Mischaracterization of Bul Nuer is Recipe for Chaos in South Sudan

By Dak Buoth


Mayom Community Logo (File photo)

August 22nd 2018 (Nyamilepedia) – For the benefit of other readers who are not well verse with our social and political history, Bul is one of the seventh original Nuer clans namely Dok, Haak, Jagey, Jikany, Leek and Nyuong-Nuer of Western Upper Nile which borders Bahr El Ghazal region on the other side of the River Nile. Bul clan is where the former Panyijiar county military commissioner Late Gen. Poljour Wiyoah, music guru Gatdet Choliit, Gen. Peter Gatdet Yaka and late Gen. Paulino Matip Nhail hails from.

These military leaders don’t need more introductions for they are better known for their deeds in the South Sudanese civil wars and politics of liberation struggles. At times some people called them liberators and others referred to them as terrorists for one reason or another. Geographically, Bul are found in the Present day Mayom County which is one of the ninth counties of Unity State region. As always said that human history is history of conflict, and Bul is perfect example of society with violence history more than any other clan in Nuer Nation.

In the recent past they had been in loggerhead with their sisterly clans in Unity state and the Nuer community as whole both at home and in the diaspora. Those who have been following the trending news and the overall crisis in South Sudan would agree that Bul have been a subject of debate for long time now since 15th December 2013.

In May this year Bul fought with members of Dok clan in Kakuma Refugees camp leaving two men dead and scores in critical conditions. It was alleged that one evening as the fighting was continuing for the second time, the former launched terrifying attack on the latter and killed young man and one respected elderly person.

This young man was from Haak community but Haak didn’t join the fight, a decision that was widely applauded by all of us. The Kenya police had to impose curfew which last for many weeks affecting the school going children in most parts of Kakuma Refugees camp especially in a place called ‘New Area’ and zone four sides.

This tough tactic was applied to contain the escalating conflict despite these resultant effects. Obviously, a number of rowdy Youth were apprehended during the clash some of whom are still held in police custody waiting for their cases to be heard and determined in Lodwar based courts. Some other persons who sustained serious injuries during this skirmishes are still recuperating in various health centers across Kakuma refugees’ camp. I wish them quick recovery.

As at now, the tension has reduced a bit. The police have normalized the situation but the problem is far from over. The fear of revenge attacks are likely to occurs which can again cause persistent cycle of violence there. I am told members of these two groups do not cross each other’s side. This tells us that the crisis can reoccur anytime soon, god forbid.

We did try to mediate and end this unnecessary conflict by way of reminding them of what took them to Kakuma in the first place and what they are supposed to do in the meantime before they repatriated.  In the mid-month of May 2018 immediately after this conflict, the joint Nuer community leaderships of Unity state, Latjor, Bieh, Phow, and Naath Youth convened an emergency meeting in Nairobi hotel to discuss possible solution to this deadly Kakuma crisis. We sat down and agreed to send 11 member mediation team as soon as possible. We strived to mobilize fund for their accommodation and transportation to and fro.

On 25th June, the mediation team led by Maduk Kuony and Gatjang Deng left for Kakuma. On arrival at Kakuma, they were warmly received by UNHCR staff and Kenya police. By virtue of me being the chair of unity state community in Kenya I was picked to go as member of this mediation team. Unfortunately, I didn’t go with them due to some unavoidable circumstances. But i delegated senior member of our board, James Gatnor Kuneng to represent us in the team.

Sadly, the team didn’t succeed there. They soon return to Nairobi after three days without achieving its goal.  They came back while pointing blaming fingers on Dok community leadership in Kakuma for rejecting the peace talk, a claim the latter denied as untrue. Contrary, on their part, the Dok board put blames on Maduk-led team of doing things in hurry and without proper consultation and approach as reasons for the collapse of the peace talks in Kakuma.

