A group of women waits to welcome a high-powered delegation of politicians from South Sudan’s north. Gogrial area’s Governor Victor Atem Atem and his Twic counterpart, Governor Atem Madut Yak are jetting in onboard United Nations flights.
“Now they’ve come to discuss with our leaders what happened to our families in Turalel and Mayom payams [villages],” says Maria Nyok, dressed in a traditional dance costume.
Cattle raids have recently claimed 45 lives in this area and displaced many civilians from their homes, and the leaders are coming to resolve this.
Welcome songs and traditional dances form a part of the preliminary events of the day, which include the two governors jumping over fresh carcasses of two bulls whose lives have come to an early end in a traditional ritual that precedes the kind of discussions they are going to have in Mankien.
Soon, both governors sit down to dialogue with their political peers from Northern Liech, accused of hosting unknown armed youths that attacked Twic and left behind a trail of devastation.
“You might have heard in the two last weeks, some tragedies that took the lives of our people and damaged our public infrastructure,” says Governor Joseph Manytuil of Northern Liech while officially opening the Mankien dialogue, and urging immediate attention to this security matter.
Discussions progress well into the next day at the Mankien governor’s guest house, as the leaders seek to bring to an end the pain being visited on innocent civilians by protracted cattle raids.
“We are not here to blame, but to seek solutions to our problems,” says Gogrial’s Victor Atem Atem.
“In this peace and security arrangement, everyone has a stake: we as political leaders, to sensitize our people to implement this peace deal; and our military, as national forces, to protect our people,” says Twic’s Atem Madut.
In more than eight hours of non-stop discussions, there is also reflection on incidents of the attacks and revenge killings, dating as far back as 2015, and the more recent ones, which occurred on 17 April and 26 May 2019.
Three governors eventually agree that they need to put their efforts together to implement the resolutions which were agreed during 2018 Northern Corridor Block conference in Kwajok. They also say cattle keepers badly need force protection from the army to prevent further raids and end the cycle of associated killings and destruction.
“As leaders, we asked the national defense force to deploy soldiers to very strategic areas and protect our people,” says Governor Atem Madut.
At the end of the two-day conference, the Kwajok Conference resolutions are revisited, tasking all commissioners to identify and hand over the recovered cattle from previous raids and pay compensation to families of those who were killed and for the destroyed property.
All seems to end well, with recoveries of stolen cows on the horizon.
“We were shown by the Northern Liech state a total of 120 out of more than one thousand cattle looted from previous cattle raids,” says Michael Mayot Nuan, the Twic area spokesperson. “But at least it was a sign of their good will and commitment to a way forward,” he concludes on conciliatory note.
“Today was Northern Liech state, but the Twic Governor, Atem Madut gave an ultimatum of one week for his commissioners to do the same hand-over,” says Dr. Joseph Manytuil, the Governor of Northern Liech and the chair of the Northern Corridor Block for peace, security and stability.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which has supported the tri-state peace negotiations technically and logistically is a silent observer on this occasion, as the South Sudanese regional leaders reach important, life-saving resolutions.
“We could not provide all the logistics to reach today’s achievement, whether transporting the negotiators from their own states to this venue [Mankien], or even go to witness the recovered cattle without UNMISS,” says and appreciative Governor Joseph Manytuil, appealing to the UN mission to continue standing with them in their peace endeavours.
The two days of negotiations and resolutions are over and, hopefully, peaceful coexistence is in sight.