Contesting the Militarization of the Places Where They Met: the Landscapes of the Western Nuer and Dinka (South Sudan)

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Decades of militarized, violent conflict and elite wealth acquisition have created a common rupture in shared landscapes between communities of the western Dinka and Nuer (South Sudan). Through the remaking of these landscapes, governments and their wars have indirectly reshaped political identities and relationships. Networks of complex relationships have used this space for migration, marriage, trade and burial. Since the government wars of the 1980s, people from both Dinka and Nuer communities have participated in a myriad of cross-cutting political alliances with a lack of ethnic homogeneity. Yet, the recreation of this landscape as a militarized no-man’s land has stopped Nuer and Dinka meeting and is etching into the landscape naturalized visions of ethnic divisions. The article also examines how inhabitants have made use of the materiality of the landscape and imagination to try to contest and co-opt these visions. In so doing, they have challenged central governments’ powers to rule the landscape and have tried to recapture power to determine community relationships. However, elite politics in times of war and peace threaten people’s ability to express this more demographic authority over the landscape, relationships and political identities.

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Naomi Pendle

Naomi R. Pendle is a research fellow at the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa at the London School of Economics. Over the last, decade she has carried
out various ethnographic and qualitative research on violent conflict, law, displacement and authority in South Sudan.

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