Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 14 May 2014

Why every problem turns tribal in South Sudan

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By Zechariah Manyok Biar

May 14, 2014 - In order for us to get true peace in South Sudan, we will have to genuinely examine the nature of things that contribute to the lack of it. If we do not do this, then the love for peace will remain in every person as a wish.

The best way of examining the nature of things that contribute to lack of peace in our country, I think, is to ask tough questions and try to answer them. We will often find ourselves not answering these questions satisfactorily, but it is better to try. We have many problems that we are naïve about.

Here is one of the problems. In South Sudan, every quarrel that takes place even between two ordinary members of two different tribes turns tribal. The bystanders from the tribes of the quarreling people often line up behind each one of them even when they do not know what the quarrel is about. This practice begs the question: Why does every problem turn tribal in South Sudan?

There are many theories that could be used to answer the above question. But my own understanding is that every problem turns tribal because the only things that we know in South Sudan are tribes. We had never had real national government that we called our own until less than ten years ago. We only had our tribes and tribal leadership in different parts of the then southern Sudan. The real government was in the North and in the hands of the Arabs.

Since we only knew tribes and tribal leaderships, we still feel uncomfortable today to do anything that does not take into account the tribal loyalty. That is why it is difficult for anybody, however fair-minded he or she is, to stand in the middle and do justice in addressing issues of national importance.

Those who stand in the middle in our current setting do not get anything better than being trampled upon by both their own communities and the opposite communities. It is seen as strange for anybody to criticize his or her own community and be criticized by its members. Those who attempt to criticize their own communities are seen as traitors. So, we keep siding with our communities in everything to avoid being seen as traitors.

Because we do not know anything better than our own tribes, we associate individual happiness and security to our tribes since not doing so would be naïve. We fear the unknown in other communities because there is no way of knowing them better. As a result, we stick to our own in everything, ranging from marriage to politics. Our myopia convinces each tribe that it is the only best tribe in the country. That is why we coin derogatory names to refer to others such as Door, Jenge, Nyagat, Bheer, Nyamnyam, among others.

We glory in things that do not matter even at the national level because we subordinate the state to tribes and not the other way around. Distorted beliefs of each tribe are practiced in national offices today in South Sudan, making unity in diversity difficult.

I will separately write about the contribution of leaders to the above problem, but I will briefly say here that leaders contribute to this myopia by rewarding tribal stupidity either by looking away from the misbehavior of their tribal members or thanking them for it.

Having said the above, we should not be blind to things that aid tribal loyalty. The main one is probably individual security, both at local and national levels. Since security can only be provided by the members of one’s own tribe today, not believing in such a protection can be at one’s own risk because there is no alternative. This is why the ongoing political war quickly became tribal. Many people in both Nuer and Dinka communities learned that killing was taking place along tribal lines when fighting broke out in Juba in December 2013. So, not siding with one’s community would mean surrendering his or her life to the other. Reasoning in this situation becomes the first victim.

If we are to move forward as a country in which tribes are parts of the whole and not the whole is part of sections, then we will have to come out and start teaching our people the importance of standing in the middle. The example of standing in the middle is criticizing your community when it goes wrong in the same way that you criticize others.

We have to teach our communities that criticisms from your own people are better than criticisms from outsiders. This is because your own person would criticize you to make you stand and not fall, but outsiders would do it to make you fall in most cases.

Praising yourselves even when you are going wrong also makes you less smart. For example, we will not learn the importance of human rights if we do not come out and criticize those who targeted innocent people in Juba, Bor, Malakal, Bentiu, and Mapel in the current war simply because they believed those people belonged to tribes they regarded as their enemies. You become smart only when you always hear that you are not good enough and you need to do more. No tribe is a saint!

We should stop glorifying myopia even when we know it is always difficult to unlearn what one is familiar with. All the fair-minded people should come out and show that it is important to be seen as different sometimes, if you are looking for better change. Standing in the middle of many people in addressing national issues will turn our minds away from tribal loyalty to focusing on what matters to the lives of all our citizens. It is better to be challenged than to be praised.

Zechariah Manyok Biar can be reached at manyok34@gmail.com



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  • 14 May 2014 15:41, by Angelo Achuil

    Yep, I think we are yet to learn living as a nation instead of tribes. Lack of general education, lack of true life- changing faith, and lack of visionary and unifying leaders are other reasons behind this perpetual mess.

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    • 15 May 2014 05:41, by Lotodo Awino Odug

      Tribal association is a gain-loss relationship, it saves life because when two individual are involve in an altercation, they fight not to kill for the fear of retribution. unlike in the West where such fight always end in the death of one opponent. the Bad thing about tribal affiliation is that you might be kill or injure for the faults of others.

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  • 15 May 2014 09:48, by Ambago

    What we are seeing in our society is an outcome of the “Herd mentality and herd behaviour”. These phenomena have been prevalent descriptors for human behaviour since people began to form tribes, migrate in groups, and perform cooperative marketing and agricultural functions. The idea of a "group mind" or "mob behaviour" was first put forward by 19th-century French social psychologists Gabriel Tard

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