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


May we remind the jurors that according to customary laws of the majority of South Sudan’s tribes, lands outside the jurisdiction of towns and cities, national forest estates and game reserves, are collectively held in trust by tribes and clan (sub-tribes) communities who only pass it on to posterity, just as they had received it from their forefathers and, that Western style system of “Titles and Deeds” is not recognised as mechanism, either for holding or dispensing of such communal lands. May we also explain, in the context of this appeal, that “a Title” is a legal document that delimit a piece of land on which a title is vested (e.g. Lord of Cornwell) while a “Deed” is a legal document signed by an individual, detailing how his business holding and/or land can be disposed of in case of legal dispute with business partners or on his passing. We concede that in Sudan some form of inheritance/will does apply, but only for purchase lands or lands given out by the government in towns and cities, where the government has control. Such voluntarily surrendered lands by local communities to government for public use were/are usually gazetted and publicly held by the government in the form of towns, cities, forests and game reserves. In a nutshell, this is how our present towns and cities came into being. The government of the day has authority over this type of land ownership to grant holdings, in form of residential plots to individuals or public infrastructural and developmental activities, using a fair transparent process. But in marked contrast to towns and city lands, the rural collective ownership means that rights to traditional homeland of the clan are not transferable, by inheritance or otherwise, to individuals not belonging to the paternal genealogy of the clan. Therefore, no amount of wealth, influence or power held by a none-member of the local community can sway the community from exercising this traditional right to withhold land. Yes, in south Sudan one can move, settle or setup shop among a given rural community by connection (like Bilal) but this doesn’t bestow upon the settler land ownership rights. Such are the tribal customary laws in south Sudan (e.g. our displaced could not settle in Equatoria for example) and Pan e Bol is no exception to these rules. The inalienable right of local communities to ancestral lands is constitutionally recognised in the Interim Constitution of South Sudan (see Section 180, subsections (2), (4) and (6) of ICSS). In addition, the Constitution (Section 175, subsection (3) clearly obligates courts in South Sudan to apply customary law. For the kangaroo court to ignore all these clear constitutional directives and to proceed and deliver its unjust verdict against Gwalla de Bol, is a clear violation of ICSS that should annul the constitutionality of the re-trial court and the legality of its verdict. As for us, the Community of Gwallei, we consider the verdict as none-binding.         

Let us stress here, that Gwalla de Bol from the start were very conscious of the fact that land is an enduring asset that, not only provides a permanent homeland for them but also an everlasting asset for their stable social, cultural and economic wellbeing as a community through the provision of adequate pastoral land for their livestock. That is why, Gwallei, laid down strict conditions before granting a limited access to Bilal to cultivate this very parcel of land. 

Now with the return of the internally displaced members of Gwalla Community with thousands upon thousands of herds of cattle from Western and Central Equatoria States to their ancestral homeland, the detrimental effects of this court decision to the wellbeing of this community cannot be overestimated nor can its security implications be unclear.  

Putting Malwal-Agorbar issue into larger context, we have also been made aware of the fact that Jonglei State Government did adopt unilaterally a fraudulent, controversial, and confrontational policy called “Land Bill”, sponsored by the Hon Minister of Infrastructure and Physical Development annexing lands extending 11 miles North to Baaidit including Pan e Maketh and Makol e Chuei, 11 miles East to Makwach, Mareng and Kolnyang to Pariak 25 miles South of Bor Town and, covering almost all traditional grazing lands of Bor County, and especially Baidit, Makwach, Anyidi and Kolnyang Traditional Court Centres (Payams) combined as state land. This includes the land (Malwal-Agorbar) we are now addressing in this petition.  

Let us make one thing clear, we are a pastoral community and always had been throughout history. The link between us, our livestock and pasture should be apparent in anybody’s and everybody’s mind. Holding onto our traditional land and pasture is a human right issue and a matter of survival (of to-be or not-to-be). We want to send a message to the nouveaux riché and those who have intents to abuse their authority and public trust or to the misguided who may perceive themselves to be above the law in Jonglei State, that Gwalla will defend all their traditional pasture at any cost, using every legal and media network available to them. Gwalla will also seek the support of people of goodwill across south Sudan and enlist the solidarity of all local communities of Bor County, especially the communities/clans of Baidit, Makwach, Anyidi, and Kolnyang in Bor South that are faced with this illegal land grabbing by the State of Jonglei. By devising such policies, the Jonglei State by design/intent or wit, is being confrontational with the local populace and is forcing them to make a stark choice between their existence (none-displacement) and the state. The choice is clear- people come before the state and, the state exists for the people.  

Our people had been conscious throughout of the inalienable right of their children’s children to ancestral homeland well before the modern nation state of Sudan came into being and we are not going to forfeit that right easily. Momentarily, we are also aware of the fact that this right has been enshrined in the constitution of GoSS, and will use every avenue and means available to affirm it. We will execute the mandate by the forefathers to tenaciously possess, diligently use, and staunchly guard and protect Pan e Bol (Gwalla) should the circumstances entail. We shall continue to access, possess, use, and/or protect all the land of Gwalla (Pan e Bol) from Mathiang-Adar North, Malual-Agorbar, Malek South and to Kolnyang East. We will not be deterred by those who may use none-procedural and immoral methods to obtain favours from corrupt officials or may abuse their influence, because we are convinced that truth will eventually prevail.  

We want to emphasise, by exposing the above web of unhealthy network, to the South Sudan public in general and, GoSS Judiciary in particular, that Bilal’s daughters and their husbands have relentlessly abused their influence and public trust, as may suit, to manipulate public officials (the statement of Bor County Commissioner), applied nepotism and clan connections (see the Document from Ministry of Physical and Infrastructure Development concerning the size of Bilal’s holding, the exaggerated estimates for damages submitted by Ministry of Agriculture, Jonglei State), all of which do not approximate to the reality on the ground, either in the past or present time. We invite anyone interested in this case to verify our claims by visiting the site of the original farm. Its dilapidated fenced boundaries are still intact. But may we register here that we were not surprised by the exaggeration of the Plaintiff’s holding estimates and damages, given that Hon. Ministers and her husband hail from this group in Twic East County. Since 2005 the Hon Infrastructure Minister is ill-famed for favouritism and discrimination in distribution of residential plots in Bor Town in favour of a limited band of wrong elements in our midst at the expense of the local communities and other ethnic groups, in what is traditionally a Bor land (see http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article30017;http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article27866 http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article27866). We understand even families that had lived in Bor Town since 1950s have lost plots under the pretext of Town planning. Others have been inhumanely uprooted with neither alternative plots nor compensation. Every city or town in the world mirrors the majority of locals in its population. It is what makes cities distinct from one another. Bor Town is the exception: its population is being engineered by the Hon Minister of Infrastructure. Whether or not we accept this fact is another matter. The attempt to grab Malwal-Agorbar is part of a grand design by the group during the liberation struggle while we continue to slumber! This recalcitrant group had plans to resettle certain sections of the old Greater Bor in the prime land of Bor South, from Bor Town to the border of Central Equatoria, displacing traditional communities that lay claim to this land, using the State force of New Sudan. The group bragged openly of having emasculated Boor, not knowing in their naivety that people didn’t retaliate because Boor had set their sights on achieving national priorities of liberation and peace. 


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