Social Changes and the Question of Nationalism in South Sudan: A Comparative Historical Analysis

By Malakal C Luak C,


South Sudanese nationals turn out in mass number to celebrate the independence of South Sudan in 2011(Photo: file)
South Sudanese nationals turn out in mass number to celebrate the independence of South Sudan in 2011(Photo: file)

Feb 17, 2015(Nyamilepedia) — South Sudan is the youngest nation in the world. It became an independent state on July 9th, 2011. Its population was estimated at nine (9) millions, but the number of people in the rural areas usually remains unreached by the national census due to the lack of accessible roads. South Sudan is bordered by the Republic of the Sudan to the north, Ethiopia to the east, Kenya to the southeast, Uganda to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the southwest, and the Central African Republic to the west. South Sudan is populated by many tribes whose majority has less or no education background. Due to this dire social condition, a large number of them cannot contemplate what it means to be a nationalist; they rather pay allegiance to individual tribal groups than the South Sudan nation. A quick analysis of the historical facts of the Mexican Civil War from 1910-1920, the Chinese Boxers Rebellion of 1899 to 1901, and the Russian Jews Pogrom in the 19th and 20th century could inform the South Sudanese about what it means to be a nationalist, especially during a national crisis such as the current South Sudan Civil War.

Many South Sudanese might have been confused about the real definition of the nationalism during the previous Sudanese Civil Wars from 1972 to 2005. It is understandable because many rebel commanders from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) used to deploy different war propagandas to indoctrinate the civilians in the rebel controlled areas. The political deceits are also used to pain a false picture in order to misinform the international communities as well as local population. In refugee’s camps, to receive humanitarian aids from the international communities, civilians would be forced to wear empty sacks as clothes or feel their plates with grasses signaling lack regular foods. In the 1980’s during the military confrontation of SPLA forces with the Anya Nya Two (II) soldiers, I was made to believe that the SPLA rebel soldiers from the Greater Bhar El Ghazel region were cannibals who used to turn into lions or hyenas during night time so as to hunt humans for flesh. A group of SPLA soldiers from a Dinka tribe would gang rape a Nuer village girl, and upon the completion of the inquiry into the case, nothing would be done by the leadership to punish the culprits. The result of the injustice would force a few Nuer SPLA soldiers to desert the movement and join the Sudanese Army Forces. The Nuer SPLA soldiers would be labelled as traitors or Nyagat by the SPLA Leadership. Thus, the word ‘Nyagat,’which in reality means ‘trader’ in Ethiopian Amharic Language, has widely created a lot of controversies and confusions, even to those who know its real meaning in Amharic. The word was also used as defend mechanism by South Sudanese leaders to negatively brand anyone who questions their lack of leadership and their unethical behaviors, such as attending church services to choose underage school girls as fifth or sixth wives or getting drunk and staggering in the public places.

Nationalism is defined as a belief, creed or political ideology that involves an individual identifying with, or becoming attached to, one’s nation. This definition of the nationalism can expose South Sudanese current and/or historical traitors in the country. Throughout the article, I have used the word Jaŋ with its plural Jaaŋ (Pronounced Jaang), instead of the word Nyagat, to identify the historical and/or the current traitors of the South Sudan Nation. According to the Nuer Language, one of the national languages of South Sudan, Jaŋ is a person, whether born in a country or a foreign born, who acts as if he were a temporary resident. He/she does not share the national duties. Jaaŋ would invite foreigners from different countries to eliminate their fellow citizens. They care less whether or not the image of their country would largely be negative worldwide. Jaaŋ are usually associated with negative traits such as greed, envy, jealousy, backstabbing, inconsideration, obsession etc.

Jaaŋ of South Sudan

The Dinka culuture show in Juba South Sudan .....
The Dinka culuture show in Juba South Sudan …..

