Gwalla Community of Bor county petitions South Sudan President Salva Kiir over a controversial land ownership

Having accepted these conditions, Bilal started in 1956 to plant some vegetables. Indeed, he also planted few citrus and mango trees at a very limited scale. In 1957 he also installed a small pump (2-4 inch diameter) for irrigating vegetables during the dry season. He ran the garden personally till his unfortunate death in a traffic accident in late 1958. At the time of his passing, Bilal left behind a young and vulnerable family. His wives and three elder daughters were unschooled (not literate) and Mohamed El-Hassan, the only son, was in his early teens and in 4th Year, Bor Elementary School. The current main plaintiff, Zenab, presumably was pre-school aged. The family needed every help and support they could get at this time to look after the small shop in Bor Town and maintain itself. Management problems soon dictated the abandonment of cultivating the farm immediately afterwards (as early 1959). Gwallei felt no need to revisit their gentlemen agreement now that Bilal had passed away. For all practical purposes, they simply considered Bilal had moved on and so the agreement lapsed. The farm reverted to pasture (the original form of land use) and no economic activity worth noting was taking place, even during the relative calm of post 1972 Peace Accord in South Sudan. Using the terms of the gentlemen agreement under which Abdalla (Lual Ayen) was granted this small plot of land by Gwalla Community, it is ridiculous for Abdalla Bilal’s daughters to lay any claim to ownership of Malwal-Agorbar as the whole. For nearly five decades in disuse (1959 – 2005), this land from Gwallei’s perspective had reverted to its rightful owners (the Gwalla clan) and has been used as part of the original pasture for a very long time. We were therefore outraged by Hon Abel’s instruction to the former Jonglei State Governor which surfaced in 2006, asking for its ownership on the behalf of his in-laws. Neither late Bilal nor any member of his family ever lived in Malwal-Agorbar. They never had any interest in this land for five decades which makes this claim preposterous from our standpoint. Five decades is a long time, sufficient to have settled this matter one way or another, had they challenged our (Gwalla’s) legitimacy to the use of the land as a pasture, especially following the relative calm of 1972 in south Sudan.      

Having walked you through the history of this disputed plot of land that rightfully belongs to Gwalla Community, it is now clear that Bilal’s daughters have no legal standing to lay claim over this piece of land whatsoever. Here is why we, as a community, firmly believe that we will prevail in winning back our ancestral land of Malwal-Agorbar.  

First and foremost, these baseless claims of ownership by daughters of late Bilal especially by Zenab Bilal deserve a rebuff from Gwalla Community by all means. Land ownership in rural Sudan had always been vested within the community/clan or tribe and, the current constitution of south Sudan enshrines this right (see Article 178 (4), (6), (7), and (2). As a matter of fact, Bilal and/or his daughters never had any legal possession to this plot and neither will they. Their father’s tenure was based on a verbal gentleman accord reached with the clan leaders of which its time and purpose have lapsed. Gwalla folks generously extended a helping hand by hosting their father, in time of his utmost need, on Gwalla ancestral land in the first place. We consider the behaviour of Bilal daughters, in launching this case, as disgraceful. It speaks volumes about their moral fortitude and displays revolting ingratitude, unknown in our culture. They exchanged Gwalla treatment of their father with kindness and goodwill with ingratitude and disdain.   

Second, we want to categorically refute the claim by Mr Abel Alier, the brother-in-law and advocate of the plaintiff, that Late Bilal had a bananas garden on the opposite west bank (see Mr Alier’s petition to former Jonglei State Governor dated 08/10/2005). This together with the claim by Abel and his legal alibi, Mr Thon Leek (see the Governor’s Testimony of 16/10/2006), that Bilal’s land extended several kilometres (km) up to and including east of Bor-Malek road are outrageous and shameful packs of lies. Let us take them one by one:

  1. The area just opposite the old Bilal’s farm/orchard is a grazing ground for a summer cattle camp called Liet nhom between Jirkuat (pronounced Jir-kwat) and Chamachol camps and, is situated just south of the island (Tur) in the middle of the Nile to the North. Under no circumstances, whatsoever would the locals (Gwallei) have allowed any kind of a garden to restrict livestock from using an already limited dry season pasture.
  2. As for the claim that his father-in-law land fell east of Bor-Malek road or that it was ½ km east/west and 2km south/north by the legal alibi, they are laughable. First, let us face it, Bilal never had a land east of the road. Second, the distance from the orchard straight to the road is at least 1km, but let us take Mr Governor’s word that it is 1/2 km and, using a simple arithmetic gives Mr Bilal’s holding as 235 feddans (250 acres) and over 500 feddans extending to road (save east of the road for the moment), as claimed by Mr Alier. We leave it to the authorities and jurors, in particular, to make sense of the kind of area figures being branded about here by the plaintiff, Mr Alier and their alibis. But one thing is clear if Mr Bilal had been able to obtain such a large chunk of land from the locals, his so-called agricultural land would have been a commercial scheme and would have required, according to the rules at the time, licensing and registration with both Ministries of Agriculture and Irrigation in Khartoum. But one thing we ask of the court and the authorities on that handed out testimonial is, does the plaintiff possess such documentation? Or a similar approval from Gwalla Traditional Authority at the time, as back up to the sorts of areas being branded about? We ask such information to be presented for scrutiny.
  3. Hon Alier claims, and we quote “this piece of land was once unlawfully occupied by Total Oil Company, at the beginning of 1980s”. We wonder if Total Oil Company just descended from space on Malwal-Agorbar without Mr Alier prior knowledge! Didn’t Mr Abel- Numeiri Administration grant Total Oil licence in 1980/81 to set up shop in south Sudan and to carry out oil exploration on the East of River Nile from Bor to Kapoeta/ Ethiopian border? Or did Mr former Vice President of Sudan and President of the South expect Total to operate on this large track of the South without a base camp? Supposing Hon. Abel didn’t know or approve of the base camp at Malual-Agorbar, did he or the in-laws he now represents ever made representation to the government to that effect? If not why? Hon Alier and his claimants may need to answer these questions, but the truth of the matter is they had no ownership over the land. That is why they couldn’t challenge either Gwallei using it for pasture or the government. With Mr Alier seated in power, the best for their intertwined interests (Alier’s and his relatives’) was to bolster the regime, not challenge it over someone else’s land that might put Hon Alier in awkward position. Consequently, it was sacrificed, like the Jonglei Canal before it, on the altar for power. But “HURRAY” to the CPA! We have it back! The real losers in this whole sinister episode and who continue to lose out, as this saga continues, are the Gwalla Community whose prime land was usurped by the state, with active or passive support from Mr Alier, and without a Dime in compensation. As a Community, we were utterly helpless to confront their brute tyrannical Administration to challenge the secret deal which handed over our land to Total Oil without prior consultation. The events of the mid 1970s when two students were shut dead in Juba, under Mr Abel’s watch, during a popular public protest against the ill-famed Jonglei Canal were still fresh in our people’s minds as Total Oil setup its base camp in Malwal-Agorbar at the beginning of the 1980s. Practically, we could do nothing. Now it is our sincere hope that, with the CPA, those days of tyranny, where public good was sacrificed in exchange for power and personal gain, are gone to no return and justice for the ordinary people shall rule throughout our land.    
  4. We ask that the claims by Mr Abel and Co. be understood for what they are - lies. They represent a case of “maximise-your-claim to establish-the-minimum”. Gwallei are not playing the extortion game here. This game, to us, is simply a none-starter. Gwallei ancestral land is not subject to bargain chips.