We must not allow our allegiance to our tribes destroy our urge for political stability

By Ngoi Thuech


South Sudan's President, Salva Kiir (R) shaking hand with First Vice President designate Dr. Riek Machar Teny (L) in Addis Ababa after signing the revitalized agreement (File photo)
South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir (R) shaking hand with First Vice President designate Dr. Riek Machar Teny (L) in Addis Ababa after signing the revitalized agreement (File photo)

November 4th 2018 (Nyamilepedia) – South Sudanese do not know how lucky and blessed they are. We have never had a shortage of patriotic leaders even before we became known as South Sudanese but separate entities living in tribal kingdoms. Our people whether we came from Azande nationality, Dinka dynasty or Shilluk kingdom, we all fought various wars to stop the invasion of Arabs who were hell-bent on enslaving our people, misappropriating our land and writing us off the history books.

After Sudan gained her independence from the Anglo-Egyptian rule, a plethora of Southern Sudan national leaders rose up and shouldered our cause for freedom from Jellaban economic exclusion. A number of popularly known leaders from that era range from William Deng Nhial to Joseph Lagu. Eleven years after the breakdown of trust between the southern Sudanese and the North Sudanese ruling elite for dishonoring the 1972 peace agreement, a new group of leaders emerge in the fold of John Garang, William Nyuon Bany, Salva Kiir, and Riek Machar.

We have always had patriotic leaders and people who would go out of their way to protect the interests of our people no matter how hard their trials may seem. During the first and second Sudanese civil wars we have had people who were easily bought off by the deep pockets of Khartoum. These people, in turn, came around and put the light out of what we were truly fighting for; our people were up in arms giving all their lot which resulted in countless generations of South Sudanese losing countless age-groups and age-sets, meaning people who traditionally were born and grew up in the same era.

Early in the 1990s, our leaders were once again at each other’s throats fighting to own the chairmanship of the SPLM/A; truly it was an incidental war which caused us dearly to delay our chance to garner independence from the jaws of persecution emanating from the preoccupied Sharia Law enforcers of Sudan. And in 2013, twenty years from the prior break-up of SPLM/A into SPLM/A-Torit and SPLM/A-Nasir in 1991, our leaders armed their respective tribal dynasties to contest the presidential crown.

Every time we fight among ourselves, we unknowingly underdeveloped our collective cause for progress for a number of years. When we splintered into various liberation movements in 1991, we didn’t get a chance to claim our independence until 14 years later; similarly, the war of 2013 has destroyed everything from infrastructure to thousands of people perishing in the process.

The Igbo people of Nigeria and Cameroon state, “when brothers fight to the death, a stranger inherits their father’s estate. We live in an Eastern and Central African block where people might soon fight themselves to the bone for the few limited and scrappy economic resources availed to them by their representative governments. Kenya has 49 million people; Uganda has 41 million; Sudan has 39 million; DR Congo has 79 million; Ethiopia has 102 million; African Republic has 4 million. If one looks carefully at the statistics illustrated above, the only exception is the case of the Central African Republic which is populated by a mere 4 million people.

The other five countries straddling our borders have each 30 million plus people within the confines of their nation-states. Our very own South Sudan brags of being blessed with 12 million people. Sudan at independence in 1955 had 17 million people and it had 49 million in 2011 shortly before independence gave way to South Sudan. So, by 55 years into the future, our population might be 50 million or more depending on whether we choose to live in a state of fear and hatred or a land where people respect their differences so they may live in harmony and serene peace. Abiy Ahmed, the PM of Ethiopia had this insightful observation about upholding tolerance at all cost: “Ethnic differences should be recognized and respected. However, we should not allow them to be hardened to the extent of destroying our common national story.”

How we allow corrupt and tribal opportunistic leaders to continue to drive a wedge among us is a thing of wonder. It is okay to be pleasantly prideful of one’s ethnic background, but we should never allow it to destroy what we truly stand for as South Sudanese, which is to say we are a union of multifaceted tribes, while at the same time we also belong to one geographical enclave and sovereignty of South Sudan. We may come from different tribes, however, we also self-identify as South Sudanese.

Once South Sudanese from any specific tribe has one of the own tribal member promoted to a powerful ministerial position, you would find them celebrating all over the place for such a gift.  Some of us now get denied medical attention because he or she hails from the tribe where recently one of their tribal members called on the military to sent members of a different tribe to their early graves. If the leader had special powers, then he would have helped the subjective individual who was in need of a medical attention; however, the leader in question was ordinary like every one of us, or perhaps less intelligent than most of us; that was probably why the war started in the first place.

