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 firstname.lastname@example.org