By Deng Majok Chol
May 3, 2014 - To each of You---of all the 64 ethnic communities that are the inhabitants of South Sudan—who have, in the violence, lost loves ones, family members, dear friends, colleagues, heroes, mentors, or a mentees, I say, with deepest sympathy, condolences to you.
To each of all the women—from the 64 ethnic communities—who are experiencing the evils sides (physical abuses, emotional, psychological, and social effects) of the violence, I say, with deepest embarrassment, be strong and speak up against the evil acts.
We “THE SEEDS OF THE NATION” GENERATION, can at least---yes---at the very least… intervene in the current violence in South Sudan by providing hope to the society.
There is no better time than now to offer hope.
The situation can only get worse.
Could we take moments of reflection to search our souls, and our spirits of resilience with the conscious decision to demonstrate capacity to absorb personal losses and condemn all acts of atrocities and crimes against humanity?
Have the courage and reasonableness to hold all factions involved accountable?
Could we collectively pressurize both factions of the violence by categorically and indiscriminately condemning specific abuses of human rights and episodes of ethnic cleansing?
Could we develop the capacity to de-personalize (this is not easy to do) ourselves as stakeholders in the violence, and offer hope by condemning these acts of evils regardless of which faction committed them?
An evil act is an evil act, regardless of the identity of the parties committing them.
Could this be our song? Instead of the song of tribal loyalty that blinds our sights and blurs our judgments, and questions the values of all the privileges our generation has been blessed with? Could we zoom out (broaden) our senses of the current violence to the analysis of the systemic level of the entire 64 ethnic groups? Because, obviously all of them are directly affected by the violence.
Could we get out of the dichotomy box of Nuer- Dinka? The other 62 tribes make up about 50% of the entire population, and they too, must count.
As a generation, we have been oriented as THE SEEDS OF NATION by the adversities of life and prophecies of societal elders and authorities of all our tribes.
We, as a generation, are seeds of nation, the youngest on Earth. But how long ago were these seeds planted?
30 years ago!
A child born in 1987, a time we first heard this inspirational prophecy, is 27 yrs old now. That child is a fully-grown adult, and, now, a part of THE SEEDS OF NATION.
So, are we still seeds of the nation? Indeed, we are not only seeds; we have germinated into the harvests.
The real question is, what kinds of harvests are we?
I recognize any divergence on this question. Some would say the question has to do with a choice. Others, like me, see it as a duty.
The question is, will we choose to be tribal harvests? Or, national harvests?
This is a grand distinction. One that I invite you to reflect on it as you engage with self.
But, how could harvests, planted by a SOCIETY as SEEDS OF NATION, and became harvests by the GRACE OF GOD, turn into sectarian/tribal/clan politics so easily? How could the goods in each of us—our generation----turn to divisiveness so quick? Where did the loyalty we have cultivated and developed among ourselves go? Did we not survive together? For decades as brothers and sisters? Regardless of our tribal/clan identity? Did we not study, and lived as colleagues for decades?
A 4-month-old violence robbed us of congeniality as family from diverse tribe? And seemed to have re-converted us, instead, to seeds of clans and tribes?
This is a puzzle I take to bed, and wake up with everyday since December 15th, 2013 when the violence erupted
This violence is our own making as a country, and we should realize that it requires a solution of our own making.
Albert Einstein once observed, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
Einstein could be speaking to South Sudan citizens. At the eve of the violence, the story of what caused the violence was power struggle, and now, that story is still power struggle. But thousands have lost their lives. Hundred of thousands individuals have been displaced; Thousands of children are starving to death; Thousands of women are facing physical abuses. And the story is still power struggle. The level of thinking has not changed; if it has, it must be for the worse.
Why is a country so obsessed with whether there was a coup or not? Whether it is power struggle or not? Thousands individuals have disappeared from the face of the earth in this violence. Hundreds of thousands have been uprooted from their homes? Should this not be what needs to concern a country?
