Claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, the Abyei region is one of the areas most affected by the recent violence. As well as widespread poverty and unemployment, there is increasing competition over natural resources, and no shortage of weapons. In a rural land where there is no rule of law, violence is often used to settle disputes.
Our partner in the area, the Collaborative for Peace, works right at the heart of local communities to find ways to respond to conflict without violence. They recently mediated in a conflict over cattle, between the Misairiyah and the Dinka tribes, which could have destabilised the whole region.
The dispute started when herders of the Misairiyah, who were passing through a market on their annual migration south, stole some cattle from the Dinka. A fight erupted between two small groups, and one Dinka was killed. Other Dinka in the market rushed to support their fellow-tribesmen and the violence quickly escalated. The outnumbered Misairiyah only just escaped being massacred.
The subsequent conflict affected the entire local population, since it made the movement of people and animals very difficult. It also set back discussions already being held to establish peaceful coexistence between the local communities. And there was a serious risk that it could create political divides, with the violence expanding into an area-wide conflict.
When representatives of the local administration attempted to intervene, both Dinka and Misairiyah rejected their actions as lacking neutrality. But the Collaborative were trusted. They stepped in and arranged a meeting with representatives of the local community. The Dinka herders asked for compensation for the cattle that had been taken, and the mother of the slain herder agreed to accept a payment of blood money.
However, the Misairiyah refused to pay, and said they would rather carry on fighting. Some women encouraged their husbands to fight, telling them that reconciliation was for cowards. As a return to fighting looked increasingly likely, the Collaborative called upon their local contacts, who had mediated with the Misairiyah in the past. Further negotiations took place and finally, under intense pressure, the Misairiyah agreed to all the terms.
Both sides agreed that the Collaborative should monitor the process, to ensure that the compensation was paid in full. Fighting in the region came to an end, freedom of movement was restored, and talks over improving long-term relations between the tribes have restarted.
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