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Dinka and Baggara Rivalry in Bahr El Ghazal

The Dinka/Baggara rivalry has escalated from tribal animosity to a government counterinsurgency strategy whereby the Baggara have become government proxies against the Dinka, perceived as the backbone of the SPLA. This role for the Baggara was forged under the government of President Nimeiri (1969-85) and applied by the Umma Party when it was in power in a series of coalition governments from 1986-89. Although the Umma Party coalition was an elected government, the elections were not entirely satisfactory because the civil war that restarted in 1983 prevented most living in the south from participating.

The armed horsemen of the Baggara militia, known as the muraheleen, played a crucial role in the generation of the famines of 1988 and 1998. Their government-sanctioned raids transferred Dinka cattle wealth to the Baggara, enslaved Dinka women and children, and played a major role in causing the Bahr El Ghazal famine of 1988, as has been abundantly illustrated in numerous studies.71 Muraheleen raids of the 1990s contributed to the 1998 famine through the same process.72

The Baggara MilitiaCthe Muraheleen

The Baggara are Arabized cattle nomads (bagara is the Arabic word for cow) living in the southern parts of Kordofan and Darfur, in western Sudan. The Baggara include subgroups such as the Rizeigat of Darfur and the Misseriya of Kordofan. Most Baggara today still belong to the Ansar Sunni Muslim religious sect and the Umma Party.

Misseriya militias were active as early as 1983. Under the government of President Nimeiri they and the Anyanya II, a mostly Nuer militia, coordinated raids with the army.73 The government may have turned to arming the Baggara as a militia in part because conscription was unpopular in Sudan; it was canvassed as an option by President Nimeiri in 1984 and was apparently so unpopular that Nimeiri dropped the idea and armed tribal militias to increase the forces at his disposal to fight the war.74

After electoral democracy was restored, the Umma Party, partly out of fear that the Islamist NIF was making inroads into its traditional Baggara base, armed its Baggara supporters to raid the southerners and take war booty, and granted the Baggara impunity for these crimes.75

Mechanisms used to exist for settling conflicts between the Baggara and the Dinka, mostly by inter-tribal conferences backed up by the power of the state. Since the beginning of the second civil war in 1983, however Athe government has not intervened to try to settle disputes between the Baggara and the Dinka.@76 The national government has intervened to mediate disputes between other tribes since that date, however.77

Agreements between the two sides have produced truces from time to time. During the first civil war (1955-72), the Baggara entered into grazing agreements with local commanders of the Anyanya southern separatist guerrilla movement, whereby the Baggara paid taxes in currency and bulls in order to graze and water their livestock in Bahr El Ghazal during the dry season. These were not renewed at the outset of the second civil war, however, and the Baggara began to make annual armed incursions into Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile, taking advantage of local unarmed populations.78

The Baggara tribes suffered economically from desertification and drought, encroachment on grazing lands by mechanized farming, and other factors in the 1980s.79 They were a persistent threat of rebellion to all central governments. In 1977 the Ansar (including the Baggara) came close to overthrowing President Nimeiri in an armed insurrection from bases in Libya. The government militia strategy would appease the Baggara with war booty and channel their economic frustrations against other sources of rebellion: the Dinka and the Nuer.80

AMuraheleen@ is the Misseriya word for Atravelers,@ referring to groups of young Misseriya Baggara men who accompanied herds of cattle ahead of the rest of the tribe in the seasonal movements of the herds. The muraheleen travel on horseback, and were traditionally armed with firearms to protect themselves and their herds against wild animals and cattle raiders. The families followed behind. The equivalent among the Rizeigat Baggara tribe of southern Darfur are called "fursan," Arabic for "cavaliers or horsemen." The muraheleen tribal militias were formed in the mid-1980s. They were incorporated into the army after the 1989 coup that brought the NIF to power. After that, the term muraheleen came to cover not only Misseriya but also Rizeigat and other Baggara, and to denote tribal militias who raid villages in the south operating under the authority of the army.

One important muraheleen function since 1989 has been to accompany the military supply train that descends on Bahr El Ghazal along the sole rail line that goes to the south, ending at Wau. They put their horses on the train. When they reach Bahr El Ghazal they bring out the horses to use in raids on Dinka villages along the railway and beyond; with the horses, they can reach a greater number of villages. Armed by the government with modern weapons, the muraheleen and other government forces periodically devastated the Dinka communities along the rail line as they traveled with the military train, looting food stocks, rustling cattle, burning villages, and abducting women and children into slavery81Cand contributing to the preconditions of famine. The Dinka, who do not have horses, also lacked modern weapons and protection, as the northern Bahr El Ghazal area was not an area of strategic military importance to the SPLA.

The muraheleen have not settled in Wau, but usually are seen there when the train arrives. They have been seen selling looted cattle and other goods in the Wau market, usually transported there by the military train. (See Appendix C for more details of the historical role of the train in human rights abuses.)

Their role in the looting and killing civilians and causing famine is known, even in Khartoum. Dr. Toby Maduot, a leader of a political party registered with the government, the Sudan African National Union (SANU), called for the disbanding of all the militias, be they private or belonging to the government. He specifically blamed the muraheleen for marauding in southern Sudan.82

Those Dinka Displaced from Abyei County, Kordofan

The border between Darfur and Bahr El Ghazal was set by the British in 1924 some twelve miles south of the Bahr al Arab River (Kir River)83 and has been a source of Baggara/Dinka conflict ever since.84 The border between Kordofan and Bahr El Ghazal was also set south of that river.