New babies are dying before they barely see the light of the world. The shedding of innocent blood is the worst act of humanity. Should this not be the chief concern of the SEEDS OF NATION GENERATION?. Should this not be what needs to concern a country? Should this not be what needs to concern a country?
The authorities in charge of both factions need to think out of the box. They need to think deeper, and at a different level of thinking for political solutions to be realized. As the SEEDS OF NATION GENERATION, could we not utilize our energy and time to indict the politics of war instead of each other?
The tribal politics of wars, fought over the Internet among our generation, will, I predict, have much more far-reaching societal damages than will the battlefields have.
His brothers who wanted him dead sold one humble person, the Biblical Joseph, to Egypt.
Like Joseph, our generation was sent to exile by forces that wanted us dead.
We know, reading through Genesis, that his own brothers for no good reason hated Joseph. They plotted to kill him, but God in His sovereignty rescued him from death in order to carry out His plan and purpose. He was taken to a different country. He was in 2 different locations for approximately 13 to 14 years (Potiphar’s household and an Egyptian jail). It was seven years before Joseph was able to re-unite with his family.
Approximately 20 years from 1987, this story sound familiar to many of us.
When we were small children we were hated. There was a plot to kill us for no fault of our own. But we were rescued and fled to different countries. We were in two locations for approximately 13 to 14 years, Ethiopia and Kenya, before some of us got resettled abroad. While we were away, our homeland suffered. After approximately 20 years, many of us saw our remaining family again and were reunited. (It wouldn’t surprise me if the distance from Joseph’s home in Canaan to his location in Egypt were similar to the distances between our homes and the refugee camps) From the eye, they look fairly close.
Why is Joseph story so relevant to us: Because Joseph resisted evils.
(Genesis 39:6-10)“Now Joseph was well built and handsome (out of curiosity, I would ask each of you to compare photos of you in refugee camps, and now), and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused, “ How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”
And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, Joseph stood firm upholding his values. Joseph was put into prison, where he interpreted dreams for Pharaoh’s Servants and in turn for Pharaoh; and in God’s divine sovereignty, was put in charge of all of Egypt.
Brothers and sisters, our obedience to the commands of the teachings of God has armed us with wisdom, understanding, knowledge and discernment. A man and woman not committed to obeying His commands are promised nothing of worth. No promises of wisdom. No promises of understanding. No promises of knowledge or discernment.
Just as Joseph has developed the capacity to counsel the Pharaoh, we should develop the capacity to counsel the authorities in charge of the warring factions; we should develop the capacity to exercise leadership. Should we not at least help stop the needless death?
In Exiles-Ethiopia, Kenya, Australia, Uganda, North America, Europe-THE SEEDS OF NATION GENERATION has been privileged with three important gifts 1) relationship with God 2) Education, and 3) Relationship with ourselves and citizens of the World.
Unfortunately, these three gifts began to dissipate on the eve of the violence. Was our foundation laid in the rocky ground or on weak sand? How could these values: the enlightenment of education, the fear and knowledge of God, and our 30- year- relationship evaporate so soon?
Could the power of clan/tribe be so powerful that it trumps over our consciences of what is right and what is wrong, 30 years of our relationship and friendship, our education, and our knowledge of God?
This is a puzzle I take to bed, and wake up with everyday.
Have we done the best we can with these gifts. How sad would the history read. That we utilize these gifts as tools to perpetuate the violence?
Does the tribal politics of war worth our 30 years of relationship and collegiality?
What can we tell of them--- those dear fellows SEEDS OF NATIONS who perished, and whose eyes may be watching us? Don’t we have obligation to them?
I do ask myself, what is my obligation to them
The destruction of our society is happening on our watch. It is sad to know that the destruction is made worse by the tribal politics of war that we are fighting over the Internet. The damages we are creating will take a long time to fix in the aftermath. If we don’t change our course of actions, the identity -South Sudanese- will be a time horizon to be realized; it will be beyond our generation.
The lasting effects that the SEEDS OF NATION GENERATION must engage are the fundamental work at the center: deeper reconciliation and nation building.