Since its inception in 1983, the objective of the SPLA/M under the leadership of Dr. John Garang de Mabior was to fight for a united secular Sudan. That ambiguous aim of the revolution got a lot of supports as well as oppositions. In August 28th, 1991, Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon, the current leader of the SPLA/M-IO against SPLA/M Juba government, announced the Nasir Declaration that called for the right to self-determination for the people of the then Southern Sudan. This objective was incorporated in the 2002 document during the merger of Dr. John Garang’s Torit faction and Dr. Machar’s Nasir faction. The right to self-determination was exercised by the legible Southern Sudanese voters all over the world. After the majority voted for the separation, South Sudan became an independent country on July 9th, 2011. The Jaaŋ of South Sudan were those who had insisted for years that  Southern Sudan remain united with Sudan, while the nationalists of South Sudan were those who proudly and successfully brought the independence of South Sudan by bullets and ballots.

In an ongoing Civil War in South Sudan, Jaaŋ or traitors are South Sudanese who have invited and supported the Uganda’s UPDF, Sudan’s JEM rebels, the SPLA/M-North to fight and kill South Sudanese citizens for business interest or to prolong dictatorship. Those who have opposed to Salva Kiir’s military agreements with foreign fighters are the real nationalists who care for the right to life for all South Sudanese. After the Mexican President invited US soldiers to fight in the Mexican Civil War, much of the Mexico’s Indian population united and stood against the foreign invasion, even the Mexican soldiers who sided with Diaz’s government defected to join local rebellions. The Mexican Civil War was a major armed struggle that started in 1910, with an uprising led by Francisco I. Madero against longtime autocrat Porfirio Díaz, and lasted until around 1920. Over time the revolution changed from a revolt against the established order to a multi-sided civil war with frequently shifting power struggles. This armed conflict is often categorized as the most important sociopolitical event in Mexico and one of the greatest upheavals of the 20th century. It resulted in an important experimentation and reformation in social organization. After prolonged struggles, its representatives produced the Mexican Constitution of 1917 during Venustiano Carranza’s term. Leaders such as Francisco I. Madero, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata arose to take part in the rebellion against Díaz, who requested foreign military support from the US President William Howard Taft. The Texas Rangers, 4,000 U.S. and Mexican troops, U.S. Secret Service agents, FBI agents and U.S. marshals were all called in to provide security in the pretext to protect the several billion dollars of American capital then invested in Mexico.

Nationalistic ideology was also reflected by the Chinese unity against foreign invasion to their land which resulted in the rebellion of 1899. In the case of South Sudan, Jaaŋ are the individuals who have refused the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country, while the nationalists would rather die in battlefields against any foreign fighters. All whose spirits are yet to be redeemed must unite and oppose the continued presence of foreign troops in South Sudan. The Boxer Rebellion also called the Boxer Uprising was an anti-imperialist uprising which took place in China towards the end of the Qing dynasty between 1899 and 1901. It was initiated by the Militia United in Righteousness (Yihetuan), known in English as the “Boxers,” and was motivated by proto-nationalist sentiments and opposition to foreign imperialism and associated Christian missionary activity. The Great Powers intervened and defeated Chinese forces. The Eight-Nation Alliance was an alliance of Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, whose military forces intervened and relieved the siege of diplomatic legations in Peking (Beijing) in the summer of 1900.

The 2013 Juba Nuer Pogroms was systematically and officially supervised by the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit. Since it was motivated by the ethnic hatred by the government, it can only be comparable to the Russian pogroms. A pogrom is a violent riot aimed at massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group, particularly one aimed at Jews. The term originally entered the English language to describe 19th- and 20th-century attacks on Jews in the Russian Empire (mostly within the Pale of Settlement in present-day Ukraine and Belarus). Similar attacks against Jews at other times and places also became retrospectively known as pogroms. The word is now also sometimes used to describe publicly sanctioned purgative attacks against non-Jewish ethnic or religious groups.

