“Grateful for my sister” A Friendship is forged in Abyei - Story of a Dinka and Misseriya Friend

UNDP Sudan-Abeyi
Hawa Dend (with her youngest son), with 'sister' Alhaja (seated far right) and her neighbours in Diffra

Hawa Deng, a tall Dinka woman, garbed in red tobe, smiles as she recalls the time when she was due to give birth to her youngest son, “I was due for delivery and my husband wasn’t at home then. It was a difficult situation and I couldn’t think what I should be doing. But I will always be grateful that my sister was here. She came straight over and helped throughout the whole delivery. I am forever thankful for that”.

 

Deng is referring to Alhajah, her Misseriya neighbour, whom she affectionately refers to as ‘sister’ even though they are not related by blood. Such affection may be a common sight for many elsewhere, but not so in Diffra. Diffra is a town in the north of the Abeyi area, a region located along Sudan’s volatile North-South border, home to the Dinka Ngok, a subsection of the south’s largest ethnic group, the Dinka. The Misseriya, who are northern nomads, travel through the region as they take their cattle to greener pastures in the south. Clashes and conflicts arise often when the Misseriya take their cattle through lands the Dinka Ngok consider belong to them.

 

As part of its engagement in Abeyi, the UNDP/IOM Joint Conflict Reduction Programme (JCRP) is conducting a series of intra-community dialogues among the Misseriya and the Dinka Ngok tribes in Diffra and Abeyi Town. Initiated in July 2012, the series of workshops engaged members of both tribes separately to articulate each community’s vision for the future and identify priority actions necessary to achieve this vision. Workshop participants also discussed perceived threats and opportunities their community is facing and what their strengths and weaknesses are to address them.

 

In Diffra, members of the Dinka Ngok tribe were invited to participate in the Misseriya intra-community dialogue. The dialogues, for the first time, provided an opportunity to people from both tribes to discuss what could be a stable and common future for their community. After the workshop, one Dinka woman remarked, “We have been living together for many years as neighbours. I hope these dialogues will continue to strengthen that.” After the first round of dialogue workshops both tribes confirmed their willingness to work towards building mutual trust and promoting peaceful co-existance at the community level.

 

Tension and potential for violence in Abeyi remain high, which is why friendships between civilians like Deng and Alhajah remain more important than ever to maintain peace at the community level. Asked if they felt their friendship has been affected by the surrounding tensions between the Misseriya and Dinga Ngok, Alhajah replied softly, “We never had any problems even though we came from different tribes. It never even bothers us. We’ve known each other so long now and it’s like family. Hawa is a Dinka but we all know her and her family in this village and it has never been a problem.” The amicability exhibited between the two women is unmistakably genuine. With the other women, they laughed and teased each other. And they continue to hope that the future will remain peaceful and safe for them and their children. As she gently cradled her baby boy, Deng said, “There’s no reason why we cannot live peacefully together. We all have been neighbours and friends for many years and I want and hope our children will have that same friendship we did.”

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