Why do we make the work of future generations near impossible, simply by what we write or say today to one another? Can we doubt ourselves for a moment-in case we may be trapped in pride and self-righteousness-and question the value of what we write before we write it?
Could the prophecy of THE SEEDS OF NATION GENERATION be fulfilled?
First, on July 9th, 2011, the nation was born, and secondly, we are now harvests. The choice is ours. We can behave and act like we are harvests that can benefit a whole 64 ethnic based-nation state. We can choose to overcome the tribal/clan loyalties.
“To whom much is given, much is expected.”
Brothers and sisters, I write this to you to remind us that evil is deceitful. We must be on guard and prepared. As you all know, death is a daily affair in our country. Also, corruption is part and parcel of institutional and political culture.
Killings and corruption are evils. Corruption is oppressive and murderous.
While we may find it very difficult to change others, we can change ourselves. We can hold strong and fight the good fight.
We have to have capacity to collectively thrive through this darkest moment in our country.
1) As harvests of the nation, we can cease immediately from tribal/clans politics of wars; we can cease, more specifically from, antagonistic messages that widen wounds of violence, and perpetuates conflicts in ways we may not imagine. We can choose to continue to be agents of changes, to be agents of reconciliation and nation building. Let us not be agents of division. This would be a direct contradiction of values or it would simply be a double standard. This contradictory posture cannot only damage our credibility as a generation of change, but it can also make the work of our great grand children way too difficult.
2) As harvests of the nation, we can utilize our human capital to condemn in strongest terms the actions of all factions of all atrocities, and crimes against humanity: killing of women, children, elderly and physical abuses of women. Let’s us not condemn these atrocities selectively; that would not be a right posture of agents of changes.
3) Think of us (a generation from all tribes) as faces and voices of peace. Let us collectively call for immediate stop of violence.
4) We can choose to demonstrate courage in rebuking our authorities in hope that they begin to think at a different level. That they may value human suffering, and to deleverage their pride and power ego.
5) In all our continent and countries of residences, members of all 64 ethnic group should initiate talks, and reach out to fellows South Sudanese to openly discuss steps needed to end the violence and to work hard to maintain trust, confidence, and spirit of national family.
6) As we engage with one another, we should exhibit respect, and demonstrate recognition of our collegial relationship that we have built for years. As we engage with the politics of wars, we should show respect to the obligation of nation building vested in us by the society, and circumstances. There is a great value in debate, but Let’s us have respectful and objective debates, by listening to divergent views, and recognizing the shared experiences of mutually assured survival as a generation.
7) At the very least, we can offer hope to our suffering society by acting as agents of change.
8) We can cease from making social media as place we perpetuate tribal hatred and conflict. We should be consciously aware that our messages are real, and are read virtually everywhere. We should, and actually, need to be more responsible for the effects of our messages.
What is the purpose of our intervention at this time?
Let’s me share with you a story of a man called Natan Sharansky.
Natan was a Jew who was imprisoned for no good reason and was facing a death sentence. The tactics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were exceptionally persuasive. They used deceit, lies, half-truths, false promises, anything they could to control you. They also deceived the outside world by appearing white as snow.
Natan decided very early that he would not lie, he would not keep any secrets, and he would not cooperate with anyone who was corrupt. He would not compromise an inch, no matter what they threatened him with and no matter how much they promised him. He saw them and their motives for who they were. In his book, “ Fear No Evil” he mentions frequently how free he was in his mind because he was living by truth. He was also in a severe battle and he knew truth was the key to victory.
At several points, the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti-Committee for State Security) offered him early release if he would only recant what he said. He was promised that he could return to his wife, his family and be free to pursue any more human rights agendas he had. He could be free if he just recanted what he said.
Sharansky never wavered because he saw them as evil and evil never carries with it any good promises, no matter what it looks like or sounds like.
In his words, asking the authorities to show humanity means acknowledging that they represent a legitimate force that administers justice (page 354). He would not recognize their legitimacy in his life.
What is the cost of non-intervention, by the HARVESTS OF NATION GENERATON?
