Southern Sudan: Time for referendum, not time to tackle land disputes

(Kampala) - Land conflict has been one of the challenging and burning issues during the interim era since the signing of the CPA in southern Sudan and the Sudan in General. This ranges from as large as the claims by the Misiriya Arabs on the Ngok Dinkas’ land in Abyei region to the minor, but disturbing ones of Ma’di on Acholi’s among others. Worse still is the extensions of borders by our neigbouring countries into our territories as evidenced by Ugandans settling and cultivating right into the land within Pajok payam in Magwi County, Turkana in the side of Kenya into that one of the Toposa of Kapoeta East County, Eastern Equatoria state.

Another case in point is the wrangle between the Kuku of Kajokeji County, Central Equatoria and Ma’di of Moyo district of Uganda. These are just a few to mention of the numerous claims and counter claims on lands in southern Sudan. In my own view, and as many of you would agree, this is not the right time to tackle this important point as we are preparing for the most important one – the south Sudan Referendum is just around the corner. We must therefore resist any attempt to divert our attention and that one of the international community from the referendum issue. Having said that, I would give this suggestion as the most viable mechanism in solving internal land wrangles among southern Sudanese communities which should be our next target after the referendum;

First of all, the CPA has been very clear on the land issue as a sub-section within the wealth sharing chapter. Its key points I would want to base my proposal on are the consideration of customary laws and practices and local heritage. This to me is the most important part of the section that would solve most if not all of the internal land claims among southern Sudanese communities. Notice should be taken of the above, as not only being local mechanism, but customary laws being one of the pillars of international laws as defined by Article 38 (1), (b) of the statute of the International Court of Justice. Let begin with the customary practices: among most African communities and southern Sudanese for that matter, land is one most important asset owned both by the livings and the deads (the living deads or ancestral spirits). These two categories of land owners have equal responsibilities to protect the land on which their survival lies from any person, group of persons or the force that be who wants to grab it.

Whereas the livings benefit directly by settling, cultivating among others on the land, the living deads benefit through sacrifices offered to them by the livings, but also by using the land as their homes in the forms of graveyards, mountains, big trees, streams and rivers among others. Local practices which I think can be derived from customary laws and practices as stipulated in the CPA involved here are therefore, landlordism where every clan has a land lord/lady in charge of the affairs of the land. These individuals are in charge of offering sacrifices to the living deads who in this case are the co-owners of the land, performing traditional rituals as per the particular custom, blessing the land, but also cursing it, and mediating between the livings and the deads as regards the management of the land. How this can be a solution The different clans of the different tribes have their land lords or land ladies; each tribe claiming for the piece of land would then be asked to bring forth their land lords/ladies to present their case through their customary practice such as offering sacrifices to their ancestral spirits or demanding the latter to either bless or curse whoever is laying false claims on the land.

Through this, I tell you, the true owner of the land will emerge since the spirits are just and merciless on pretenders i.e. they are prepared to harshly punish the side or party that might try to falsely acquire the land that they don’t have ancestral right to it. The punishments can be in the forms of serious outbreak of mysterious epidemic diseases, unproductivity of the land due to prolong drought or flood and some natural disasters among the tribe or community that is trying to lay false claims. The second point mentioned is the local heritages: these are very simple to be understood by many. Among the local heritages could be origin and meanings of names of places, mountains, valleys and rivers or streams in a particular land. Whereby, a tribe or group claiming ownership of a land should have all the above associated with them or their community. For instance, if the name is called Owiny ki Bul or Opari, the tribe claiming it should be able to associate the name, its origin and meaning with their tribe. If such a tribe can’t do that then there is no ground for their claims as based on the local heritage principle stipulated in the CPA.

Why this is the best option A number of reasons could point to this option of settling land wrangle as the best one: whereas the human beings might accept forged and falsified documents and information, this mechanism does not entertain such since the spirits have the power to see through false documents and punish those involve accordingly, It does not allow for bribery or political pressure from any group as the ancestral spirits do not take offering from any person or group they are not ancestors to, it creates harmony among the different communities and leaders since they will not need the use of force to determine the rightful owner of the land, political leaders will be release from the blames of supporting any of the party in conflict since this will be judgment of the spirits facilitated by the traditional leaders of the two communities; civil society members and other non political stakeholders like what happened with Alobo of UNMIS Torit will not have to abuse their offices to support a particular community; and above all, this method will allow for a compromise in that the tribe that the land does not belong to them can still be allowed to benefit from it through cultivations and settlement on the condition that they recognize the true owners of the land who will in turn through their land lords bless them to enjoy full benefits of the land.

*The writer is a southern Sudanese pursuing a master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomatic Studies in Makerere University. Can be reached through the email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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