20 Oct 2021


Cattle Raiding ‘A Source Of Acquiring Wealth And Prestige’

Cattle raiding has been a menace for decades now between pastoralist communities in Western Lakes State which has left many dead particularly the youth.

Cattle Raiding ‘A Source Of Acquiring Wealth And Prestige’
An armed youth in Rumbek [Gurtong photo]

By Mabor Riak Magok

RUMBEK, 15 November 2017 [Gurtong]
-Raiders use guns and machetes during their raids and anyone who tries to stop them is often killed in order for the raid to be a success on the part of the raider.

25 Year old Majok Manyang nicknamed as “Jotmach” who has five gun shots wounds in his body talks to Gurtong on how cattle raiding has become part and parcel of the people in the State.

“I had stopped this business of cattle raiding in 2016 after I married my wife, because it’s a matter of life and death,” said Jotmach.

“Whenever you go to raid either the owner of the cow either succeeds in killing you trying to defend themselves and protecting their cattle or you succeed in killing him and run away with his cattle because chances of getting away with raided cattle safely without death is very rare.” Said Jotmach.

According to the Ministry of Interior, department of small arms and light weapon control, it is estimated that the number of unauthorized arms has dramatically increased to over 3.2 million small arms circulating in the hands of civil population since the beginning of violence in December 2013.

According to Jotmach, the raids have of late increased following the easy access to owning guns.

“We had never practiced such sporadic violence and cattle raiding among ourselves as one community since the time of our ancestors, but what is fueling the violence and cattle raiding is the presence of arms in our hands.”

He clearly mentions how in the past, communal problems would be easily solved by leaders of different communities. Minor issues like, eloping, adultery and impregnating a girl were all solved amicably.

“I stopped this business because people are killing one another even relatives in simple minor disputes kill each other.”

“Like now it is difficult to explain the reasons as to why we are killing one another and why we are practicing cattle raiding because everybody in the cattle camps is holding a gun and has an agenda. You see there are those who are who just raid cattle and then there are others whose purpose is to carry out revenge killings,” explained Jotmach.

He said most a times the cattle are used to acquire weapons and in this case a barter trade is done hence the continuous cattle raiding in the State.

“Cattle are used to get guns, and guns are used to get cattle. Most weapons are bought through barter trade, often in exchange of cattle. Stolen cattle are used to get money, and then, it is used to amass sophisticated weaponry and ammunition.” He explains.

He said cattle raiding thrive on a parallel trade in illegal small arms and also in some instance, stolen cattle are changed for bullets and guns locally.

Another youth in one of the cattle camp, Poth Makur said it is a cycle of raiding that will not end.
“All these cows that we are keeping in the cattle camps do not belong to us originally. They all belong to our neighboring communities whom we have raided from during this conflict. And it is endless, they will also come and raid them again from us when they get a chance and we go too to raid them back, making it a cycle of cattle raiding and revenge killings”. He said.

“If a person is killed during the clashes in the cattle camps by a member of another clan or tribe, the relatives will leave the dead body openly on the ground for vultures so that it will create more anger from the youths to go and fight back,” according to Makur.

Cattle rustling is committed and controlled by traditional community members, there is increasing evidence that it is becoming a more organized and sophisticated crime that is planned and implemented by networks of Armed Youth.

Historically, cattle raiding were purely a traditional practice where rival communities would engage in the exercise for purpose of restocking cattle and not for commercial purpose and it was in the past carried out between neighboring far community.

There is growing evidence that organized criminals and auction businessmen are increasingly turning to rural areas to exploit lower risk, but highly lucrative rural environments.

Many traditional leaders, religious leaders and government officials defined cattle raiding as the process in which a group of individuals plan, organize and steal livestock forcefully from another person from the grazing field for the purpose of commercial gain or restocking in order to marry from the first class family.

The terms cattle rustling and cattle raiding are used interchangeably.

In Dinka history, cattle are regarded as a source of livelihood, political, economic and social influence.

Most of these Dinka communities depend on livestock for their economic up keep where by each claim rights to cattle ownership, and can go to great lengths to keep their herds secure and protected.

Some wealthy Cattle herders in Western Lakes State told Gurtong that  cattle are a source of  wealth, pride and food security and are used for some prestige, whereas for others in the community of Agaar Dinka of Rumbek describe  cattle as  major cultural property which fulfills some traditions.

For instance, cattle are symbolic, and play a significant role in traditional ceremonies and cultural events, such as marrying by paying dowry and blood compensation.

Cattle revolve around the daily life and routines of village communities of Western Lakes State as a source of prestige, pride, status, identity and happiness and cattle are not only a source of food but also a form of social capital that is important for negotiations and social investment for many tribal pastoralist communities in South Sudan particularly in Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile.

Maker Dut, an employee of South Sudan Justice chamber said the vitality of cattle among pastoralists is so cultural, ritualistic and demonstrative that when one who loses stock he loses community status of respect and social standing.

Maker defines cattle rustling as a criminal act of stealing cattle from grazzing field for the purpose of sale or restocking.

He said that criminals who are majorly armed Youth, Politicians and businessmen are taking advantage of culture to commit cattle theft in the name of cattle rustling.

Records from Police service indicates that more than 5,000 cattle are stolen every year. 
He said hundreds of Agaar community continues to lose lives and property, and thousands are displaced through cattle rustling and it has consequences on economic and social life of many pastoral communities where many lives have been disrupted, business closed and livestock rearing and crop production severely crippled.

He said many police officers, women, students, elderly and government official have been killed, women widowed, children orphaned, travelers hijacked, people displaced, schools closed and property destroyed. 

With increasing prevalence of economic hardship and poverty in the country, cattle rustling is now becoming a large-scale business which elders have no control, and guns are the major tools used to get cows for accumulating cattle wealth.

Paullo Malual , one of the imminent Intellectual says cattle raids meant stealing livestock by scaring away owners, but in contemporary times, cattle rustling involves forceful stealing and destruction of property

Malual said, the commercialization, militarization and politicization of cattle rustling has significantly affected the social fabric of the community , and law of the land are compromised at will as well as human rights violations such as rape, displacement , torture and killings of innocent people, are inflicted on innocent citizens .

“Most primary schools in Western Lakes State have been permanently closed down since 2015, and hundreds of thousands of residents have been forced to flee their homes while Police officers have been massacred while pursuing stolen cattle and children orphaned, women widowed and families shattered.”Said Malual.

“With presence of military and security apparatus in Western Lakes State, cattle raiders still succeed in carrying out cattle rustling, road ambushes and targeting of educated people in the town. They are holding villages and security officers’ hostage with negative activities in the State.”

Malual said raiders are well equipped with modern types of weapons such as PKM, AK47 and they are using mobile phones for communicating and coordinating attacks.

“Cattle rustling has become a source of livelihood for armed youth criminals and is a means of making money and acquiring wealth to marry a beautiful lady”, he said.

Malual said, the vast majority of the stolen cattle are ferried and slaughtered illegally in most of Western Lakes Counties and villages as price of meat in Rumbek has gone high to SSP 400 per kilo.

One of the Police officers who spoke on condition of anonymity said there is a network that alerts the criminals on what route the police are stationed in order for them to use a different route not to be caught.

“There are a lot of serious network especially between the chiefs, Politicians and top government officials who assist the network of armed Youth in covering up and providing them free movement permits.  There is no doubt that prominent senior government officials and Politicians in Western Lakes State are behind the cycle of revenge killings and cattle rustling activities,” said the police officer. 

Cattle raiding is a chronic issue that is contributing highly to death among the youth in Lakes State.


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