When we weigh their side of stories, they both have valid points. We later understood, there were external factors which had contributed adversely to the failure of the peace mission some of which are political in nature. Since our mediation team fail, my eyes and ears are glued on the crisis in Kakuma. Consequently, I understood that some guys from Bul community are now abandoning Kakuma refugees’ camp going back to South Sudan on foot and members of Dok community are no exemption. This is happening largely because the crisis has not been resolve, and the fear of retaliation continues to mount.

In less than three months, the Bul is back on news again that they fought against Leek clan in Juba Protection of civilian sites (POCS). At first on the 16th August, I saw social media being awash with sad news that Bul were fighting against Leek clan in Juba.

When I checked i confirmed there was fighting; that unlike their conflict with Dok in Kakuma, it is no longer conflict between Bul and Leek alone, that other members of Nuer community have team up with Leek clan against Bul; that Bul have been driven out from the camp by forced; that there were more casualties reported; that the Bul fighters have been dislodged and displaced; and that they had been spending the nights outside the UN camp in Juba.

I don’t want to share what I was told as the cause of the crisis because the information I heard differs completely. As matter of fact, this article came as result of the deep conversation with myself about this violent situation among my people.

And Let me begin by paraphrasing the words of late Dr. John Garang in 2005 at Nyayo stadium on the occasion of the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA), he said: as we are signing this peace agreement today, another serious conflict is intensifying in western Darfur and the Blue Nile region, what is the problem? Why should a community subject itself to war and suffering?

Relatively, as a peace negotiation continues in Khartoum, Sudan, why are our people engaging in unnecessary fighting in the internally displaced camps? Could this be the work of anti-peace elements that are out to incite the people with a view to maintain hatred and war in expensive of forgiveness and reconciliation in the country?

If you can imagine, can Bul be interested to fight for no good reason or are the Nuers targeting them without justification? No matter how meticulous and analytical you are, you will not find affirmative answer that Bul are only interesting to fight or that the Nuers are targeting them for no good reasons.

However, I just want to weigh the dynamics of this war by imagining what could be the cause of these series of conflict between Bul and their fellow Nuer in their various UN protection camps.

But before I do that, I would love to point out that any form of violent must not be condone but condemn in strongest term possible. We understand that conflict is somehow good but violent conflict is unacceptable because of its grave consequences known to all of us. It is very costly, expensive and backward thinking to have war among us again especially when peace is around the corner. In a book entitled ‘working for peace’ edited by Machira Appolos, they says ‘‘conflict is characteristic of human existence.

It is part of the dynamics of live that drive us into the future and needs to be managed constructively. When associated with violence, destruction and killing, it is no longer a healthy part of living. Violent solves few problem; on the contrary it create many and breeds more unhealthy conflict to come’’. In light of this, we must however learn to make use of the conflicts that arises in our daily lives. What I mean by making use of conflict is to disassociate conflict with violence in all form and character. As matter of fact, not every injustices or grievances are address or solve through violence because we are human beings who have minds, who can think and resolve difficult issues via other available means.

In any case, violence is often the last resort. And prioritizing violence as mean of resolving our issues is absolute abnormality for luck of better words.

The ongoing fighting in Juba between Bul and Leek has put our intelligence in question as Nuer community. There is an English adage saying two wrongs don’t make one right.

I would say the fighting between Bul and Leek is bad and the decision by the entire Nuer community to fight Bul in favor of Leek is worth condemning. I must term it as an emotional stance. I doubt whether it was made out of careful consideration.

The Nuer community leadership In Juba Pocs must be ideas bankrupt if they did decides to fight Bul and chased them out of the camps as claimed. If the Bul had become problematic as claimed by other communities, the solution is not to fight or chased them away.

We all understand it is not the first time that Bul fought with other community. But in my view fighting and chasing them away will only bolster their violence behavior. They will look at themselves as outcasts and hit back very dangerously. Even those who have never involved in such violence activities can join the fight because you are now putting them in defensive position.

The moment they hear and see that they are being rejected by their own people Nuer they will flee and return to do the worse. We should not forget that they are our gallant sons not matter what. We just need to approach their leaders time and again to tell them that to fight your people is not heroism but the opposite of heroism which is none rather than cowardice.

