A country sacrificed on the altar of tribalism: Is it a fair description of South Sudan?

Posted: May 8, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël in Columnists, Daniel Juol Nhomngek, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

By Daniel Juol Nhomngek, Kampala, Uganda

Hagana Festival

Hagana Festival

May 8, 2017 (SSB) — The Country called South Sudan today officially became the Republic of South Sudan in July 2011 following a referendum that passed with 98.83% of the vote. Its current capital is Juba, which is also its largest city. It was planned that the capital city would be changed to the more centrally located at Ramciel.

The independence of South Sudan came about as a result of the agreements of sixty four tribes. When we talk of a tribe, we mean a group of distinct people, dependent on their land for their livelihood, who are largely self-sufficient, and not integrated into the national society.

In that respect, tribe is perhaps the term most readily understood and used by the general public.  Stephen Corry defines tribal people as those who “…have followed ways of life for many generations that are largely self-sufficient, and are clearly different from the mainstream and dominant society”. This definition, however, would not apply to countries in the Middle East such as Iraq, where the entire population is a member of one tribe or another, and tribalism itself is dominant and mainstream.

Some of the researches show that there are an estimated one hundred and fifty million tribal groups worldwide, constituting around forty percent of indigenous individuals. Although nearly all tribal people are indigenous, some are not indigenous to the areas where they now live.

In this regard, it is important to distinguish tribal from indigenous people. The distinction between the two types of people is important because tribal peoples have a special status acknowledged in international law. They often face particular issues in addition to those faced by the wider category of indigenous peoples.

As it has been noted, many people use the term “tribal society” to refer to societies organized largely on the basis of social, especially familial, descent groups (see clan and kinship). Hence, a customary tribe in these terms is a face-to-face community, relatively bound by kinship relations, reciprocal exchange, and strong ties to place.

When it comes to South Sudan, it is inhabited by different tribal societies or distinct nations. A nation in this context is a large group or collective number of people with common characteristics attributed to them including language, traditions, mores and ethnicity.

However, the meaning of tribe as it understood in South Sudanese context cannot be understood in term of the nation as defined above. This is because by comparison, a nation is more impersonal, abstract, and overtly political than an ethnic group. Thus, the nation is a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity, and particular interests.

Nonetheless, in the case of South Sudan tribes are not autonomous as seen in the case of sixty four tribes. These tribes are loose groups composed of various sub-groups who only come into aid of each other when there is external threat. As we know today, the tribes inhabiting South Sudan include:

Acholi; Adio (Makaraka); Aja;  Anyuak (Anyuaa); Atuot (Reel); Avukaya; Azande; Bai;  Baka;  Balanda-Boor;  Balanda-Bviri; Banda; Bari; Binga; Bongo; Didinga; Dinka (Jieng); Dongotona; Feroghe; Gollo; Ifoto; Imatong;  Indri; Jiye; Jur (Beli & Modo); Jurchol (Luo); Kakwa;  Kara; Keliku; Kuku; Lango; Larim (Boya);  Logir; Lokoya; Lopit; Lotuka (Otuho);  Lugbwara;  Lulubo; Maban; Madi; Mananger; Mangayat; Moro; Moro Kodo; Mundari; Mundu; Murle; Ndogo; Ngulngule; Nuer (Naath); Nyangatom; Nyangwara; Pari; Pojullo; Sere; Shatt;  Shilluk (chollo); Suri (kachipo); Tenet; Tid;  Toposa; Uduk; Woro; Yulu

The above are the tribes inhabiting South Sudan unless someone has additional tribes or a tribe left out, which would have been a pure mistake. As listed above,  the independence of South Sudan came about as a result of agreement between these sixty four tribes. Such an agreement is seen in Article 9 of the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan, 2011.

Article 9 above provides that the Bill of Rights is a covenant among the people of South Sudan and between them and their government at every level and a commitment to respect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in this Constitution; it is the cornerstone of social justice, equality and democracy.

The term covenant as mentioned above means agreement. Hence, South Sudanese as comprised in sixty four tribes agreed to established a nation called South Sudan and further agreed that in order to live in peace and harmony they must be governed based on the principles of justice, liberty and prosperity, which are the motto of South Sudan as found in its coat of arm.

When we talk of justice we mean fairness. Hence, in his A Theory of Justice, John Rawls used a social contract argument to show that justice, and especially distributive justice, is a form of fairness. John Rawls’ proposes two principles of justice, which are: (1) each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all and (2) Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both—to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, consistent with the just savings principle, and attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.

In relation to the principle of justice above, South Sudanese all agreed they have to get their independence and in the independent South Sudan they should be governed based on justice or fairness where all tribes are supposed to be treated equally.

