The Toxic Politics of Ethnicity and Factionalism in South Sudan

Posted: July 17, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Commentary, Contributing Writers, mayak deng aruei, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

By Mayak Deng Aruei, California, USA

unity of nuer and dinka

July 17, 2017 (SSB) — Much of all that make nations great elsewhere appear gloomy in South Sudan. The very people who supposedly occupied the prestigious place in the history of the Republic of South Sudan have lost it all. The battle of what some writers afar called “contested legacy” of the independent South Sudan have been buried alongside those hurried away by conditions of arms struggle.

The foot soldiers who sacrificed their lives and treasures will remain as the Icons of the sovereign South Sudan for dignity and the pride of the people who saw no future in living as “second class” in their ancestral land. The celebration for the 6th anniversary was partially marred by the deteriorating security situation in the country as well as humanitarian crisis from the continuing power struggle within the ranks and files of the SPLM-in-Opposition.

As the country of South Sudan tear itself apart with the political double edged sword, the masses are left with only memories of the martyrs and old messages of the liberation struggle. It’s on this special note that South Sudan still live in citizens’ hearts and minds.

First and foremost, politics of the day in South Sudan has poisoned every citizen’s mind, and hatred for nothing has become a lucrative business. The scale of uneasiness is so staggering, and those who aspires to change South Sudan for good must do some thorough studies, exam structural damages done by the civil war, and draw conclusions based on real facts, not falsified information that suit the interest of select groups whose members called themselves elites.

When one look back at the last few years records, and the scores associated with citizens’ dissatisfaction, nothing is pleasing in the era of dollar crisis. Unless a political Analyst is physically removed from the situation, making assessments based on perspectives of the reactionaries on both sides of the political divide is very likely. For whatever the new form of the conflict is right now, the fight over nation’s highest throne is no longer the main theme.

So much has evolved over the past two years, particularly the part where the split within the SPLM-in-Opposition have changed ingredients of the power struggle. The political environment is so complex, toxic and cannot be solved by South Sudanese themselves. The ongoing fight over First Vice President’s post between the SPLM-IO-IG and the SPLM-IO Pagak is an indication that leaders in South Sudan care very much about their own jobs, and what they are likely to gain while occupying a certain position in the Government.

Secondly, the issue of civilians’ mass displacement and political isolation have taken the conflict out of shape. The politicians who once thought of themselves as alternatives to the main Rivals are left with only prayers and travel abroad. Without a sacrifice, a political bystander remain an invisible Spectator despite good intention he/she may has toward nation’s economic prosperity and political stability.

It takes bloods, energy and wealth for an oppression to be dismantled. Each day, South Sudanese in Diasporas meditate online, and try to draft resolutions to the conflict in South Sudan, but all attempts are doomed to failure because those commanding armies in the battlefields don’t know/know little about a political solution to a political problem.

Thirdly, the South Sudan’s recent administrative and regional realignment in the form of many states was a license for citizens to settle their old scores. The lawlessness shortly after 28 states and later 32 states is something that politicians don’t talk about, but a redress of the highest concern in the country. The “popular demand by the people” is now the popular political disfiguration.

For a lack of a better descriptive adjective, cattle rustling has been revived an era beyond medieval period. The cattle rearing communities are submerged under bloody contest over cows. The arms race between Boma state and Jonglei state, cattle raiding within Eastern Lakes state, Western Lakes versus Eastern Lakes, continued door to door fight between Aguok and Apuk in Gogrial state tells a very complicated problem in the South Sudan’s new administrative arrangement.

A settlement of the conflict without addressing the new form of fight is not worth the efforts of the regional and the international community. There is nowhere in South Sudan’s Interim Constitution where redistricting has been reserved for the Executive Branch of the Government. In the nutshell, creation of more administrative areas require studies, cooperation with communities, assessment of feasibility of the new political entities as well as economic viability of the State as a whole.

The change, which is now legally solvent will down as one of the many temperamental scheme that the SPLM put forth to stay in power indefinitely. In a country where an informed analysis is often considered as a rebellion against the Establishment, the well educated citizens preferred being mouthpieces for the ruling Clique.

