Today, Ethiopia mourns the death of over 200 citizens and the kidnap of more than 100 children in the cross-border attack from South Sudan last Friday. According to reports from the government’s communication department, 75 people are wounded, the death toll continues to increase and 2000 livestock were stolen in what appears to be an infiltration of armed militants from South Sudan’s Murle tribe.
The attack took place within some districts in the Gambela region in the west of Ethiopia. The region, which is spread across the border of Ethiopia and South Sudan, is home to close to 300,000 fleeing refugees from South Sudan and although the people are no strangers to cattle raids, they have never experienced one of this magnitude, and with this much havoc.
Cross-border cattle raids are not uncommon in African countries like Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan, where livestock are an indicator of wealth and social class. These raids or ‘pastoral wars’ have been ongoing for decades, even centuries, getting uglier and deadlier over time as thousands of men, women, and children are killed and abducted.
Five years into a highly controversial independence, the nation of South Sudan still battles with the outcome of decade-long wars – poverty, famine, severe underdevelopment, and insecurity – with the Dinka, the Murle, and the Nuer ethnic groups, constantly locked in conflict for several years now. Now, these seemingly small scale conflicts have escalated to the point where it poses a threat to national security and stability not just for South Sudan, but for neighbouring Ethiopia as well.
As Ethiopia mourns, the rest of Africa mourns as well, for we are reminded of the constant wars raging amongst us. Nigeria currently faces a similar problem with Fulani herdsmen, who have wreaked enough havoc to be acknowledged by the global community as one of the deadliest terror groups in the world. Just like the pastoral wars in South Sudan, Fulani communities and farming communities in Nigeria have been engaged in communal conflicts over land and resources, that have escalated in recent times to include attacks, kidnappings and killings.
Although Getachew Reda, Ethiopia’s Minister of Information, has said that about 60 of the attackers have been killed by the Ethiopian forces and that more of them would be pursued across the border into South Sudan, it does very little for both countries. Killing all the assailants of Friday’s attack will not bring back the dead, nor abducted children, neither will it put an end to the fighting amongst these ethnic groups. If anything, it might provoke revenge attacks, typical of the cattle raiders.
How does the government put an end to these conflicts once and for all? So far, all attempts to put an end to inter-tribal cattle violence in South Sudan have failed, and peace remains elusive. The same can be said of other pastoral community clashes within other African states as no concrete steps are taken to solve the issue until things get way out of hand. Hence, as Ethiopia mourns, the rest of Africa, particularly terror laden countries, need to return to the drawing board and devise a permanent solution to these tribal conflicts or risk the loss of many more lives across the continent.