“ Grateful for my sister” a friendship is forged in Abyei

Story of a Dinka and Misseriya friend


Hawa Deng (with her youngest son) with "sister" Alhajah (seated extreme right) and her neighbors in Diffra


Hawa Deng, a tall Dinka woman, garbed in a 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 neighbor, 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 Abyei  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 conflict arise often when the Misseriya take their cattle through lands the Dinka Ngok consider belong to them.

 

As part of its engagement in Abyei, The UNDP/IOM joint conflict reduction (JCRP)is conducting a series of intra-community dialogues among the Misseriya and Dinka Ngok tribes in Diffra and Abyei Town. Initiated in July 2012, the series of workshops engaged 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 Nfok tribe were invited to participate in the Misseriya intra-community dialogue. The dialogues, for the first time, provided an opportunity for 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 a neighbors. 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-existence at the community level.

 

Tension and potential for violence in Abyei 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 DinkaNgok, Alhajah replied softly, “we never had any problems even though we come 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 neighbors and friends for many years, and I want and hope our children will have that same friendship we did.