“There has been a lot of violent raiding here,” Modi John says as we enter a Mundari cattle camp in conflicted Terekeka county. “It is because this is the last Mundari community before it becomes Dinka land.” The last raid took place in March and cost the lives of four. It was the most recent in a string of tit-for-tat raids with the neighboring Dinka and Bari tribes. Since then, many residents of this windswept and vulnerable village have taken refuge elsewhere. Several grass-thatch huts are vacant.
Women move slowly under a midday sun. They peel hard, dry fruits in the shade of a tree. With severely delayed rains and a largely pastoralist culture, these tough fruits are the only available food.
The men have moved to Muni, a neighboring village away from the tribal border. In late 2009, the southern Sudanese government conducted harsh disarmament campaigns in Terekeka, leaving this population largely without weapons. While disarmament is necessary, the southern government has been unwilling or unable to disarm communities concurrently. In Terekeka, the Mundari were disarmed but their Dinka neighbors were not. In the cycle of raids and revenge killings, the Mundari now feel extremely vulnerable.
Some charge that Dinka communities are rarely disarmed due to Dinka domination of the southern government and military. Tribal allegiances run deep and with so much intertribal conflict, many suspect the southern government of creating strategic advantage for their Dinka kinsmen. The issue of tribal tension and access to weapons is significant as southern Sudan moves towards its independence referendum. If non-majority tribes feel marginalized and vulnerable, the prospect of violent conflict becomes more likely.
The Mundari, like most cattle-keeping communities in the south, are disproportionately illiterate. Their native county of Terekeka has been largely without international assistance for decades. Access to education, clean water and health facilities is extremely limited.