Annexation of Nuer’s Land in Unity State

Women went to collect firewoods in the bushes only to find out their houses had been burned to ashes by the government forces in Unity State. Photo: UN

By James Nguen

December 25, 2022 (SSNA) — The Nuer are known for their expedition and expansion niche. Books were written about this historical and profound adventure. One of the books is “The Nuer Conquest”. The Nuer conquest and expansion occurred in the 18th century.

During the conquest, the Nuer expanded in two directions: northward and eastward of the Nile River. The Nuer who expanded northward went up to Khartoum, the heart of Sudan. Upon their arrival in Khartoum, they found themselves out of place and nowhere. It was hard for them to retrace their roots. Simply and evidently, they left no roots on their paths and no plan “B” for them to fall back on. Let’s say, it was a catch 22 scenario.

Then, they were confronted and overpowered and subsequently crushed by forces driven by Islamic faith and Arabism and beaten to submission.

This group of Nuer expansionists were led by Sir Tang Kuany from Bul Nuer in Unity State. Even now, some Nuer elders would still reminisce about this failed expedition and the lost tribe of Tang Kuany, especially when the elders discuss the Nuer’s bad and good old days.

The Nuer of Tang Kuany was said to have camped in Khartoum, “Tuty highland”, which literally means Tut’s highland. Over time, they lost their customs, values, language, religion and subsequently became an extinct tribe without a trace.

On the other hand, the Nuer who ventured eastward were led by Sir Latjor Diengyian. This group was remarkably successful in their conquest and expedition.

They expanded further East and became today, Eastern Nuer. It’s true that in their path to glory, aggression was not their first line of defense. They came as noble guests and “lords of equal”. Then, over time, they gave the locals their daughters as wives, and leadership and ensured that the locals learn the Nuer language and become part of the Naath fraternity without question asked.

Therefore, when one feels at home with the Naath fraternity, the locals are now assimilated and permanently become full-fledged members of the Nuer. Then, together they commenced the next phase of expedition and expansion in earnest.

All being said, Nuer are naturally expansionists. In their expeditions, they can only expand and not contract. This brief background informed my astonishment while writing about the annexation of Nuer land in Unity Unity.

My perplexion is real and isn’t an exaggeration. If you think about the land issues and annexation of Nuer land in Unity State for a minute, you can’t help but conclude that in the 21st century, “Heaven” must be crazy.

In South Sudan, the land is for the people and the community. By and large, the constitution certified and reinforced this clause. Without exception, the people and the community own the land and have the right to surrender it or share it with anyone whenever necessary.

This normative progression is affirmed by the constitution and the law of the land. However, when such a proper normative inscription is removed, it becomes an ugly twist and a clear violation of the law.

Simply put, it’s a red line in the eye of the law and the community. No one has a right to decide on behalf of other people and communities, especially on land ownership. By default, out extraordinary, when such a misstep occurs, it’s a declaration of war in disguise, which in many ways would have negative and deadly consequences.

For example, when this proper norm of land ownership is not followed, deadly feuds emerge in the name of defending one’s ancestral land from heartless invaders. In this regard, people take laws into their own hands and become the arbiters of their own rights.

Sadly, this is the case in point with the Dinka Ngok of Abyei, whose status is not yet known due to a historical twist, and the Twic Mayardit Dinka of Warrap State. These two communities are red-blooded Dinka. However, both are currently at each other’s throats over the ownership of Anet, which some people say was given to Ngok Dinka of Abyei by the late Dr. John Garang in the 1990s on humanitarian grounds.

Now, in 2022, unfortunately, a lot of people have been killed over Anet ownership. As I write this piece, people are still fighting and dying over Anet, and the dispute is about who owns Anet in a historical sense.

Where I sit, I can’t help and remarkably be an arbiter. I can’t decide whose right is being violated here or who is really attempting to grab the land of others wrongfully.

The best I can do in this respect is to take note of the Anet land issue as a recent example to make my point clearer on the annexation of Nuer land in Unity State and how deadly a land issue can be.

For this reason, Anet serves as a good example; An important example to draw an inference from on land ownership and how serious it can be and become a century long problem.

Thus, I admit that disputes over land ownership in South Sudan are real and cannot just be brushed aside. This issue has already taken lives and will continue to take more precious lives between and among communities, tribes and States in its current form and state of affairs.

For example, if the Dinka of Abyei and Twic Mayardit can kill themselves over the ownership of Anet, then, who is that naïve to think that taking other tribes’ lands without due process will just be a walk to the park?

Without exaggeration, like it or not, it’s going to be bloody, if this issue is poorly handled. So much so, when the governing tribe becomes the sole arbiter of the land in favor of its subjects, it’s a red tooth problem.

