In Tribalism We Falter, In Diversity We Prosper

By Apioth Mayom Apioth,

South Sudan women singing national anthem during independent celebration(Photo: file)

South Sudan women singing national anthem during independent celebration(Photo: file)

July 18, 2016(Nyamilepedia) —– Tribalism is a corrosive hindrance to our socioeconomic progress in South Sudan. Once someone gets promoted to a supervising managerial role in a certain department; that same very individual quickly run to gather her tribesmen to get on board. Here and there, the land  gets misappropriated for resettling one’s clansmen. National scholarship funds get to be dispensed solely to students of the state where one’s hails from. It is extreme tribalism that led our chief of General Staff, Malong Awan to establish Mathiang Anyoor, a militia group drawn heavily from his home state of Northern Bahr Ghazal. Mathiang Anyoor later went on to wreak havoc on targeted killings of Nuer on the night of December 15, 2013. It is also an extreme tribalism that led a loose group of disgruntled Dinka elders to establish Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) to take on an advisory role with President Kiir Mayardit; when we all know that there is no place for such a set up in any democracy. On top of their agenda was to make sure that President Kiir know that South Sudan belong to the Dinka. That is totally understandable considering the long history of how we became to live in entities called tribes in the first place.

All black people originated from the Khoisan (also known as bushmen) people of southern Africa. We first separated into the major groups of today such as Bantu, Niger-Congo (modern day West Africans), Nilotes, and Pygmy. Bantu further splinter to beget Buganda, Agikuyu and many more; from the Nilotes came the Dinka, Toposa, etc.,; and Niger-Congolese have the Igbo, Yoruba and others; Pygmy have Baka, Mbuti and so on…

As there were no written languages in those ancient days to immortalize history; our contemporaries have no means to trace our history to our original motherland, the southern Africa. Some groups like the Dinka and Nuer only remember how they used to live as one group in the present day Egypt, prior to its habitation by South Asians, that were responsible for the spectacular engineering feat of the pyramids. From Egypt, the Nuer and Dinka moved to the present day Khartoum, where they further splintered into the present day tribes of Dinka and Nuer.

After the dawn of modernity, brought by the western colonial powers; they immediately became sudden micronations within the sovereign borders of those nation-states, since they have been together for centuries practicing familiar cultural customs and traditions.

In our modern setting of South Sudan, it is excruciating unthinkable for most people to let go of what one has always hold dear to her heart: that is fear of losing identity. To most people, tribal kinsmen have always created an environment of trust. Familiar grounds breed resilient confidence. Mankind has always fear the unknown: also called the “other.” The unknown or uncharted territories are believed to be sanctuaries of evil villains. We sometimes believe that one’s tribe is the domain where you can easily roam without being molested.  In essence, we have lived in our closed-door tribal groups for so long that we are beginning to learn from each other as time ticks away.

Since all South Sudanese descended from one aboriginal group, the Khoisan; is there any objection whatsoever to create a united front where we can all benefit? Things would have been much easier had we all stayed with our ancestral Khoisan kinsmen. We wouldn’t been fighting sectarian wars like we have been experiencing in the last two and half years.   No one knows exactly as to why we separated from the Khoisan group in the past. The climate could have been too cold in the South; so we had to move up north; or, there could have been major disasters like drought or famine. In addition, humanity curiosity could have been another culprit as to why we left southern Africa: in other words, some of our original ancestral people could have left to explore new environmental ecosystems.

In this century, everyone is aspiring to be a democrat. And having said that, we can all come to an agreement that no one in her right mind could advocate for all the 64 tribes to blend cultures and become one giant tribe. All cultures are man-made. Since it were ordinary folks like us who were responsible for the establishment of our diverse ethnic identities; the very same people can also help us in forging our national identity going forward. All our ethnic identities blossomed from different environmental conditions we conquered. In one way or another, the environments we were inhabiting were forcing certain unfriendly circumstances upon us to change the way we have changed over the centuries. When we met again in our modern state of South Sudan centuries later; we became total strangers to each other, because of the cultural identities we have forged in one another absence.

In addition, there is no all one perfect tribe; the Toposa have their ups and downs; the Nyangwara have their own loads of problems. We are all advocating to share the small space called South Sudan; whether you see something you can’t identify with in an Azande man, or you like a certain aspect of a Lotuko dance; we are kowtowing to all our fellow countrymen and countrywomen to respect and welcome them no matter which tribe they hail from. At the end of the day, we could never called South Sudan our home when certain members of our society live in fear of being targeted, because they happen to belong to a different tribe. All in all, the Dinka, the Madi and everyone else in the nation descended from one ethnic group, the Khoisan. In other words, the diversity we all see in ourselves is an extension of the original Khoisan group, meaning the bushmen’ descendants multiplied and became varied over the centuries.

The author can be reached at agutkeu@gmail.com