The cure to this nation-wide ailment lies in the fact that unity can only be forged by embracing diversity and reducing the amount of arms which have flooded the area during the past two years.
Olony rebelled, fighting rages in Malakal
And now fighting broke out again. Major General Johnson Olony’s forces seized Malakal. Earlier clashes on April 22, between military forces from the guards of Ruler Simon Kun and a unit of Johnson Olony, Deputy Head of the Upper Nile Military Division, marked only a starting point. A misunderstanding between the two forces resulted in the killing of four soldiers from both sides. The clashes spread across the city by then, as reports circulated that Olony’s forces rebelled following repeated attacks against them, especially after the killing of Olony’s Deputy Major General James Bogo by armed young men from Akuka. Bogo was visiting the area to contain some disputes between the Shilluk people and the Dinka people over land ownership.
The fighting now and then has had a clear ethnic dimension: Militias from the Dinka people who live in the Upper Nile State were recruited to protect the Dinka areas in Renk, Malut, Akuka and Buylyiet from the rebels. Most of Olony’s forces, meanwhile, hail from the Shilluk people who rebelled against the government in 2011 to protect their areas from the Dinka people before they were assimilated in the government army according to an agreement between the two sides in 2012. The escalation followed a period of relative calm in the state.
Some observers say the conflict between the Shilluk and Dinka peoples gained pace once the military clashes between the government and the rebels waned. The widespread fighting, which started in late 2013, brought these two peoples closer, prompting them to join forces to clear rebels from the area. However, when the rebel versus government conflict subsided over the past three months, conflicts over land ownership resurfaced. Each group equipped itself with enough weapons to expel the other group from its territories.
The Nile river bank in Waw Shilluk, west of Malakal, which received most of the displaced people who fled Malakal, the capital of the Upper Nile State, November 2014.
The clashes taking place in the Upper Nile State between Olony’s forces and the Dinka armed forces reflect the complicated political and social reality of the ongoing war in South Sudan, which is centred in this area.
The majority of the Upper Nile State’s population is composed of the main Nilotic groups: the Dinka people on the White Nile’s eastern bank such as Renk, Malut, Akuka and Buylyiet; the Shilluk people on the Nile’s western bank; the Nuer people in the counties of Nasir, Longshok, Maiut and Olang; and the Burun people in Al-Maban, to the northwest of the state.
These tribes are biologically connected and related through marriages. The languages of the Upper Nile State are greatly correlated and the different peoples who live there have coexisted for a very long time and have traditional mechanisms to resolve their disputes over pasturelands.
The best way to resolve the crisis in the state is to address the ethnic politicisation issue through dialogue among all social components and adopt peaceful mechanisms to resolve the current disputes.
Now, all have arms to protect themselves and their lands to fight the rebels. This method of arming communities will spiral violence out of control in the area.
It is now essential to reinforce the social fabric in the Upper Nile area, avoiding violence and armed conflicts to resolve disputes in favour of traditional conflict-resolution mechanisms used by the Upper Nile’s tribes. It is time to remember that unity lies in diversity. After all, the more diversity we have, the healthier and safer our society will be.