Q) I am an assistant professor at Utah State University who works in Africa, namely the DRC, Uganda, and South Sudan. I recently came across a flyer about your work with the Murle and the infertility issue in Pibor County South Sudan and I would love to hear more about the work your organization is doing there and how you came to this topic?
A) Thanks for your inquiry! I have been working in South Sudan for several years among Dinka of various clans–Dinka/Bor and Jonglei Dinka–and the Nuer of Upper Nile, each of whom have had some contentious encounters with the other cattle culture the Murle with whom you are also familiar. In the course of the attempt to pull together a “network” of the South Sudan mission stations we have established or enhanced in the past years, I have had a closer encounter with the cattle culture mores of the rivalries for scarce resources–not just land, (arable soils or grazing pasture) water, and–above all–the fertility of women and cattle.
It is not absurd to reduce these to the same thing, since they need cattle to purchase a bride, and the inflation rate has brought them to about a fifty to one equivalence. I have been a part of many prolonged negotiations in the bargaining and selection of the cattle they virtually worship for exchange for a nubile bride. And, increasingly often, and painfully evident in intensity marked by casualties on every visit, cattle raids and stealing of young girls as a one of the most significant hazards to health. In the adult patient population, violence is a leading cause of death–ten of twelve brought to me on my first day at Werkok alone this past January.
I held a session with the chiefs at both the Dinka enclaves at Bor and at Werkok, and I asked “who can rise above all this and see that your future is linked to that of your enemies, and if they continue to have a significant problem threatening them with extinction, they will continue to raid upon your resources until you both achieve nothing but perpetual miseries inhibiting any hopes of growth and stability–especially as a new nation is dawning on January 9, 2011 which is going to include both of you as neighbors.” One Dinka volunteered to accompany me, and then a couple of others–courageous on their parts, as the others thought that all Murle should be killed because of the long standing grudges against their mutual raiding parties.
I went to PiBor and with a few Dinka spokesmen (using Arabic so as not to offend with the Dinka language) we addressed a group of 78 sub-prefecture chiefs, two paramount chiefs, and the District Commissioner–easy to distinguish since he was the one in this Equatorial African region of poverty who was wearing a suit and tie–rather distinctive from me, for example. WIth a documentary film crew observing and filming the events, we lined up all the representatives of the Murle after reviewing their bombed out health care facilities, now twenty eight years in ruins. I told them what they already know–that their infertility rate is 78% for a list of reasons (including those you can see in the 10-DEC-A-6 attachments) and that a health care facility that is refurbished and enhanced with upgraded equipment and training would be one way of forestalling the extinction their clan faces if untreated. I had them raise their hands and swear to not kill their Dinka brothers, as a condition of my return to rehabilitate their clinic with both materials and training if they contribute the labor of reconstruction. And, I said, it would not be done by “white men off a plane” but by “Sudanese helping Sudanese” in this new nation of South Sudan. If there is no blood on the bracelets I have just distributed (“Mission to Heal”–see www.MissionToHeal.org) I would return in a year to help rebuild their clinic. Meanwhile, let me introduce YOU to your health care directors–Ajak Abraham Blos and Jacob Gai–Dinkas. And, representatives of your Murle group will be directing the distribution of health care resources among the Dinka in the Dinka/Bor clan. The forty foot container load of hospital and clinic supplies should be landing at Mombasa for truck transfer up into the Nile river basins of Bor/Werkok and PiBor within the next week, and I will arrive just after the referendum vote January 9 with a TR team to fulfill our end of the bargain. They had so fastidiously held to their end (one of the subprefecture chiefs said to me through translation “If one of our young men seized a Dinka girl or rustled cattle, it is OUR chief who would snuff him out, so badly do we want this health care facility!”) The casualty count from this S Sudan Peace initiative has been–can you believe? Zero since that January 15 pledge among these two warring clans, in contrast to ten deaths on the Dinka side alone on my first day in Werkok last January. So, they have held up their end, and now it is our time to come through–hence the coming mission.
There have been other casualties from continuing raids, particularly among Nuer/Dinka where we work in Old Fangak Upper Nile, and in other parts of Jonglei province (see attached 10-NOV-A-13) among Dinka clans of another group and Murle surrounding them in Duk Payuel and in the payams of Pokdap. And I suspect there will be a settling of many old scores once January 9 has come and gone and independence has not suddenly resulted in their being rich and fertile in a prosperity that they have naively assumed comes with a ballot. But, we are starting on something like a tolerance of a multi-cultural rudimentary nation-state among competing cattle cultures.
I would be happy to furnish further information by phone or otherwise as we are busily preparing now to get to South Sudan and try to do what seemed to have worked when I had done something like it before in helping Hutu care for Tutsis and vice versa in Rwanda, and will try again soon in CAR/Congo for victims of the LRA. I hope to work my way out of this job!