By Steve Paterno
April 20, 2014 - The theme of this article develops as a result of my extensive research and writings on a culture of revenge killings among South Sudanese communities, particularly among cattle herding communities. Of recent, with abundant supplies of deadly arms to civilians, the age old ethnic rivalries among South Sudanese escalate into unprecedented scale. The level of killing, looting and destruction is drawing much international attention and concern. Worst yet, political and military leaders are exploiting this adage of traditional revenge killings to advance their personal interests.
The current conflict in South Sudan perfectly follows the pattern of this backward traditional way of thinking and is pretty much being exploited by political and military leaders alike. The trigger starts after the ever ambitious Riek Machar long quest to ascend into presidency failed whereby he staged yet a failed coup d’etat organized primarily by his Nuer tribe. After a failed coup attempt, the Dinka tribe of President Salva Kiir then organised themselves and carried out targeted retaliatory killings against the tribal members of Riek Machar. This episode, which occurred in capital Juba, quickly spread throughout the country, with even examples of one time colleagues from rivaling communities, turning into bludgeoning and slaughtering each other without mercy.
Unfortunately, this culture of retaliatory killings now form the bases and core ideology of Riek Machar, a former vice president turned warlord. Machar message for mobilizing military support for his ambition is rather simple: "Dinka killed our people in Juba." This then feeds into the culture of a need for revenge, which very much is embedded in a long held tradition and psychic of the people. As a result, the tactics draws huge armed Nuers, popularly known as the White Army, a notorious group noted for cattle rustling, looting and pillaging. The actions of this so called White Army are of course met with retaliatory response from armed Dinka groups, perpetuating the cycle of violence.
The situation is now such that a culture of revenge is prevailing while the vision for a nation base on constitution and rule of law is losing traction. The idea of justice is overtaken by need for revenge, where the victims are often time the most innocent. Until then, there is no hope for nation building when aspiring national leaders bent on ideology of primitive culture of traditional revenge killings—a culture that perpetuate the cycle of violence.
Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org