As stated above, another principle which South Sudanese chose to be ruled in accordance with is liberty. In philosophy, liberty involves free will as contrasted with determinism.  In politics, liberty consists of the social and political freedoms to which all community members are entitled.  Generally, liberty is distinctly differentiated from freedom in that freedom is primarily, if not exclusively, the ability to do as one wills and what one has the power to do; whereas liberty concerns the absence of arbitrary restraints and takes into account the rights of all involved.

 As such, the exercise of liberty is subject to capability and limited by the rights of others. Hence, South Sudanese agreed that in the independent South Sudan their liberties must be respected by others and the state. This means that they state must treat them with fairness and deal with them legally. Therefore, the South Sudan government must avoid arbitrariness when dealing with citizens and instead must observe due process all the times.

Finally, another principle South Sudanese chose is the principle of prosperity. Prosperity is the state of flourishing, thriving, good fortune or successful social status. Prosperity often encompasses wealth but also includes other factors which can be independent of wealth to varying degrees, such as happiness and health. Thus, South Sudanese believed that if they are treated fairly, equally and equitably which involves respecting their liberties then they can prosper.

However, the above principles have been completely ignored by the Officials in the Government of South Sudan. Instead of running the country on the principles as explained above, the country is being run on the principles of tribalism and the question is: is it fairly to describe as a country sacrificed on the altar of tribalism? The answer to this question is “YES” as explained in the instances below:

First of all, tribalism encourages nepotism as government officials run the country on tribal basis and because of that employment of the people is based on tribal affiliation. For example, beginning from the office of the President, all ministries and other government corporations to NGOS people are employed based on who one knows or whose names resemble the one employing people.

For instance, the office of the president is controlled by those from Awan or from former Warrap State and their close associates or friends. Because of that people are not friends are discriminated in the office of the president, which is against the spirit of South Sudanese unity and nation building.

 In the same way when one goes to the ministry of foreign affairs, cabinet affairs, interior and finance, one gets those working there, are either friends to the minster or relatives to him or her. I was surprised when I discovered some people working at South Sudan Embassy in Uganda employed according to the relationship or friends.

If you need to understand what I have just stated above take time to study the history of those who are or were employed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in South Sudan.  In that respect, if you were to go there you can get some people who are employed either because they are related to the Minister or are employed based on recommendations from a big person.

 One of the worse examples you can get at the ministry of foreign affairs is to come across a file of a fresh graduate from St. Lawrence University in Uganda employed as ambassador because she is a wife of a big person in the army.

To make the fresh graduate from University who lacks experiences in foreign relations is just a joke. An ambassador is an official envoy, especially a highest ranking diplomat who represents a state and is usually accredited to another sovereign state, or to an international organization as the resident representative of their own government or sovereign or appointed for a special and often temporary diplomatic assignment.

The word embassador is also often used more liberally for persons who are known, without national appointment, to represent certain professions, activities and fields of endeavor such as sales. The ambassador is the ranking government representative stationed in a foreign capital.

The host country typically allows the ambassador control of specific territory called an embassy, whose territory, staff, and vehicles are generally afforded diplomatic immunity in the host country. Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, an ambassador has the highest diplomatic rank. Countries may choose to maintain diplomatic relations at a lower level by appointing a chargé d’affaires in place of an ambassador.

For one to be ambassador, he or she should have basic educational requirements of an ambassador, which include a bachelor’s degree in politics, history or international relations. He or she should supplement these studies with undergraduate and postgraduate fellowships, and conferences centering on foreign policy matters.

In addition, as an ambassador, he or she must have a broad spectrum of knowledge on his or her country and the rest of the world, which is a vital quality for an ambassador. This information comes in handy during discussions, conferences, and negotiations with diplomats from across the world.

In regard to experience, an ambassador must have had extensive work credits in the field of foreign services, which are vital for an ambassador.  In term of communication, there is a need for proper communication skills, which include both written and spoken language. For an ambassador it relates to imparting relevant information to your country and other diplomatic forums. Good communication skills assist ambassador to properly convey his or her country’s position on an issue and influence discussions to reflect positively on his or her country.

In respect to leadership skills, the ambassador has responsibilities, which include the management of foreign relations and other employees in foreign agencies in South Sudan. The post of foreign affairs requires one to properly coordinate and direct others in the course of their duties. Hence, the ambassador needs to exercise excellent leadership qualities in the application of good judgment in foreign interrelations with other leaders. This determines the results of any decisions affecting one country.

As seen above, an ambassador must be highly qualified person in term of necessary qualifications and experiences. All ambassadors must have qualifications as I have just described in the foreign going sentences. The same thing must be the case in South Sudan. The government employees not only ministry of foreign affairs must have necessary qualifications and experience in their field.

However, as already explained above, qualifications and experiences do not matter, but what matters is whether a person is recommended by big persons or the one seeking for employment is related to the minister or friends of the minister.

In addition to the above, employment is based on relations as the people are employed based on relations. For example, everybody including sweepers is employed according to tribes or friendship. Whereas it is not bad to employ people who are related to you or friends if they have necessary qualifications but it is misused of resources if a person who is qualified is left out and a person who is not qualified employed.

