Fighting Over Cattle Civilian Shootouts in South Sudan
Nov 01, 2007
[caption id="attachment_28" align="alignright" width="300" caption="© Sven TORFINN Two men with guns are guarding their cattle against cattle raiders."][/caption]
After the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement between the north and the south, more and more civilians who fled from their homes have returned. In Bor, street vendors scattered around the town have quickly congregated and have formed busy marketplaces. With the increase in population, there has been a rise in the number of patients and the emergency room has been a busy place.Many people are armed due to the prolonged conflicts in Sudan. On average, we receive one gunshot patient every day. Most of them have wounds in their arms or legs. They become the majority of our in-patients as they usually require at least two to four operations before they can be discharged. At the beginning, I thought these shootouts were from piecemeal fighting between the military forces but soon learned that they are usually the result of property disputes or drunks.
Cattle are the Source of Conflicts[caption id="attachment_29" align="alignright" width="300" caption="© Carina LI / MSFVolunteer anaesthetist Annie Chu (left) carefully monitored the patient’s condition during surgery."][/caption] Cattle are symbols of wealth, power and social status in the region. There are generally one or two shootouts arising from cattle snatching. Those who make it to the hospital are usually the younger ones or lightly wounded, many simply die before they are sent to the hospital. Cattle are the currency for the bride dowry here, which is similar to the Chinese tradition of offering money to the bride’s family. A bride’s worth usually ranges from ten to thirty or forty cows. Not surprisingly, quarrels about the number of cows offered sometimes lead to a shootout. A mother’s right hand was shot by a member of the bridegroom’s family when she protested at the amount of cows offered. Her hand had to be amputated. Problems also arise from alcoholism. Soldiers who are armed with machine guns start firing at random, and sometimes even shoot at each other when drunk. They seem to bring in more troubles than serving and protecting. Kindness Irrespective of Race Though some Sudanese engage in shootouts, I find that Sudanese in general are very friendly. Strangers greet me when I walk on the streets, children are curious about this outsider. One Sunday morning I was patted from behind when I was wandering on the street. I turned to find a group of girls who seemed to be stunned and fascinated by this foreigner with her “very special” skin colour. Among them a girl approached me and touched my hand. Seeing these innocent girls, I reached my hands out to shake their hands and greet them. I have never felt that much warmth.
Dr. Annie Chu, Hong Kong anaesthetist, has just finished her mission in Bor, South Sudan and has returned Hong Kong in November 2007. Civilians sometimes start a fight or even shoot each other over minor disputes, even if the civil war has been ended nearly 3 years ago. Annie has also handled many gunshot cases in the Bor Hospital. The following was a letter written by her in her stay.