Opinion South Sudan

Opinion: South Sudan soil, blood and vernacular nationalists, a flag without patriots.

By Makneth Aciek,

Thousands of Southern Sudanese wave the flag of their new country during a ceremony in the capital Juba on July 09, 2011 to celebrate South Sudan's independence from Sudan. South Sudan separated from Sudan to become the world's newest nation. AFP PHOTO/Roberto SCHMIDT (Photo credit should read ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
Thousands of Southern Sudanese wave the flag of their new country during a ceremony in the capital Juba on July 09, 2011 to celebrate South Sudan’s independence from Sudan. South Sudan separated from Sudan to become the world’s newest nation. AFP PHOTO/Roberto SCHMIDT (Photo credit should read ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

Dec 08, 2020(Nyamilepedia) — On July 9th 2011, we listened to the rendition of our national anthem being unusually played to the full attention of the world, we looked to the sky in unison as the flag of old Sudan was being lowered to give way to the flag of South Sudan. It was so emotional! The deep-rooted emotions of belonging, oneness and common destiny were stirred; it brought a tear or two too many south Sudanese’s eyes. Like no other time in our recorded history did south Sudanese in all their diversities feel this deep stirring, this common spirit, this feeling of unity and interconnectedness, this powerful glue of togetherness. The old folks that grew up and aged in the struggle reflected with tears in their eyes: why did it take this long?

The rest about our independent day belongs to history. What this article wishes to investigate is why south Sudanese failed to maintain those emotions in all their interactions, why we slunk back to our little tribal caves, adopted smaller thoughts and become smaller peoples preoccupied with what I call, for the lack of better phrase, Vernacular nationalisms

What was won through the exercise of self-determination was a rudimentary kind of freedom, and our leaders were tasked by history to design social, economic and political levers needed to transform it into a satisfying freedom. Our leaders defaulted on these days after raising the flag, and instead reduced the independence to the quest for ethnic dominance. In their peculiar form of wisdom, they saw the Young Nation as a food-chain and their wishes had been to put their own families and tribes on top of that food- chain. Pathetic!

 The wish to have the best part of national cake, like other bad wishes, is childish and destructive. It has broken the promises of self-determination; the imagined ideals of self rule have since lost much of its awesomeness and a good part of its enabling capacity. Thousands of peoples died under new flag, Country went to civil war under new flag, and until today, at this time, ethnic and sub-ethnic loyalties threaten the full implementation of R-ARCSS

The exhaustion of the ideal of a common 

Destiny as promised by Self-determination has strengthened the appeal for Vernacular nationalism which is usually well expressed in the body of Communal associations/unions. These communal unions or associations are the selling point of ethnicity- a place where ethnic consciousness is developed  

Among many south Sudanese societies, tribalism is equated to communitarianism, and this is what those interesting in the affairs of South Sudan ought to note. Unlike other varieties of postulated identities, the idea of ethnicity is semantically loaded. It assumes axiomatically a union made by remote gods of ancestors that no human effort can tear asunder, a kind of preordained bond of unity which precedes all bargaining and eventual agreements on rights and obligations. In other words, 

homogeneity which allegedly marks ethnic entities is heteronomous: not a human artifact, and most certainly not the product of the generation of humans currently alive. 

No wonder then that ethnicity more than any other kind of postulated identity is the first choice when it comes to the withdrawal from the frightening, polyphonic space like South Sudan body politic where “Ruling authorities“ chose to disadvantage members, into a ‘secure niche’ where ‘Everyone is like anyone else’. Even within a tribe, some clans choose to clamor for their own niches in the tribal union. If the Union refuses to issue them niches, they try by all means to steal some feathers from the tribe’s cap and busily invent their own. And this explains why the opposition groups did not unite under one body to wage a single front against the regime. Every ethnic chieftain needs a niche for himself and his tribe.

Every country that has ever overcome challenges of state building has had a big idea: for some it was Justice and liberty; for others it was freedom and dignity of the peoples; for yet others it was a realization of common destiny and economic renewal. What’s our big idea? There are many, many silly ideas being entertained even as the country struggles for peace and unity: Ideas for the Dinka Hegemony, for instance. Or for the Nuer Nation, or the Equatorian Nationalism or……. The small ideas of ethnic nationalism locks the doors of Patriotism, it pulls out the door-knockers and disables the doorbells, declaring that trust is ethnically bound and the nation can offer just pan-ethnic sense of “we”. 

This ethnic sense of we has caused us peace and thousands of lives, it has collapsed our economy and stagnant growth. Development and progress are realized when you want to hire somebody, you take the best person for the job- not the one with a name or facial scarification like yours. When you want to buy something, you search for the best combination of price and quality- not the seller who shares your mother-tongue.

Go to the offices of cabinet ministers; from clerk to personal assistant, the only images you see are reflections of the minister’s face, the only sounds you hear are echoes of the minister’s voice. No national image! We engage enthusiastically in making pretend-noises about national unity, when all we are really preoccupied with is a much narrower set of enclaves: families and clans. we are only a “pretend-nation”, a nation without patriots! Look around Juba and all the neighborhoods: in what sense are we a nation? A bunch of tribes all scowling at each other in suspicion do not make a nation 

Each of us, whether you are Nuer, Dinka or otherwise hears cautions, warnings about the injustice of long ago. Their people did this to our people, we can not forgive them. They are our enemies.

The Cautions come from many sources. From tribesmen; from elders and pastors; from political and community leaders. There are too many to be ignored or shrugged off; they seep into our consciousness and poison each and everyone of us understanding about the concept of together and human organized lives

Our people, particularly the youth to which the future belongs should understand that nothing is real about tribe, it is a colonial arrangement- a mental construct they used to implement “divid and rule” policy. Look around Dinka and Nuer today, the stereotyping words they are using against one another  were the very words used by the colonial authorities to describe them. The colonialists described the Nuers as truculent, savages, unruly and warlike people; they on the other hand described Dinkas as dishonest, liars, canny and deceptive people. These stereotypes were introduced into Nuer and Dinka psyches by local culture brokers – that is the chiefs and newly schooled groups. And since then the relationship between Dinka and Nuer has been characterized by prejudice, mistrust, violence and death.

The stereotypes are all over our societies. After many years of pillaging, oppression and slaving, the colonialists left us with soil, blood, prejudices and tribal bigotry. We have to challenge ourselves and go back deep into our history, find better words to describe ourselves, rediscover our shared values and oneness. This is the only way we can find ideals to build a nation. Peace will only be realized in South Sudan when her citizens learn to embrace their plural tribal identities. 

As the country is struggling to implement the Agreement, we should imagine the future of nationhood in the context of our shared traditional norms. The pastoralists in Upper Nile and Bar El ghazal regions should be reminded that cattle have never been a source of wars; Cattle kept their ancestors cultured, prosperous and cooperative for a very long time. The core security strategy for their cattle should not revolve around the power of guns, but around the power of traditional norms of hospitality, marriage, and shared cattle rights and common usage. This is what constituted a moral community which existed before slavers and colonialists invaded our land

The question of peace will only be answered when leaders and those in positions of influence outgrow the demands of their Tribes and choose to work for the interest of all. We have to examine our common history and find  stories, the tunes and the names of heroic ancestors – something to share, love and cherish in common, and so to lift the mere living together to the rank of  belonging together. Otherwise our flawed sense of tribal identity and concept of who should own the state will continue to cause crisis.

For more information, you can reach the author through his personal email at mkdagoot@gmail.co

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