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Conflict between Lou Nuer and Murle in South Sudan

Type of conflict sub
Intensity 4
Region
Southern Africa
Time 1944 ‐ ongoing
Countries S. Sudan
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Conflict Summary The rivalry between the Lou Nuer and the Murle remains one of the most violent communal conflicts in the world despite numerous resolution attempts by the...
Conflict between Lou Nuer and Murle in South Sudan
The rivalry between the Lou Nuer and the Murle remains one of the most violent communal conflicts in the world despite numerous resolution attempts by the government, the international community, various Christian churches and national authorities. Both groups share a long history of resource conflicts and livestock raiding, compounded by rising temperatures and increasing variability of rainfall in South Sudan, but also by the wider political and military dynamics of the South Sudanese state building process.
Conceptual Model

Climate Change

Over the past 30 years, South Sudan has been experiencing progressive warming and prolonged dry seasons.

Intermediary Mechanisms

Since the Lou Nuer live in a water poor area, they are forced to migrate into territories of other groups during dry seasons, frequently bringing them in close proximity to the Murle and inciting conflicts over shared resources and cattle raiding.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

Both the influx of weapons and the effects of climate change have exacerbated traditional conflicts over access to water and cattle between the Lou Nuer and Murle. Other factors influencing the fighting between both groups include the feeling of political discrimination, and the state’s inability to provide security to local populations. Violence between both groups reached its peak from 2009 to 2012, claiming more than 3,000 lives during that period. Fighting between the two communities continued in the following years with little or no decrease in intensity and despite resolution attempts by various actors.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversChanging climate reduces available natural resources.Economic developments reduce available natural resources.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources reduces available resources and ecosystem services.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources induces migration.Migration leads to conflicts between migrants and residents.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to distributive conflicts between societal groups.A slow change in climatic conditions, particularly temperature and precipitation.Gradual Change in Temperature and/or PrecipitationGrowing scarcity of essential natural resources.Natural Resource ScarcityA broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural Resources(In)voluntary long and short-term movements of people within or across state boundaries.Displacements / MigrationNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal Groups
Context Factors
  • Dysfunctional Resource Management
  • Water-stressed Area
  • History of Conflict
  • Low Level of Economic Development
  • Political Transition
  • Weak Institutions
Conflict History

Historically, cattle raids have been common between the Lou Nuer and Murle in Jonglei State, South Sudan, as cattle rading is central to the nomadic people’s way of life, not only as a drought coping strategy, but also as a social and cultural practice (see Communal conflicts in South Sudan). However, the nature of cattle raiding has changed drastically in recent decades as the South Sudanese civil war brought large quantities of heavy weapons to the area and contributed to an increased commercialisation of cattle raiding. Both factors have exacerbated traditional conflicts between the Lou Nuer and Murle. Violence between both groups reached its peak from 2009 to 2012, claiming more than 3000 lives during that period (UCDP, 2015). It displaced about 50,000 people during Christmas 2011 alone (Knaup, 2012). Fighting between the two communities continued in the following years with little or no decrease in intensity and despite resolution attempts by various actors (McCallum and Okech, 2013UCDP, 2015).

Progressive warming and land use conflicts
Access to water and pastures is central for local communities in Jonglei State, and the Lou Nuer are at a geographical disadvantage. Living in a water poor area, they are forced to move into the territories of other groups during the dry season, which can give both pretext and opportunity for conflicts over shared resources and cattle raiding. Over the past 30 years, this dynamic has been amplified by progressive warming and prolonged dry seasons in South Sudan, which have frequently brought the Lou Nuer in close proximity to the Murle (Richardson, 2011).

Increased militarisation and mutual suspicions 
Yet, Lou Nuer and Murle do not only fight over cattle and access to water, but also as a result of political discriminations. Both the Murle and the Lou Nuer in Jonglei State feel economically and politically marginalised by the politically powerful Bor Dinka; especially the Murle feel threated as they have little representation in the local government. Although both communities have supported counter-insurgency movements against a common enemy - the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) - during the north-south civil war, and then again during the 2010 elections in South Sudan, the increased militarisation of both communities in the course of the war has strained their relations and given rise to mutual fears and suspicions (McCallum and Okech, 2013;Richardson, 2011).