According to a friend who have kept the record during the Juba Nuer Genocide, Salva Kiir’s personal bodyguards called Gelweng were immediately defeated shortly after the start of the fighting at 9: 47 PM. About 9: 57 PM the Gelweng Militias were chased out of the military barrack and run in disarray toward the University of Juba through Hai Thora Road. They regrouped again at 11:30 PM together with their reinforcement that came from Luri, but were defeated again. They tried it again at 7: 03AM, but defeated.  Jaŋ General James Hoth Mai, former Chief of Staffs of the SPLA and the current Chairman of Nuer community in Juba, went and visited the barrack at 10: 27AM, while pretending to sympathy with the Nuer soldiers who had captured the military barrack. At 11:19AM, Jaŋ General James Hoth brought the Commandos and Military Police that consisted mostly of Nuers from Bilpam and Gumbo Military Barrack. They were supported by four main battle Tanks. They finally pushed the Nuers out of the Qaeda main Military Barrack toward Loklogo and Khor William. The Gelweng Militias stood far like storks.  Jaŋ General James Hoth ordered his forces back to their Barracks after defeating their brothers and let in the Gelweng Militias and other armed Dinka civilians to go door to door in search of Nuers.  That was how the Juba Nuer pogroms started. Within a matter of less than 72 hours, more than 20 thousands of Nuer men, women, elderly,and children were confirmed massacred. The ethnic targeting of Nuer civilians by the state government continued till today. Jaaŋ are South Sudanese who chose to remain silence in Juba while their fellow citizens were brutally massacred on their presence by the state government. The nationalists are those military figures who declared war against the Juba government on behave of the victims.

Social Changes

The current situation in South Sudan may compel a lot of people to contemplate and speculate about the imminent social changes in the country. Firstly, due to the involvement of the foreign troops in the South Sudan war, a new generation of mixed skin tones would be born. In the areas controlled by the government, foreign troops came to South Sudan without their spouses. They must share South Sudanese ladies with the Jaaŋ or betrayers of South Sudan. The foreigners would soon bear light skin children to South Sudanese women in the cities of their operations. Internationally speaking, light skin people usually receive more favoritism and opportunity than the dark-skinned. If the war in South Sudan would be prolonged, there would be a new political dispensation in the future. The children of UPDF soldiers, Sudan JEM rebels, and the SPLA/M-North could be the potential future leaders of South Sudan, especially in the current states controlled by the Juba government. Secondly, a long protracted civil war in South Sudan would result in cultural assimilation. South Sudanese in the areas under the control of the SPLA/M-In- Opposition could speak in one language and assimilate the small tribes who may lose their self-esteems in the process. A low self-esteem is dangerous because the minority tribes would fear to speak in their mother tongues and would instead practice the majority language. For instance, in ten years’ time, the children of Bul Nuer who have moved to the Bhar El Ghazel would lose their Nuer language and speak Dinka instead. The majority of Dinka children in the Greater Upper Nile would acquire Nuer tribal identities in just a short period. Their sons may soon practice the Nuer dance, receive six facial tribal scarification during the initiation to adulthood. The Shilluk Kingdom may cease to exist because the majority of its land is currently under the control of soldiers from Dinka or Nuer ethnic groups. The population of Murle tribe could swell in a very short time. After the defection of COBRA faction to the SPLA/M-IO, their rebel fighters may soon acquire new sophisticated weapons with the help of Dr. Machar’s freedom fighters. Compounded by their bravery, the Murle tribe could abduct children from their neighboring tribes in the Eastern Equatoria and Greater Bor areas and convert them as Murle members.

The International communities are laughing at the Jaaŋ of South Sudan who have sold the country to the foreigners. However, it is not too late to become a nationalist again. The Jaaŋ of South Sudan must support the current peace efforts by the IGAD countries. South Sudanese citizens must have unified voices that call for withdrawal of foreign troops from South Sudan. Their presence has been a negative contributing factor on the peace process. A quick solution to the military conflict in the country could smooth the social changes of the South Sudanese society; all ethnic groups could maintain their ancestral lands without worries about being culturally assimilated by the majority tribes. A new political compromise is dearly needed, but if the Juba government continues with the same mindset, bi bil a car.

