.

Then the Murle who desperately needed more children, for whatever reasons, some began to run out of cows to pay, and instead resorted to raiding and stealing cows from neighbouring communities, including from the Dinka Bor, in order to buy Dinka Bor children.

Some of the Murle also decided to go for a short cut. Instead of raiding cows to buy the children, they went straight to abduct children from the Dinka Bor. They later on extended this hostile and criminal activity, also several decades ago, into Lou-Nuer and Anyuak areas, etc.

One may need to confirm their narratives from other sources or references to compare and see if that was the beginning of the whole mess and havoc going on now in Jonglei state, and Pibor areas, vis-a-vis the Murle and Bor Dinka.

But even if the narratives were to be true, are these satisfactory explanations and justifications on the side of our brotherly and sisterly Murlei community in order to continue with this menace?

When asked to stop it, the elders said their heavily armed youth forces could not listen to their advice or call to stop the cattle raidings and the child abductions.

Their simple explanation was that in their Murle culture, whenever a new youth age-set takes over the communal power from their predecessors, which they usually take forcefully, they then do as they want without any advice, interference or intervention of elders.

The Murle youth can, therefore, cause destructions, whenever or wherever they want to, rampaging and terrorizing other neighbouring communities at will in the watchful eyes of helpless, powerless, non-influential, sidelined elders.

Is that a satisfactory explanation or justification, and particularly when the Murle elders and political leaders in the community fail to provide a remedy in order to address the situation and stop it?

The way I listened to their reasoning, it was like saying, please this is how we are, we may not change any time soon, just bear it with us.

Also, I heard about other medical explanations from non-Murle observers who were well acquainted with the Murle community and culture. They blamed the child-rush among the Murle during a time, maybe decades or a century ago, when the Murle community was hit by infertility. A very big number of men or women failed to conceive children.

I will not go into the details as to why that happened, such as possible causes associated with their culture or relationships.

After those meetings, the then Vice President, Dr Machar, urged the Murle community political leaders and elders to rein in on their youth, and stop the cattle raids and child abductions.

Machar also suggested to recommend to the national government in Juba to initiate and implement a special program in Murle-land through which to canton Murle youth voluntarily in towns and provide them with education, coupled with provision of services and jobs and recreational activities, in order to divert their attention from carrying out such criminal activities against their neighbours.

I still believe it is very important for the government to brainstorm on how best to tame the Murle in order to achieve peace and development in the areas.

This is because many affected communities will continue to defend themselves, by trying to protect their lives and their livelihoods, and even retaliate and put the law into their own hands, if they see that the government is simply watching the onslaughts.

And please, no sound-minded leader in the government in Juba or in the states, should instead be enjoying these inter-communal conflicts and use them for local geopolitics and tribal interests and unholy alliances.

It would be too bad and unfortunate!

Let us tame the Murle ethnic group, and the rest across the country as well!

The author is a concerned citizen who loves his country and its people. He is former Press Secretary in the Office of the President (Vice President’s office), and former Official Spokesperson of the leadership of the main opposition party, the SPLM/SPLA (IO). He is the author of a testimonial booklet, "My Painful Story: Abducted from Kenya, Imprisoned in South Sudan." His email address is: jamesdak2018@gmail.com.



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  • 3 March 11:39, by L. Stephen

    I think apart from may be children abduction, hostility, cattle raiding etc is not only a murle problem. It is a south sudan problem which require peace and disarmament if these menace is to be reduced or eradicated.

    • 4 March 13:08, by Midit Mitot

      L. Stephen,

      This horrible act call child abduction was originally generated by Murle kinsmen though other South Sudanese have adapted it.

      Gov,t need to do something about this, either to bring huge school project to Murle Youth or to deploy some neural forces in between the communities.

  • 6 March 07:58, by Lotodo Awino Odug

    Child abductions and cattle rustlings will gradually cease if national intelligence focus their attention on puisuing the criminals through the help of chiefs. detain them and get them hang immediately like the way Vice president Taban said few months ago.

    • 7 March 20:26, by Nyesi Ta

      Let’s be fair and try as much as possible to be impartial when addressing the issue of cattle rustling in South Sudan. Cattle rustling isn’t carried out by Murle alone but it is a practice of all the cattle owning communities in the country. Stop protecting your people and victimize others. If it is services and program to transforms these communities, the Nuer, Murle and the Dinka need it.



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