Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 18 May 2014

How leaders contribute to tribalism in South Sudan

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By Zechariah Manyok Biar

May 18, 2014 - Earlier this month, May 2014, I attended a workshop for East African Universities Quality Assurance Network in Arusha, Tanzania. The host of the workshop from Tanzania said in his welcoming speech that he welcomed us to a peaceful Tanzania. Because of the peacefulness of the country, he said that he believed that we would enjoy our stay. And we did.

On the fourth day of the workshop, I thought about what makes Tanzania stable to the point that they rightfully boast about it. So, after dinner, I approached the Professor from the University of Dar es Salaam and asked him what he thought were the contributors to peace in Tanzania. He told me that what many people believe as the contributors to peace in Tanzania are the policies of the former President, the Late Julies Nyerere.

According to the Professor, there were three main things that Nyerere did: the first is that he promoted love among Tanzanians so that they would see themselves as Tanzanians first and tribes second; second, he promoted one national language which is Kiswahili without banning other local languages; and third, he limited the roles of tribal leaders. The Professor said that the result of these policies is that Tanzanians now quarrel over issues, not over communities. That is why there is peace in Tanzania.

The issues presented by the Professor might not be the only factors that contribute to peace in Tanzania, but one thing is clear: leadership matters in the promotion of peace and national unity.

The situation, as we know, is the opposite in South Sudan. When we fought for our independence, the focus was on the hatred of the Arabs who mistreated us on racial bases for a long time. When we got the freedom that we wanted, we did exactly what we said we hated. We turned around and started employing our relatives and tribesmen like the Arabs used to do in any institution one was on top even when they were not qualified, causing distrust in the system.

Even the idea of unity in diversity that many leaders talk about in South Sudan today is distorted by the approach in which the starting point, as shown by Mr. Mark’s article of May 15, 2014, is that we first understand what brings us together as the basic and then aim at what makes us different as the ideal, as opposed to first understand our differences as the basic and then aim at what brings us together as the ideal.

Another thing that our leaders did to promote tribalism was on the side of their protection. They employed their relatives as their body guards. You do not have to be a great researcher to understand this fact. Just start from the body guards of any leader of your institution and you will understand this practice. This practice shows that leaders in South Sudan only believe in protection from their relatives, although they pretend to be leaders of all citizens.

It is the above practice that contributes to mistreatment of citizens by body guards sometimes. When a leader has slip of tongue against anybody, for example, the body guards who considered themselves as relatives first and South Sudanese second would take that slip of tongue as an order to go and harm the person that their leader seems to be frustrated with. This is because elders in many communities in South Sudan give young people orders indirectly. When elders say, for example, “If we were young, young men like us from that community would not treat us like they do now,” then young men from their community would go out and fight.

The advantage was that there were only tribal consequences for how men would react to indirect orders from their elders. Unlike tribal rules, any political killing has both legal and political consequences, both within a country and in the international community. Leaders who are associated with any killer of another person would lose their popularities even when they did not order that killing. Tribal body guards are naïve about these consequences.

There is yet another way that leaders contribute to tribalism in South Sudan. They glorify their tribes disproportionately for political gain and the ordinary people from their tribes take that tribal praise as the reality of their tribe. The example is saying that there is a tribe that was born to rule. The claim is completely belittling to all other communities that do not belong to a community described as born to rule. That is why it causes anger that translates into tribalism.

There are many other ways that leaders promote tribalism in South Sudan, but let me briefly turn to potential solutions.

In the history of human beings, things like the above do exist among different races and different communities. But they are controlled by leaders like Julies Nyerere. In the United States now, it is a crime to call black people Negroes, though it was normal in the past. We also hear these days that it is a crime to make a monkey sound against a black footballer. You can be banned for life.

In Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, it is prohibited to call people by the names of their tribes since that was the base of the genocide.

Leaders in South Sudan can introduce laws banning anything that belittles any person or community in South Sudan. For example, derogative names such as Jenge, Nyagat, Door, Dhong, Bheer, Nyamnyam, among others, should be banned. It should be criminal for anybody to say that his or her tribe is the only better tribe in South Sudan. There is no difference, we can agree, between this and racism that all of us believe to be bad. Any leader who campaigns on tribal bases during elections should be disqualified. Political campaigns should only focus on issues of service delivery, economy, security, among other issues of national importance and not tribal glorifications.

The federal system of government that people are now talking about should aim at administrative autonomy of states, not ethnic solidarity. Laws should be passed to give any South Sudanese freedom to live anywhere in the states of South Sudan and become a member of that state. That is what unity in diversity is all about. We should be members of any national institution anywhere even though we would still acknowledge that we belong to a particular ethnic group. The problem is when we try to subordinate unity to diversity and not diversity to unity.


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



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  • 18 May 06:35, by Akol Liai Mager

    Very, very clever Manyok! I have liked and seconded your findings on how South Sudanese leaders promote tribalism.
    - Leaders employing their relatives as public and private guards,
    - Leaders employing their families’ members as secretaries or Office’s Directors in either their own offices or colleagues’ offices by recommendations (Yani bel oaster in Arabic).

    repondre message

  • 18 May 23:44, by Ito

    Your article is well written but the only difference is your heart is opposite to it. Dinka do not mean what they say. But thank you for trying to fool people but I hope intellectuals will understand your tribalistic game. You are just trying to gather public opinion about Dinka so that you plan your dirty game but time is against you brother.

    repondre message

  • 19 May 01:23, by Akol Liai Mager

    He or she who does not appreciate good things will never learn from others and therefore, forms his/her own small world full of the myths and sterotyepings. I think Manyok deserves full appreciation here for his great contribution to up-right our society’s attitudes towards building a country of all and for all.

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  • 19 May 01:43, by Ito

    Yes, there is no reason why you should not support him as you are of the same feathers. I would have been surprise if you were from a different tribe. Psychology says you cannot reason with unreasonable person. I have nothing more or less to add.

    repondre message

    • 20 May 09:28, by Big Boy

      Dear Ito,
      I’m not from Jeng or food-lover of Nuer, however the article contains some elements of truth. I can attest to some of the complaints you have mentioned here running a mouth against one trib or against other writer will not save us from going to the wrong direction to the right one. It will be better to point out our weakness that as Equartian p’ples in RSS facing us!

      repondre message

      • 20 May 19:15, by Ito

        My brother Big boy, I know this movement and have been fighting since I joined 1984 and we get nothing as a region. The reason why we will remain behind as equatorians is because we avoid generalization. when one dinka say something good to just make us think all are not the same, we tend to believe like what you just did with this writer. At end the same person will turn on you. Mark my words.

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        • 21 May 08:00, by Mangoor

          Ito, I hve been observing u keenly on your writing. I came to a conclusion that u r not from Equatoria. You r just a coward Nuer who likes to make bad comments under Equatoria name Ito so that pple will respond with bad comments against Equatoria. I like to advise discussants on this board to respond to u as a mere typical Nuer who is hiding behind the name Itto. All sentiments u xprss r Nuer’s.

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          • 21 May 14:00, by Ito

            Mangoor you have come to agree with me that dinka only support dinka and that is why i expect other tribes to do the same. I am equatorian but still fair than you because I don’t support based on tribe. You said am nuer because I support democratic vision of Dr. Riek or talk bad about Dinka. So wani igga is a dinka because he support Dinka?

            repondre message

  • 21 May 11:49, by Mapuor

    Who is born to rule?Garang was from greater Upper Nile,Kiir from greater BGR.Wani Igga is from Equatoria and will come after Kiir in 15 years.

    repondre message

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