Fourthly, the peak is too high to climb. The past is always a guiding star for people who want to see a different future. It’s one thing for a person to champion his/her unexamined take on political issues, but it’s another for the same person to consider the surrounding to make an informed decision. The sorrows of the mass political indecency of December 2013 were avoidable from day one, but some influential political figures with voided minds looked the other way.

As many of us reflect on what went wrong in the last four years, particularly the incidents of December 2013 and July 2016(J1 Episode), the future looks absolutely dreary. For all the tribal strife witnessed, my message to aspiring politicians is for them to absolve blame game and denounce politics that divide citizens along tribal lines. South Sudan as a country has a very bright future, but a unifying political figure is just some years away.

To the best of my knowledge, there was an internationally supervised Peace Agreement negotiated in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, signed among the many political Rivals in South Sudan, particularly between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Government-President Salva Kiir’s Faction and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition-Dr. Riek Machar’s Faction.

The Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS) theoretically settled the senseless war through the allocation of political posts to the foes, and based on the percentage of discontentment and possibility for them to cause further political unrest in the country. Unfortunately, the ARCISS remains a political mystery in South Sudan.

As the situation in South Sudan gets out of hands each day, former president of Botswana, Mr. Festus Mogae, and who was tasked to head the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) had this to say about the Peace Agreement on life support: “We have not made enough progress in as far as stopping the fighting is concerned….I have done my best and failed but it was worthy trying.”

No surprise, that how books’ titles and chapters are crafted in the troubled regions of the world. So far, South Sudan has a very rich political history, and more is underway.

Lastly, the rhetoric of some politicians in South Sudan helped ignite fire, and invited aggressive responses from people whose past wasn’t in line with the newly forged nationalism. The social and political environment shortly after December 2013 became so volatile, shared national pride evaporated, and South Sudanese diversity swerved badly. The subsequent result was the mass displacement of South Sudanese, hatred of the highest magnitude ever registered in the country, and which continued into these days.

For example, when desperate and jobless educated youths in Jonglei state authored an article warning NGOs operating in Bortown to repatriate Equatorians, accusing the nongovernmental agencies for not employing Jonglei natives, Equatoria’s activists and lawyers flocked to social media, mobilized their people via internet, and leaders bought the unconfirmed article.

The next thing was a well crafted warning to the Jieng of Jonglei/Dinkas living in the Equatoria’s states, and for them to depart within 72 hours along with the remains of the South Sudan’s founding Father, Dr. John Garang de Mabior, to be exhumed in the rest Site in Juba. That is how hatred has plagued the nation of South Sudan, and equal protection of all lives and properties remain a major challenge to be tackled by the aspiring leaders of the South Sudan.

The newly formed South Sudanese aspiring leaders Forum in East Africa, provisionally known as the South Sudan Young Leaders Forum (SSYLF), 25 tribes represented so may have some answers for the raging conflict across the country, but the atmosphere is so smoky for anyone to read without putting on known pattern political lenses.

In summing up this political gravesite visit, South Sudan is at a crossroads, and something critical need to be done urgently. Three years in a row, South Sudan’s independence continued to be questioned by some observers who see political skirmishes as the daily news in the country. The leadership of the SPLM-IG-President Salva Kiir’s Faction and the SPLM-in-Opposition-Riek Machar’s Faction need to reconcile South Sudanese by negotiating end of the conflict in a good faith.

There has to be an end to what is happening in South Sudan because a mass displacement of the scale witnessed make the country so frail to neighboring countries as well as overseas nations that can exploit instability and grab anything in their reach. The change that South Sudan need cannot be attained through barrels of guns or any other method not compatible with the nation’s founding principles.

The yields of the “divide and conquer” political tactic, and the rattling tribal unrest across the country come from: proliferation of states, swapping of trouble makers, and rebranding of the root causes of the political crisis. For South Sudan to have a lasting peace in the years to come, exiled politicians and other political dissidents need to figure out ways to reshape the future and bring back displaced people to their homesteads.

The witch-hunt doesn’t work, and would not produce anything for those who may want to fill the vacuum comes the crashing of the heavyweight politicians.

©2017 Mayak Deng Aruei: He can be reached at

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is 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 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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