Socialisation versus reconciliations of cattle wrestlers in South Sudan

By Wani Tombe Lako

February 17, 2013 (SSNA) — I am seriously bothered by the assertion that, one of the main goals for the purported national reconciliation process (NRP) in South Sudan (SS), is the reconciliations of cattle wrestlers (RCW), in SS, as one method of engendering peace in SS. I am worried that, the organisers of this NRP may be starting from wrong premises, and which may later on, produce the wrong results.

I do sincerely appreciate interests shown by the United Nations (UN), and various international non-governmental organisations (INGOs). However, these international organisations, do not know and understanding the cultural and moral underpinnings of so many variables of instability in SS, including the phenomenon of cattle wrestling (PCW). To these foreign organisations, the PCW is run-of-the-mill variant of social conflict, which also becomes armed conflict, albeit, with economic and financial implications.

Therefore, my intention, of writing this article, is to enlighten these foreign components of the NRP, and others, within and without the SS. The PCW is intrinsically saturated in cultural mores and associated conducts; which result in criminal offenses, and at common-law, which is the legal tradition of formal legal institutions in SS, those crimes are the crimes of robbery and theft. 

At common-law, robbery is the illegal taking of property from the person of another, or in the person’s presence, by violence, or intimidation; that is, aggravated larceny. It is a crime at common-law and under statutory laws. It is theft because; it is the felonious taking and removing of another’s personal property with intent of depriving the true owner of it. The (mens rea) or the guilty mindfor theft is the intent to deprive the rightful owner of the property.

The (actus reus) or the wrongful deed or conduct of cattle wrestling, is the actual removal of the cattle and the property in them from the rightful owners. It is important to note that, the actus reus which is the result of conduct, and therefore an event, must be distinguished from the conduct which produced the result. For example, in simple case of murder, it is the victim’s death, brought about by the conduct of the murderer, which is the actus reus, the mens rea is the murderer intention to cause that death.

To an objective, and formalistic legal bystander, the vile conduct in the PCW, and the PCW itself, fall within the ambit of the criminal justice system (CJS), if there is any functioning in SS. This objective, and formalistic legal bystander, may further wonder, as to why, should the government of South Sudan (GoSS), organise a conference, of thieves and robbers, in which, they meet their victims; whose hurt and victimhood, ought to have been remedied, through the CJS as indicated above. This is because, our objective and formalistic legal bystander would argue, the communities of consciences in SS, have been universally offended by the conduct in the PCW.

However, a cynically subjective and informal socio-cultural bystander would point out that, in fact, within the PCW, you are dealing with dualistic situation in terms of perpetrators and victims of the PCW. Our cynic would further say that, same communities become victims and perpetrators at once. Today’s victims are tomorrow’s perpetrators. It is a vile zero-sum game. It is like violently outwitting the other with same cultural satisfaction. The terms of engagement are culturally known in all communities which take part in the PCW in SS.

In almost all communities which take part in the PCW in SS, the PCW is a socio-cultural modus operandi for wealth accumulation. That is, socio-culturally speaking, the PCW is only resented when you are the loser. In many occasions, successful raiders organise festivities to celebrate their loot, and are on standby, to defend their newly begotten wealth, albeit illegally, in formal sense.

In all communities that indulge in the PCW, there is ubiquitous absence of guilty moralities and consciences. These are the most crucial elements of humanity that, any processes of reconciliation would like to capitalise on. How on earth do you reconcile two or more nomadic human communities, who believe that, there is nothing morally wrong within the remit of the PCW?

Many years ago, at Rumbek Senior Secondary School, in SS, I use to listen to stories of the PCW, from some colleagues, and those standpoint narratives, gave me the feelings of, as if, I was listening to human persons, narrating encounters, in wild mushroom picking sprees. In these episodes, those involved, do not feel guilty, for picking the God given food, in the form of the wild mushroom. It all depended on your muscle power; to gather as much mushroom as you could. The only difference is that, no fire, or white arms are used, in wild mushroom picking. Not only that, the land on which, the mushroom picking is done, is common land, and the property in the mushroom, is natural property, possessed and owned by all.

Now then, try to organise NRP between wild mushroom pickers. They will wonder, as to what is it all about. It is normal to pick wild mushroom, is it not? Here, I want you, the reader, to understand the consciences, of these wild mushroom pickers. It is not that, I Wani Tombe Lako is heartless. I am trying by all means, to make you, the reader, understand, the socio-cultural, and moral paradigms, in which, communities, indulging in the PCW, operate.

It is not that, I am condoning the processes of the PCW. I want you the reader, to determine the place of the PCW in this purported NRP in SS. Not only that, but take into serious account, the fact that, various young men, in various cattle camps, in communities indulging in the PCW, consider the PCW as past-time activities, when they have nothing much to do, in certain times of the year, or when the cultural cycle dictates so.

It is therefore essential to appreciate that, the cultural urge, to indulge in the PCW is an aspect of human socialisation. Boys, adolescents, and young men, are invariably, in conscious and subconscious fashions, socialised into the dynamics of the PCW. These categories of human persons grow into potential and actual raiders. They were not born cattle wrestlers. They grew up in respective communities, to appreciate and look forward, to the days they will too, demonstrate their worth, and acquire wealth through the PCW.

The PCW is therefore, a direct and indirect mode of material and social values production, albeit, wrongful values. The PCW takes place without prior anger. There is nothing to defend either. There is just raw lust, for the property in the cattle, so sought after. How do you reconcile peoples, or communities, who do not, in fact, hate one another, so to speak?

How do you condemn a group of young men, who indulge in the PCW, when, in fact, their society, expect them to do so, either expressly, or impliedly? This said society, include the elders and others, who are supposed to be the opinion leaders? These issues always make me reflect, on what, I was told, many years ago, in Rumbek Senior Secondary School.

If you carry out a census count of all those communities in SS, in which the PCW is practiced as a matter of course, you may end up with the majority of communities in SS, being as infected by this socio-cultural vile conduct. Therefore, it can be argued that, the socialisation of children and adult population, of those tribes in SS, involved in the PCW, is a socio-cultural priority of the GoSS.

The tribes which indulge in the PCW are undermining the social peace in SS. They are also undermining the economic and financial stability of many communities in SS. There is a kind of comprehensive cultural selfishness and greed which fuel the urge for indulgence in the PCW. How do you use the variables of NRP in order to change the socio-cultural perceptions of these people?

Can we tangibly bring the representatives of all these communities of cattle wrestlers, into this purported NRP? Whereby, we then carry out some indoctrination exercises, in which, our European and American friends shall take part? After which, we then, release these representatives of cattle wrestlers, to go back home, to their various villages, and killing swamps, and high grounds? They go home, like peace pigeons. Whereby, they shall set forth, in their crusade of social extension work? During which crusade, they shall hopefully, infuse the variables of civility, and civil commonsense, into centuries old traditions?

Is this what we hope to achieve in this NRP? What about the hundreds of organised forces personnel, who, without any hesitations, always, and promptly join their village warriors in these human carnages within the remit of PCW? After all, which types of reconciliation structures are the Europeans and Americans going to use? It is known that, these communities in which the PCW is practiced with impunity, and as a way of life, it is known that, they have their own reconciliation frameworks. These frameworks are built into their anthropological paradigms. Shall there be applied, some universal framework, to cater for particular norms; or shall we use particular norms, to produce a universal approach, and framework, for mini reconciliations? I am just querying because, I want the best outcome. I am still not sure, where this best outcome is located; and discoverable!

The author is Professor of Social and Rural Development and Lecturer in Laws. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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