Nepotism in South Sudan makes government officials or employers hire un- or under-qualified relatives simply by virtue of their relationship with them. The source of tribalism is nepotism and the only way of eliminating tribalism is enacting and strictly enforcing anti-tribalism or nepotism laws in South Sudan.

Tribalism promotes corruption in South Sudan.  Hence, Corruption is widespread in all areas and offices in South Sudan.  For instance, corruption undermines the courts in South Sudan, which are also perceived as ineffective and overburdened due to tribalism and corruption.

Due to tribalism and corruption, almost two-thirds of citizens find the courts to be corrupt. Though the South Sudanese constitution guarantees the judiciary’s independence, in practice, however, it is influenced by the executive. Officials found guilty of corruption in South Sudan are unlikely to face sanctions as they are often protected by personal networks composed of friends and relatives.

The police of South Sudan are widely perceived as corrupt and ineffective and thus ineffective in enforcing law and order. For example, there have been a number of reported instances of police acting with impunity and demanding bribes in varied aspects of their operations.

 In the same vein, almost half of citizens find the police be corrupt, and abuse among officers is rarely investigated. Because of tribalism, the police are undermined by a lack of funding due to corruption rooted in tribalism and nepotism. Almost half of firms in South Sudan pay for security and approximately a quarter find that crime and disorder are a major constraint to doing business in the country.

In the same vein, the Public Service recruitment to government positions is based on loyalty to the ruling party rather than merit and the lack of monitoring has left room for corrupt officials to siphon public funds, which would typically come from the employment of ghost workers to inflate public payrolls.

In addition, corruption permeates all sectors of the economy and all levels of the state apparatus and manifests itself through various forms, including grand corruption and clientelistic networks along tribal lines. According to U4 Expert Answer – U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre (www.u4.no/publications/iraq-overview-of-corruption-and-anti-corruption-2/…/3818) Citizens commonly face demands for bribes in their dealings with government institutions to access basic public services.

The latest Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer found that those respondents who have had contact with nine public institutions (police, education, judiciary, medical services, land services, tax revenue, customs, registry/permit), 66% reported paying bribes in the past 12 months.  The citizens’ experience with corruption is significantly high in dealing with the police (where 47% of those in contact with the police reported paying bribes), registry/ permit services (46%), and the judiciary (43%), and land services (41%) (Transparency International, 2016). Those who are affected by corruption are those who are not related to anyone in the office.

Killings take place along ethnic line because of tribalism. The recent ongoing conflicts between Murle of Boma State, Mundari from Terekaka State and Dinka from Junglei State is caused by tribalism. Tribalism allows ethnic killings with impunity while leaders send guns to their tribe-mates to fight against other tribes forgetting that they lead the nation of which the people being killed are part.

In the same way the ongoing conflicts between Aguok and Apuk, Aliaap and Gony is fought along tribal lines while leaders do not take action as they do not want to use force against their tribe-mates.

Leaders connive in crime or condone crimes or become implicit in crime because of tribalism. This is because they support their tribe-mates to indirectly escape justice or directly protect them.

The clear example is seen where well-known government officials protect their relatives by dressing them in army or police uniforms and give them stars with bodyguards so that they are out of reach. So, because of tribalism, South Sudan army has been turned into tribal army full of mercenaries and auxiliaries, which are dangerous and unreliable.

Moreover, tribalism has created deep rooted hatreds and suspicions among different tribes in South Sudan and because of that there is no longer nation but land of tribal entities which have destroyed the spirit of nationalism that was forged during the liberation war struggle.

It is important to note that the war of South Sudan liberation was fought not along ethnic lines but as Southern Sudanese though there were some dominant tribes who joined in large numbers. But one tribe joining in larger numbers than others did not mean that some other tribes who joined in few numbers feared but they refused for the reason they knew. In actual sense, there was high degree of unity and spirit of nationalism.

If the spirit of liberation war struggle was still maintained, South Sudan would have been strong and far from any country. Nonetheless, due to greed caused by tribalism and corruption South Sudanese the relationships between South Sudan and South Sudanism has been destroyed and sacrificed on altar of tribalism.

In summary, the new state is dominated by the military elite which is strongly fragmented and marked by competing clientelist networks along tribal and ethnic lines. In order to create new South Sudan built on principles of justice, liberty and prosperity. In other words, there is a need for political reforms and strong leadership which is highly national oriented to building strong nation where everybody is treated equally irrespective of their tribes.

In addition, there is a need for enactment or enforcement of anti-tribal laws such as anti-corruption Act, anti-nepotism Act, establishment of national integration program where South Sudan youths are sent to different states to study different cultures. Tribe affiliation must be outlawed and enacting stiff penalties.

NB// author can be reached through juoldaniel@yahoo.com

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made are the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. SSB do reserve the right to edit material before publication. Please include your full name, email address and the country you are writing from.

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