The Jikany Nuer and Lou Nuer in South Sudan peacefully co-existed until the early 1990s. However, tensions between both groups over natural resource competition ensued due to several factors. For one, the influx of refugees from the Sudanese Civil War as well as from Ethiopia into Jikany territory placed increased pressure on available land.
Increasing population pressure and droughts forced Lou pastoralists to move into Jikany territory in search for water access, thereby provoking intercommunal tensions.
In 1993, armed conflict over access to fishing grounds, grazing areas and water broke out between the Jikany Nuer and Lou Nuer. By 1994, 1,300 people had been killed during clashes between the two communities.
In 1993, armed conflict over access to fishing grounds, grazing areas and water broke out between the Jikany and Lou sections of the Nuer. By 1994, 1,300 people had been killed and 75,000 cattle been stolen during clashes between the two communities. The engagement of various tribesmen in paramilitary groups supplied both communities with heavy weaponry, which caused clashes to be of intense violence (Bradbury et al., 2006; UCDP, 2015).
Due to inter-tribal marriages, the Jikany Nuer and Lou Nuer co-existed in a good manner until the early 1990s (UCDP, 2015). Tensions between the two communities came about when a combination of droughts in 1992 and 1993 and an increase in population and livestock numbers forced Lou pastoralists, who are geographically disadvantaged in regard to water resources, to move into Jikany territory. Refugees from the Sudanese Civil War as well as from Ethiopia, fleeing into Jikany territory further increased competition over natural resources and food supply, thereby exacerbating intercommunal tensions, which ultimately led to the outbreak of violence (Bradbury et al., 2006; Schomerus & Allen, 2010; UCDP, 2015).
In 1991, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the main South Sudanese rebel group fighting the government of Sudan in the Sudanese Civil War from 1983 to 2005, split. This led to insecurities and empowered various warlords in the region, which added to the level of violence. Furthermore, fighting between the two factions of the SPLA caused the Lou Nuer to be unable to access certain grazing areas and fishing grounds (Johnson, 2003; Schomerus & Allen, 2010).
An additional factor contributing to Jikany - Lou Nuer tensions was uneven disarmament by the South Sudanese government after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, between the Government of Sudan and the SPLA. Both communities were disarmed to a larger extent than the Murle community, which competes with them over natural resources. This has forced the Jikany Nuer and Lou Nuer to move into safer territory, where the risk of attacks by the Murle is less high. Being confined into small areas, tensions between the two groups over access to resources easily escalate into violence (UCDP, 2015).
After a peace conference in 2006 could reduce violence between the two communities, tensions escalated again in 2009, due to a variety of factors such as the displacement of Jikany during the civil war, as well as cattle thefts and abductions. Revenge attacks by both communities led to more than 190 fatalities and the destruction of a UN World Food Program convoy by the Jikany Nuer (Small Arms Survey, 2010).
In 1994, an inter-Nuer reconciliation conference was set up by Nuer intellectuals with the help of several Christian churches and through mediation efforts by Riek Machar, at the time leader of the Nasir faction of the SPLA. The conference set out the conditions under which the communities would agree to stop fighting and resulted in a compromise that everyone was willing to accept. Yet, it failed to establish the measures necessary to enforce this agreement.
No armed forces were appointed to keep the peace and leaders from both sides could not be convinced that there would not be retaliatory attacks by the other community. Thus fighting between the two groups broke out again not long after the peace conference (Johnson, 2003).
In July 2006 another peace conference was held in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), attended by representatives of the South Sudanese and Ethiopian government, as well as the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). It was agreed upon that a disarmament process was necessary to stop attacks by the communities’ youth; and that the peace agreement should be used as an opportunity to strengthen the economy of both tribes, which had been seriously damaged during the fighting (Sudan Tribune, 2006). Since then, small scale clashes between members of both groups have occurred primarily over cattle theft, but the number of fatalities has been considerably lower than in earlier years.