Therefore, this is where my genuine concern lies. Thus, I mustered up and raised this concern following my solemn duty as a concerned and responsible citizen of the land. That this land grabbing contest must be abandoned if we need lasting peace in our country and between our tribes.

If not so, as a matter of principle, the dispute between tribes, communities and states is imminent and sadly a ticking time bomb. This issue of land grabbing would be a lethal progression if not addressed.

I warned, the lethality of this problem can’t be underrated or loosely dismissed. It is indeed a simmering issue and I proposed that it should be addressed amicably before it’s too late.

For me, anyone else and the nation, this is where the chips fall. It is where the centrality of this piece lies.

Like other articles I have written in the past, this article sounds an alarm on the annexation of Nuer lands in Unity State by the Central Government in Juba and favor of the governing tribe subjects. Without any doubt, like it or not, this is a creation of a centuries-old red tooth problem.

The vast land in question is in the northern part of Unity State, particularly, the land of Jikany Nuer of Guit, Leek of Rubkona and Bul of Mayom Counties, respectively.

This land is Nuer’s ancestral land for more than 500 years. In 2015, the land was forcefully and illegally annexed to the defunct Ruweng State through a republican presidential decree by President Salva Kiir.

Two years ago, the Ruweng State was reverted to the Ruweng Administrative Area (RAA) with another presidential decree after the 32 States were reverted to 10 States. However, the question of land which the president cut with a rusted panga to his tribesmen and women without due process remains unaddressed.

For centuries and before January 1st, 1956, the annexed Nuer land in Unity State belonged to the Jikany, Leek and Bul Nuer. It was originally known as the land of “Doraar’ and still is. Doraar is loosely translated as the land of everlasting due to its arid and dry nature during wet and flooding.

The communities of Leek and Bul Nuer border Southern Kordofan, Sudan. This land is currently annexed to the Dinka of Abiemnom and Panaruu of Parieng by a stroke of a pen without due process by the President.

Sadly, this land grabbing expedition occurred after South Sudan gained its independence in 2011. Also, this annexation of land happened against the backdrop when more than 20, 000 Nuer were massacred mercilessly in Juba by armed Dinka militia under the same government and president.

The same scenario of land grabbing by the governing tribe community is also happening in Upper Nile State, specifically in Malakal town. The Dinka are claiming the ownership of Malakal town from Shilluk which history has recorded to be a Shilluk land.

For the last 8 years, Nuer land in the north of Unity State has been under occupation through a republican presidential decree. Say, by a stroke of a pen. A subtle power of having the pen has curved out a big piece of land from Nuer to Dinka.

With this a brazen decision, the Governor of Unity State, who is a Nuer himself and from Mayom County did not protest.  Hon. Dr. Joseph Nguen Manytuil went mute over this problematic issue. He failed to caution the president over this misplaced decision.  They say, silence means acceptance, which means Gov. Dr. Manytuil has accepted the decision made by the president in its entirety.

In this respect, the entire land of Doraar including Mayom and Rubkhona’s headquarters are sadly under the false flagship of the RAA. Hence, with Governor Manytuil’s deafening silence over this issue, it is possible to say that the governor has exchanged the Nuer land for a governorship position. This is sad to say but true in its actual sense.

Besides, and to fully understand this paradoxical proceeding, Nuer as people who are not contractionist. At best, they are expansionist by nature and their land in question is not bygone. The sad truth is, the Presidential decree has just created a centuries-old conflict, which will not be wished away.

In this regard, our people should have learned from the Dinka Ngok of Abyei and the Twic Mayardit of Warrap. Also, they should have taken note from the Abyei peaceful transfer to northern Sudan by their own son in 1905. This issue is still a thorny matter even though it has been 117 years in the making. Therefore, land issues are a deadly problem.

In closing, the Dinka of Ruweng Administrative Area should have known better and not allowed themselves to be misled and dragged into an unwinnable dispute, which could turn deadly in the near future.

They should have detected and realized that the Nuer are their immediate neighbor, closer allies and with strong family ties for centuries. In my honest view, these relationships are much better than accepting the creation of a century-old problem.

However, Knowing the negative consequential outcomes of the land grabbing, instead, the people of RAA have compounded the problem by drumming up fabricated historical records to falsely validate president Kiir’s wrong order.

With all considered, Nuer are expansionist and will not contract at any point in the next centuries. Therefore, the honourable and rational thing to do moving forward for the people of RAA is not to drum up concocted historical records which do not exist.

If denunciation is a buzzword and expensive to pronounce, then, let our people silently reject being dragged into a century-old feud, which may be bloody.

James Nguen is a concerned South Sudanese living in Juba and he can be reached at [email protected].

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