Weak presence of the state
However, the most important reason for communal violence in Jonglei State is the weak presence of the South Sudanese State and its inability to provide security to local populations. In 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the SPLA and the Government of Sudan unintentionally created a “power vacuum”. The SPLA, which had partly acted as a provider of security in controlled territories during the war, entered in a phase of internal consolidation and accommodation of rival army factions, but civilian policing did not replace its deterrence role at the local level. Meanwhile, decades of civil war and the proliferation of weapons across Jonglei State has undermined traditional authorities and conflict mitigation institutions, with military commanders fighting on behalf of their community and traditional authority figures loosing influence over armed young men (Richardson, 2011Ferrie, 2012).

Resolution Efforts

Disarmament
The SPLA has responded to communal violence in Jonglei State with several disarmament campaigns, most of which were unsuccessful and sometimes even worsened the violence, since the troops in charge of the disarmament were to a large extent Nuer, who used the opportunity to take revenge for earlier attacks by the Murle. Rape and torture were reported, which further discouraged Murle youths to turn in their weapons.
 

In addition, some disarmament attempts have been unequal, leaving disarmed groups more vulnerable to attacks. Organizations voicing concerns over human rights violations were intimidated by the government and pressured to not report on the subject. On the other hand, inadequate capacities have prevented the SPLA from building buffer zones between the warring groups (McCallum and Okech, 2013Ferrie, 2012).

Church-led initiatives
The South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) initiated the Jonglei Peace Process in 2012 to promote dialogue and reconciliation between local communities and military leaders. Although it succeeded in temporarily halting violence, it has failed to stimulate reconciliation and peacebuilding between the involved communities and is met with skepticism by many Murle. Several other peace processes have been assisted by local and international groups, including AECOM, Pact South Sudan, and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) ((McCallum and Okech, 2013).

Humanitarian action
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is providing logistic support to governmental and humanitarian organisations.  However, the international community has not put adequate pressure on the GoSS to protect local populations (McCallum and Okech, 2013). Humanitarian action is hampered by low capacities and persistent insecurity, which lead to high staff turnover and only sporadic presence in crisis areas. In some cases, assistance to the Murle has provoked resentment by other communities. Furthermore, too little development work has been done by the government and international donors. This is partly due to the fact that most of the financial resources have been invested in short term crisis support, rather than in long term infrastructural development and in the provision of formal education and job opportunities (Ferrie, 2012McCallum and Okech, 2013).

Remaining challenges
Some progress has been realized in bringing institutions closer to the local people, but important logistical and security challenges remain. Weak police presence as well as negative experiences with past disarmament strategies have left communities skeptical about the government’s ability and willingness to ensure their security (Ferrie, 2012McCallum & Okech, 2013). Considering that security, development, state-community and inter-community relations in Jonglei State are deeply intertwined; a lasting solution to its local conflicts will largely depend on the effectiveness and accountability of the SPLA and governmental agencies.

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
Intensities
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Influences
Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Fatalities
3 244
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation Regional
Resources
Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Resolution Success
Reduction in Violence There was no reduction in violence.
Resolve of displacement problems Displacement continues to cause discontent and/or other problems.
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future There is no increased capacity to address grievances in the future.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been partially addressed.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity There has been no reduction in intensity
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political


Actors
Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Lou Nuer community
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Murle community
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Government of South Sudan
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Sudan People’s Liberation Army
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal National
South Sudan Council of Churches
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
UN Mission in South Sudan
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleExternal
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
1 Disarmament, demobilisation & reintegration The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has conducted several unsuccessful disarmament campaigns in Jonglei State.
2 Dialogue The South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) has initiated the Jonglei Peace Process in 2012 to promote dialogue and reconciliation between local communities and military leaders.
1 Humanitarian & Development aid The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is providing logistic support to governmental and humanitarian organisations.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Symmetric: All parties can affect the environmental resource equally.
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
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