1) Failure to collectively and categorically condemn atrocities by all parties will almost always lead to non-stop revenge and counter revenge. In the end, the society would be creating a desolation of the land.
2) If we continue the sentiment of sectarian sanctuaries, and tribal/clan allegiance, the likelihood of stopping this violence will continue to diminish, and the death toll will increase. Then, we would be failing in our obligation and duty.
3) The after math societal reconciliation and national building will be more difficult, almost near impossible, if we don’t act now to collectively pressurize the warring factions.
4) If we don’t change gears, the little trust left among the HARVESTS OF NATION GENERATION may all be eroded.
5) Finally, if we don’t intervene now in meaningful ways, we would be failing to give the least we could give to a suffering society: hope. Hope is free, and easy to give. All we need is to offer hope. Our messages carry weight.
If each of us pauses and focuses on what is at stake in the violence. You will come to a conclusion, as I am, that the whole nation is at stake. The country is at the verge of collapsing.
Thousands South Sudanese citizens are starving to death before our eyes. New babies born at night die because of our actions before they could saw the dawn. New babies born during the day die before they could see the dusk. Their eyes are watching us. Little kids are starving to death in hides in the bushes.
Don’t we have the obligation to avert the starvation of this kids?
The future of the nation, history will judge us, is starving to death right before our eyes.
About 30 years ago, we were forced to exiles and became seeds of the nations. Today, we are harvests of the nation.
The (new ) seeds of nations are being killed by our own authorities. I think we must have the obligation to rescues these children so that they may have tomorrow.
We as a society need to do some hard thinking.
The beginning of wisdom is the realization that this violence will have no military end. The outcome of the violence cannot be a zero sum game. Occupations of towns are not a solution to the fundamental problems the country faces. Revenges and counter revenges are creating big wounds and bitter pains that will make a peaceful and political solution near impossible.
My friends, let us rejoin hands above tribal politics and become an army without weapons. We can be agents of reconciliation. A family of tens of thousands who puts our nation’s best interests before our own interests and those of our tribes.
Millions of individuals gave up their own lives during the war with Sudan, so that we shall have our tomorrow. Because of their sacrifices, we were the survivors of the 1983-2005 war. Many of our family members gave their lives for our country. Without them, we would not be the youngest nation of Earth. Without them, most of us would never have received the education we received over the past 20 years. They may be watching us today. Should we allow tribal politics to pull us apart, and contribute to what could be the demise of our 3 years-old nation?
No, we must not let them down. Let us begin today to…
1) Cease tribal/clan hatred messages on social media and websites, and then collectively and consistently condemn the atrocities committed by both parties; and start to behave and act as South Sudanese-divorced of tribal/clan hatred.
2) Call for immediate stop of violence; we may save lives of thousands of individuals who will get killed, and could help avert the violence from turning regional.
3) Collectively send an unequivocal message to Kiir and Riek to stop the killings and violence.
4) Let’s us make use of media coverage: The group in Australia needs to organize (members of all tribes) and collectively issue their statement urging both parties to stop violence. This needs to pressurize Australia government to prioritize South Sudan to talk the two warring parties to stop the violence. The group in the U.S needs to engage both White House, and Capitol Hill to prioriize South Sudan. So, should the group in Canada; Europe ( particularly the U.K, and Norway). The Group in East Africa should organize and do the same. There is going to be a grand strategy that expands to China, India, and Malaysia—parts of the Oil Consortia in South Sudan---- to help pressurize both warring parties to stop violence, and prioritize a peaceful and political settlement.
It is not only the responsibility of the authorities of the warring factions alone to end this violence. It is the responsibility of the society (all 64 plus ethnic group) as a whole.
We need to seek our hearts of what is ethnically, morally, politically and practically wrong with our country and our society.
The solution may need to come from us as a society.
As Benjamin Franklin observed, pen is more powerful than gun. Indeed, the pen can change the nation.
So, let’s us raise our voices.
The writer is a graduate student. Harvard Kennedy School, USA. He can be reached at deng_chol@hks15.Harvard.edu