Eventually, if they see themselves being involved and respected they will definitely abandon violence conflict and opted to behave peacefully like others.

Rarely can year pass without news comings that Bul have fought another community at home or diaspora. This is regrettable and shameful. But has someone ever asked why? Bul must have reason why they are fighting people every now and then. In as much as Nuers are fed up with them, they too are fed up with us, and I will tell you why.

Over times, members of Bul are considered as government or Salva Kiir supporters by virtue that some of their area men are backing Salva Kiir regime.

Usually, they are called names that suggest they are bad people in our midst. This act of generalizing and mischaracterizing them is the cause of anger in them. The English have a saying ‘‘if you want to kill a dog give it bad name’’.

Some people went as far as calling Bul as Dinka while they are not, and this make them feel very uneasy for sure. This behavior of calling some people as Nuer-wew is the contributing factor to these internal conflicts between Nuers themselves.

The same case apply in Kiir regime, if they wants to kill any Dinka, they first labeled him as Nuer simply to justify his or her killing.

The point is: if Nuer can describe Bul by the activities of a few who are supporting the regime of Salva Kiir, why can we also characterize them by the work and selflessness of General Peter Gatdet Yaka in 2013. All of us remember that it was General Gatdet who shot the first bullet in 2013 in defense of the Nuer who were massacred in Juba.

In the last five years, nobody has surpassed what Gatdet has done in 2013. If not for Gatdet revolutionary action, the first vice President Taban Deng, main opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar and the likes could not be with us today.

Regrettably, I have seen Nuer people suffer from recency and they seem to forget too fast and too soon. Nuer people must learn to respect democratic values and principles such as rights of association in time of peace and at war. These are fundamental values which we need to grapple with as cultural and political society.

The wrongs committed by some greedy lots in our midst should not be used to describe many others who are innocent unless we just want them to do the same. Many people forgot that every Nuer clan of Unity state has got people serving in Salva Kiir regime not forgetting the central and eastern Nuer on the other side of the River Nile.

As we speak, there is no community which doesn’t have people in juba based regime. This is the truth and not a mere fact. And it will be immaterial to say this and that community has highest number of people in that regime that is out impoverished our Nuer people and South Sudanese at large.

On the one hand, the unfortunate thing is that Bul have opted to cede ground by allowing people take away their legacy during this post-independence struggle.  I saw they got shrank and vanished from the lime line to an extent of avoiding public functions for fear of shooting words. To me, this is their greatest undoing.  Going ahead, we must go head to head, meaning every community must stand their ground and defend their contribution in this national quest for peace and democracy and Bul is no exemption.

At times I have seen some people refusing to talk about their people in Juba regime. But they have an appetite to talk negatively about Bul or other people who are in government. Why is that the case? I think the answer is lack of objectivity and fairness to us and the society as whole. Those who are doing this are doing to us and the next generation a great disservice.

For instance, in 2015, our region Unity state has been divided into Southern Lich and northern lich plus the so call Ruweng state. The southern lich Governor hails from Leer where SPLM-IO leader came from. You have heard Leer County is the epic center of all kind of atrocities and gross human rights violation in South Sudan, but that cannot warrant us to call our innocent Leer people names otherwise you will be chasing many of them toward the direction of the wrong doers.

In nutshell, mischaracterization of Bul by calling them names they don’t deserve is contributing adversely to all these violence conflicts. In any case, stereotype is fertilizer of conflicts in many places around the world. This brings us to Labeling theory of crime, it was developed in the early 1960, and it posits that people come to identify and behave in ways that reflect how others label them. The moment we continue to label members of Bul community and called them all types of names, they will certainly become what we call them, and ultimately we are going to be the greater losers and the obvious winners will rejoice.

In conclusion, if at all we want to move forward in right direction we must make use of conflict by disassociating it from the violence. And as war and peace continue let us reduce the level of calling people names by virtue of their political allegiance, to me that will create acceptance.

The Writer is the Chairman of Unity State Community in Kenya; the views expressed here are his own. He can be reached for comments via eligodakb@yahoo.com.

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