The Ngok Dinka lived in the Bahr El Ghazal-Kordofan area north and south of the Bahr al Arab River, with their center at Abyei. In 1951 their chief agreed to the demarcation whereby the Abyei area remained part of Kordofan, north of Bahr El Ghazal, and technically not in the south, and at independence in 1956 it remained part of Kordofan.85

This demarcation of Abyei is important now because Ngok Dinka lands have been in the jurisdiction of Kordofan (now Western Kordofan) for decades, and peace negotiations have foundered, among other things, on whether the Abyei area should be included in the southern region for purposes of voting on self-determination.86

Many Ngok Dinka have been displaced from their homes in Kordofan by muraheleen raiding; some moved south to Bahr El Ghazal and suffered famines there in 1988 and 1998. Human Rights Watch interviewed community leaders from Abyei County in Wunrok (Twic County, Bahr El Ghazal) in May 1998; they said they had been displaced Aby the Arabs@ from their land in 1977. One Ngok Dinka civilian leader said that their troubles with Athe Arabs@ started in 1964 over cattle; the fight was settled by the chiefs but in 1977 it flared up again, this time with the muraheleen armed by the Nimeiri government (1969-85). Since then, the muraheleen have had their own garrison in Abyei. Their motivation for attacks on the Dinka, this man believed, was to expel them from the area and take over Dinka land. This is a widely-held belief among the Dinka. After the Ngok Dinka moved south to Twic County to get away from muraheleen raiding they could no longer take their cattle to water on the Kir River (Bahr al Arab).87

A white-haired elder of the Ngok Dinka from Dung Ap village, one hour on foot (four miles) north of the Bahr al Arab River, said that he and many others left Dung Ap years ago, after the Arabs raided it three times and killed people. The family split up; two wives and four children went to Khartoum, and he and his other wives and children went to Mayen Abun in Twic County, Bahr El Ghazal. When asked why they left Dung Ap, he replied, ABecause the enemy destroyed the area and there was no food. Dung Ap is now a no man=s land.@ The enemy burned all the houses and killed people. The AArab@ was the enemy. AThey want to occupy our land and take our property. They live on my land during the rainy season. Our area is very fertile.@ He grew groundnuts (peanuts), simsim (sesame), okra, and sorghum, and harvested honey in the forest. He had cattle. AWe fought them. We defended ourselves for two years. After that they joined with the government, in 1977, and defeated us. They became stronger. They had rifles (many) and we had only spears, no guns. This happened before the SPLA.@88

Even after he and his community moved south into the Dinka area of Mayen Abun, and lived there many years, they were not safe from the Aenemy,@ the Misseriya Arabs, who raided Mayen Abun and their cattle camp at Akwach in 1988. AThey had uniforms which they had from Khartoum. We had no rifles so we escaped and left our cows for them. The SPLA was far away.@ After the cattle raid, he lived around the Lol River to fish for food for his children. When the muraheleen left he returned to Mayen Abun. His herd was replenished by the marriage of one daughter (twelve cows), but ten were taken by the raiders in 1997.

We have not returned to Abyei since we left. We sent our women to Abyei to buy food, durra [sorghum]. They sold butter for durra. Last year [1997] was the last time they did this. This year, we have no cows [they were taken by muraheleen] and therefore no butter. We did not go to Aweil or Gogrial. They are very far from here. We do not know those towns.

His family lived in Mayen Abun for many years, and was there during the Atime of the war between SPLA and Kerubino [1994-97]. All the houses and goats were looted by Kerubino=s forces. Kerubino was looting because he had joined with Khartoum and we refused him. We refused to join the Arabs because they destroyed our things, looted, took slaves, and other things.@ The same source described the seesaw battle for control of the area:

Kerubino went to the Arabs. We do not know the reason he was angry [with us]. He went there. Kerubino captured our children to arm them as his soldiers. Even the older men. I escaped and hid. Kerubino did not get any of my children. None joined him. . . .

The SPLA was not allowed in Mayen Abun; Kerubino=s forces were in Mayen Abun. The SPLA attacked Kerubino in Mayen Abun three times. During those attacks, Kerubino=s men were killed by the SPLA. Then Kerubino withdrew to Gogrial with some goats, about three years ago [1995]. Then he returned to Wunrok again and destroyed the area, burned houses and moved with the muraheleen and took the rest of the goats. The SPLA stayed in Mayen Abun, in the outlying villages. They did not take cows or goats or capture people. Kerubino chased the SPLA away. The SPLA returned in 1997, in an attack on Wunrok. I escaped. Kerubino withdrew to Gogrial and Abyei. This happened twice.

Ten cows were taken from me in 1997 in Mayen Abun. The muraheleen came by surprise and took the cows. Usually when we heard they were coming, we hid with the cattle but this time they reached us by surprise. This was May last year [1997].

Wunrok was not a permanent settlement for them, only one of a series of refuges from continued raiding. Wunrok was raided by the muraheleen a few days after this interview, and those who survived were uprooted again.

Those Dinka Displaced from Twic County, Bahr El Ghazal