Malakal C Luak C has been very active on the social media since the start of the current South Sudan Civil War in Juba. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. You can reach the author, Malakal Chuol Luak, mcluak@gmail.com

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Nyaluak Lual February 18, 2015 at 4:28 am

Malakal C Luak:
First of all, I want you to look at Nationalism from a very different perspective. Ethnic nationalism which you seem to praise is not the nationalism that tentamount to statesmanship. Nationalism is about standing in defense of the nation and its sovereignty by sacrificing self in the interest of the whole nation. In light of this definition, are you or those you praise standing a chance to be on the list of nationalists?
If you want to go southern, South Sudan independence of call for self-determination was made long before Riek Machar ever entered politics by our forefather including Joseph Lago in Anya Nya I. Also by Anya Nya II as well as Dr. Riek in 1991 and the first SPLM Convention in Chukudum in 1994 in which Self-determination became one of the stated principles for the national liberation struggle. There was no need to kill or make a coup to have it placed in the SPLM agenda. Riek in 2002 returned to the SPLM when he realized that the self-determination he was seeking through cooperation with Khartoum could not materialize and what Garang was negotiation with Khartoum in Nairobi was beginning to take shape. So, Riek does not have the monopoly of self-determination, but he has the reckless ability to ran with unbaked cake all the time and that is why he always fails.
The word Jaang, which you seem to think is your invention has always been there in the Nuer vocabulary, but it does not entail what you added. I am very sure that it does not mean traitor. Malakal, what is a traitor in English? Riek Machar never called Nuer for a meeting to decide that they are going to overthrow Salva and all the Nuer agree with him and on 15 December some of those who agreed decided to remain in government. He was told that it was not constitutional to remove government by coup just because you want to be president. Just use politics to get to power. He has refused. My friend, why would all the Nuer do something which is wrong by God just because Riek Machar said so?
Then, the issue of war in Juba, I will not discuss it with you because all you are writing is hear-say since you have completely distorted the facts. General James Hoth Mai saved thousands of lives including that of your brother. But since you are a Nuer, you cannot be blamed for making mistakes. Stay well!

Lado Wani May 30, 2015 at 8:17 am

Dear. Malakal,
I commented you for bringing up this scientific reasearch topic “Nationalism and social change”. But I would rather contrast It with tribal nationalism. Do we have Nationalism in South Sudanese really? What we have in South Sudan is ethnic cheuvinism and polorazation. Until we break this cycle of ethnocentrism, south sudan will never have a a nationalism.
Our Nationalism is our tribes. The Bari Nationaism, Dinka Nationasim, Nuer Nationalism, Shilluk Nationalsim, Zande Nationaism and so on.

We are killing ourselves just because we failed to agree to rule ourselves according to social contract theory. And to subdue others, a military forces has to be enforced, and mercenaries are brought in to ethnically cleanse the identified impediment tribes such that, they should not stand in their way of leadership.

Nationalism and patriotism are like the two facets of the same coin, but we are still beyond the reach. For example, in South Sudan now, 80% of key sovereign positions are occupied by one tribe.
Jobs vacancies are not officially advertise and compete for. If advertised, it is done as pretext to blackmail public opinion. Candidates were selected at home in the evening. Not on the basis of merit and qualification, but rather on the basis of whom do you, not what do you know. Unqualified candidate are appointed instead of the competent skills candidates.

When I went to Juba, I could not believe my eyes that I was in Juba. I thought I was in one of these states seeing the same faces everywhere specially in the ministries, immigration, passport, national security, police, airport. People are speaking one language in the ministries other than official language.
Democracy will not work in South Sudan, because it will be a tribal democracy. The only thing that will work is Federal system of government, self government, or confederal system.


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