...it is the grass that suffers. On the 9 July 2012 the two youngest countries in the world celebrate their first birthdays. To mark the occasion, journalists from Sudan and South Sudan came together to report on the development of both nations in the second edition of The Niles. The proverb about the two elephants, which is popular in both countries, has become a fitting leitmotif. How much the grass actually suffers, how the elephants are affected and what that has to do with relationships between people, are all explored in the collection of stories, pictures and songs from Sudan and South Sudan.
8 The Niles | Feature 1 2 3 5 1 Manot Mareng, immigration director in Aweil, explains the purpose of registration 2 Deng Luol, head of the Dinka Malual Peace Committee 3 A good example of grassroots peace: the Rezigat traders in Jaac 4 Business as usual in Jaac 5 Local negotiations with Rezigat to barter goods 6 The commissioner of Aweil East listens to attacked Rezigat group 7 Foreign traders register at the immigration office 4 6 7
Operation Lifeline: South Darfur - South Sudan B Feature | The Niles 9 ecause the trade is so important to local people, local authorities were keen to show that they wanted to do their best to ensure the traders’ safety. A meeting was held with around 50 representatives of the Rezigat community in the village of Rumaker, where the traders had been working. “We are your neighbours, we live together with you, we eat together with you and we solve our problems together with you,” the commissioner of the county of Aweil East told the meeting, before reassuring the traders that everything was being done to find the culprits and that any legal processes that followed, would also be conducted openly and justly. It seems that despite official sanctions on trade by Sudan and the ongoing issues at national levels, local authorities in South Sudan appear to value the traders. Another example of this was provided when the local authorities recently decided that all foreigners in the area needed to be registered, and to pay for that registration. Despite the ongoing border clashes between Sudan and South Sudan, traders from South Darfur’s Rezigat community continue to smuggle goods across the closed border. On the road with the traders on their special peacekeeping mission. by Hou Akot Hou T hey come from the other side of the border, from what is now another country. And their leaders on both sides of the border are still fighting, either with words or, sometimes, weapons. But the Sudanese traders who are providing what is basically a lifeline to the South Sudanese living near the border in the Jaac area, don’t have any problems negotiating with their neighbours. “Our business relationship with the local community here is very good,” explains one of the travelling traders from Sudan, Bashar Ahmed Ibrahim. Customers in Jaac may pay in cash or they’ll trade livestock, such as a goat or a sheep, for a sack of sorghum. And despite the fact that their nations are divided, the bartering and negotiation takes place peacefully, Ibrahim notes. “We discuss it and we come to an agreement,” he says. “There are no problems.” The traders coming across the border are of increasing importance since in early 2012, almost a year after the founding of South Sudan, fighting between both Sudanese armies broke out. The conflict was mostly about who was in control of the oil reserves on the ill-defined frontier between the two nations. Some of this fighting took place along the Kiir River, also known as Bahr al-Arab, a tributary of the Nile, which has long served as a frontier between different ethnic groups inside the country. Most recently the river became part of the border between Darfur, a region in Sudan, and Bahr el Ghazal, a region in the newly founded nation of South Sudan. Yet somehow, despite the fighting, a trade embargo and the exhausting and dangerous travel involved, trade has continued between the people of the two states, with traders of the Rezigat tribe regularly making the arduous journey between their home towns in Darfur to places like the village of Jaac, in South Sudan. T he journey from South Darfur to Jaac is neither safe nor easy. Traders are forced to sneak into South Sudan and this began just days after fighting erupted along the Kiir River. But with the goods they bring, the traders are basically extending a lifeline to the people living in these areas, areas that include an influx of refugees displaced because of the fighting. The traders travel with carts and donkeys and they carry goods such as sorghum - a grain staple of the Sudanese diet, often eaten in the form of a flat bread, as well as sugar and other essential goods to sell in Jaac. The costs of these kinds of essentials have risen exponentially due to the border conflicts and trade sanctions. Residents in the Jaac area have been hard hit this year after a shorter-than-usual rainy season meant the grain harvest was minimal. Many families have gone so far as to sell their livestock just to survive. The recent fighting, which has brought such a massive influx of needy refugees, has just made food insecurity in the area worse. In May 2012, USAID – the US government’s organisation for administering civilian aid overseas – estimated that many of those who had fled the disputed border areas, where the fighting was taking place, were ending up in villages like Jaac and Gok Machar, around 30 to 70 km away, heading south. Fighting along the border, “displaced populations from 17 villages’, USAID said, has left around 10,000 internally displaced persons in the Jaac area. Undoubtedly, part of the reason for the traders’ willingness to make the journey has to do with the prices their goods can fetch in this area. Despite the high prices they are paying though, local residents say they are only too happy to see the traders in town. “These traders have saved us from the burden of searching for sorghum everywhere,” one Jaac resident Garang Lual Garang told The Niles. “They’re doing good for us. Sometimes a trader will come with ten donkeys, loaded with sacks of sorghum and this is what the people of Jaac need in order to survive,” he concludes. I n early May, there was further evidence that the route the traders were taking was not an easy one. Rezigat traders who were on their way back into Darfur were shot at en route. “We were terrified,” one from the group of traders, Mahmoud Abdullah told The Niles. Three armed men simply opened fire on a group of three traders, he explained. One trader was killed and the others injured. The lack of security on the road is something the Sudanese traders are continuously concerned about, Abdullah explains. But, he added, “we shall continue trading, there’s no problem … we shall continue if the [local authorities] can provide us with some security.” “My message is cooperation,” the immigration director in the area pointed out. “I need the communities here to cooperate with foreigners. They are not our enemies, they came here to save us. And it’s the government’s job to assess their documents and let them go [about their business] – but in a systematic way.” There are still some unanswered questions about the Rezigat traders that could make for uncomfortable answers. For example, after praising how the nomadic traders were helping his community, Jaac local Garang noted that the traders also “have other things going on, behind the scenes. We’re not sure what that is,” he concluded unsatisfactorily. On the whole though, the traders are seen by many as a positive element. In general, aid organisations and analysts consider the fostering of trade links as a positive step forward when it comes to resolving disputes and reconciling historical conflicts. “People to people dialogue is urgently needed … between these ethnic groups,” a document named “A Way Forward to Promote Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace Between the Bordering Missiriya, Rezigat and Dinka Communities”, released by a local steering committee made up of South Sudanese and Sudanese authorities, along with civil society organisations working on the subject, concluded in 2010. A nother study by USAID, published in 2004, had already praised peaceful relationships that came about through the necessity for trade. In the study, named “Trading for Peace”, the authors wrote that, “this type of approach regarding the achievement of peace is a demand-driven response … As war between north and south Sudan continued unabated, the civilian population in the south experienced great hardship … and the people often had little or no access to healthcare, education, markets and, in many areas, food.” The document pointed out that agreements reached between rival ethnic groups in these areas around such things as grazing corridors for nomadic herders and the continuation of trade in essentials had led to a kind of “soft border” situation that facilitated peace between the former enemies. “It was also recognized that if these agreements are to be adhered to in the long-term, then it is essential that human and economic development take place at the grassroots level” the report concluded. Some of the kinds of agreements reached around trade and travel – that the authors described as “peace markets” – had even inspired political reform at a higher level. And the case of the Rezigat traders who come to Jaac, is surely an example of this kind of grassroots peace. One can only hope that they can continue to make the journey – for the sake of the growing and needy population in the Jaac region and also in the hopes that friendly relations across borders may continue to thrive in the coming years and provide significant examples to others.