South Sudan is ravaged by cvil war, government corruption and ethnic tensions. Find out how groups of local women with ox ploughs are part of the solution.
On the farm where I was born, we had a semi-retired draft horse. Of course, we did all the extensive fieldwork with tractors and their implements, but this aging mare still had a role to play.
Every spring, my mother would put in a vegetable garden. She would hitch up the heavy workhorse to pull a small cultivator, tilling the soil for the coming season’s plot of fresh greens.
My mother was very fond of this experienced mare. Years later, she always expressed her pride that her elderly draft horse was so smart that she scrupulously avoided tramping on any of the garden plants with her heavy hooves.
SOMETIMES THE OLD WAYS ARE STILL THE BEST
Sometimes the old ways are still the best. I mention this because of a story that crossed my desktop from South Sudan this week.
South Sudan has been a troubled country. They are the world’s newest nation, having gained their independence after a bitter conflict with the rest of Sudan in 2011. Just two years later, they were dragged into a civil war that lasted six years, killed 400,000 people and left more than four million people internally displaced.
In February, a United Nations report accused both sides of committing war crimes. The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan found that forces on each side had found ways to starve civilian populations as part of their ongoing power struggle.
EACH SIDE HAD FOUND WAYS TO STARVE CIVILIAN POPULATIONS
Professor Andrew Clapham is a member of the commission. He explained their findings this way, “The fact of destruction of crops or taking away the possibility of getting access to water through boreholes and so on, that can constitute the war crime of starvation because your intention is to starve the civilian population….in this case by both sides, as we’ve documented,”
Just hours after this scathing report came out, the warring factions announced a peace agreement. President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed the peace deal, creating a unity government.
Kiir and Machar have a tortured history. Kiir fired Machar as his deputy president at the end of 2013, accusing him of plotting a coup d’etat.
UNDERLYING ISSUES GO BEYOND THE POLITICAL TENSION
Machar has always denied this. The two men have been unable to trust one another ever since the incident. However, the underlying issues go beyond the political tension between the two leaders.
The crisis in Sudan is mainly an ethnic conflict between the Dinka and Nuer peoples. These are two rival herder groups who are continually fighting over grazing and water rights. Kiir is a Dinka, and Machar is a Nuer.
The tension between the two government officials inflamed the ethnic rivalry between the Dinka and the Nuer. They seem to have taken advantage of the conflict to target each other and settle old scores with violence.
INFLAMED ETHNIC RIVALRY BETWEEN THE DINKA AND THE NUER
On top of all this, corruption has also plagued South Sudan. Millions of dollars are missing from the National Revenue Authority. The commission is accusing senior officials of economic crimes in connection with this.
The deal that Kiir and Machar have signed is a glimmer of hope. The agreement gives Machar his job back as first vice-president. It also names three other vice presidents, including Rebecca Garang, the widow of the country’s founder, John Garang.
Peace on the ground is another matter. All those displaced people need somewhere to go and some way to make a living.
MAIN PROBLEM WAS HOUSEHOLD FOOD STABILITY
In one of South Sudan’s administrative areas called Rumbek North, the main problem was household food stability. Throughout the war, this region has put up with violence between the two groups including cattle raids, revenge attacks and armed ambushes.
This has prevented them from producing their own food, leaving them to rely on food aid from international agencies. There was nothing wrong with the soil, and there were still plenty of oxen around but there were no farm implements to work with.
The group Sans Frontieres Germany donated a supply of ox plows to the community. In keeping with local tradition, they gave the plows to the women, whose role has always been to feed the family.
“WITH OX PLOUGHS COMING IN WE SHALL CULTIVATE BIGGER AREAS”
Local women’s leader Mary Agor explained, “We have been using hand hoes, and with that, you can only do so much. With these ox ploughs coming in, we shall cultivate bigger areas which will help us sustain our families throughout the long dry spell.”
She went on to say, ” We shall also have some surplus produce to sell at the market in Rumbek and thus make some money.” Having the right tools for the job helps, but there are still a couple of obstacles.
The first issue is that the men have run off into the forest with all the cattle. They’re in the habit of doing this to ward off raids from rival groups.
MEN HAVE RUN OFF INTO THE FOREST WITH ALL THE CATTLE
The other problem is that the roads are being patrolled by groups of young men with weapons. The men of the community aren’t going to bring back the cattle until these goon squads disappear.
That brings us back to the role of the government. Mary Agor explains, “We want our Government to make sure that there is enough security so that we can bring in our bulls and cultivate. Without peace, that will not be possible.”
As she put it, “Right now, the roads are full of armed youth. They should go away so that our men can safely return with their cattle”. Without basic governance, this and myriad other projects can’t go forward to bring peace to ordinary people in South Sudan.
“RIGHT NOW, THE ROADS ARE FULL OF ARMED YOUTH”
Seeing pictures of these women receiving their brand new ox ploughs reminded me of my mother and her plough horse back on the farm. It also reminded me of the old verse from Isaiah, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Then, sadly it brought to mind the famous words of Dwight Eisenhower, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
It’s hard to picture anything much stupider than the situation in Rumbek North. The new government needs to learn how to establish the rule of law and build reconciliation between the South Sudanese rival ethnic groups.
It seems as though the best people to teach them those lessons are Mary Agor and the women for whom she speaks.
We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
‘Deliberate starvation’ tactics used in South Sudan could be a war crime
Women plough the way to peace in South Sudan resettlement project
Situation in South Sudan: Report of the Secretary-General
UN Peacekeeping – 8 Point Plan to Build “Beacon of Hope”
Justice Denied by Lost File
“The Absurdity of this Ongoing War” in Libya