Since 2005, countless foreigners have made our motherland their permanent homeland. After the war broke out in 2013, ethnic hatred and a plethora of fear mongering became commonplace which culminated in chauvinistic tendencies by certain tribes to deny land purchasing to certain tribal nationalities, because the leader of the nation is a member of their tribe.

Just like Abiy Ahmed recognized the existence of ethnic differences; we should never entertain our tribal pride and heritage to cloud our judgment or blind us into seeing the bigger picture of our national identity. Some of our South Sudanese people are too culturally attached to their ethnic tribes, that they are too often falsely led by these exclusive tendencies into believing that it is us only the Lotuho people or no one else out there. South Sudan can’t just belong to the Lotuho people when there are other 63 tribal nationalities that carry a bulky uncompromising vast array of our nation.

Teth Wuol had this insightful observation about the corrosive division of tribalism: “Why do we let tribes define us? When we have one of the oldest cultures in the world. Rich with hard working people, dedicated to and faith. Many focus on our differences and play into the cultural divide prevent true peace. My goal is to bring South Sudan out of the ashes and build a future booming with technology, education, logic, and visionaries. I guess I can only dream until we start really caring about our South Sudan’s legacy.”

Riek Machar came to Juba for peace celebration and some people hated him for gracing hands with Salva Kiir, and Salva Kiir was given the rein to lead our nation in the Pre-Transitional Period, and again he was vilified for failing to do enough to prevent the nation from disintegrating into a wasteland of conflict. We don’t have a choice to propel the leader of our liking onto the crown helm of the presidency; we are stuck to work with Salva Kiir and Riek Machar in the meantime until we manage to figure out who is better suited to manage our affairs in J1.

Furthermore, once everything is up and running smoothly after the Transitional Period, we wish to continue to push for democratic reforms which will enable us to form impartial three branches of the government which encompasses the judiciary, the executive and the legislative assembly.

South Sudan is endowed with a few oil reserves here and there, and if we continue treading on the same path of the last 13 years; wars would never cease to cause us enormous losses in lives and properties. Petrol dollars unlike foreign aid handouts do not come with string attached, meaning if we happen to have a dictatorial president in office, chances are that everyone would be rushing to Juba to scavenge for the loot of the oil collective wealth since there would be no Norwegian government sanctioning us to elect a democratic leader into office.

They don’t associate petroleum with the curse for nothing. Frank Matata, the former SPLM/ commander and governer of Yei River State was caught with the illegal sales of teak in the documentary Profiteers. Corruption comes from the evil side of our human nature which is susceptible to get easily tempted to rent-seeking or self-serving. An impartial and sagacious judiciary would help us tremendously to bring to justice those who may get too greedy to get more for themselves while they are serving their tenures in office.

The famed Kenyan cartoonist Gado pointed out that one of the root causes of the major issues holding us back is ignorant. Ignorance is born out of too much faith we placed in tribal allegiances we grew up associating with. John Dewey once said that “Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.” His warnings do not only necessarily mean that for democracy to make a profound change in the society, a brand new generation of people must be at the forefront leading the pack to create the much-needed environment to effect change.

He also meant that each and every one of us must play their part to learn and adapt to the new cultural trends making headways in the society. This is a social science analogy to the biological phenomenon of the survival of the fittest whereby those with most adaptable genes to their immediate inhabitable environment are more likely to survive environmental catastrophes and pass their genes to the next generation of their offspring. In our case, the few hard-headed bunches among us are more likely to drag people into major conflicts that we can’t afford to be a part of.

“You can not carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invest the future”- says Thomas Sankara. Old habits do really die hard, but there is nothing eviler than allowing a few attachments to one’s ethnic group to let them determine our shared national urge for political stability in our country.

There is no doubt that these tribal attachments mean more to some people than other others. We are profoundly blessed with a nation that is not too populated to cause major competition for available collective wealth, and even with these blessings of fertile land and its great we continue to let our ethnic differences get in the way of our collective progress. “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people,” as Eleanor Roosevelt would say.

When we strive to live in a culture of tolerance toward our fellow human beings who may hail from a tribe, we give way for peace to reign and therefore, we all end up giving chance to everyone so they may focus on the basic necessities of their lives. Everyone wins when tribalism, corruption, nepotism ignorance are not commonplace practices in our mainstream society. Our continual adaptation to cultural phenomenon is the way forward for us to have a chance of building a small space for our fellow country folks.

We don’t have to adapt to everything that may come our way, we just have to incorporate some beneficial elements into our communal localities so we can enjoy a little peace for our dear lives.

The author, Ngoi Thuech, is a South Sudanese blogger that works and lives in Dodoma, Tanzania. He can be reached via: www.ngoithuech.blogspot.com. He can be reached at mawangrieth@outlook.com

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