Ethnic Nationality: Could this be a Misleading Concept in South Sudan?

Posted: October 15, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Columnists, Commentary, Contributing Writers, Junub Sudan, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

By Deng’Kur Mading, Juba, South Sudan


Demo-cracy or Demo-crazy?


October 15, 2017 (SSB) — The world concept of ethnicity is a reality. I have not yet heard of any country without a recognized history of ethnic background. Another widely shared concept is that of ethnic nationality which of course is almost absolutely much about chauvinism. The latter is denoted enormously in the traditional psyche and has always kept solid footing on the African continent. In many far-off countries, ethnicity though not sound, does exist and is only distinguished in their cultures, national events but not necessarily in people’s daily life.

Whether it sounds much in achieving the national goal or that of our respective ethnic community is what makes us identify with ethnicity or ethnic nationality respectively. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with ethnicity though ethnic nationality, as the focal point of this article, has its own disturbing depredations including self-absorption, ignorance, selfishness, prejudice, savagery, lack of patriotism for one’s country and asserting that one’s ethnic group or community is a supreme entity.

As a matter of fact and whereas we give a closer look at initial individual contributions within the political context, some politicians have used ethnic nationality to get into power or cling to it by rising the shattered hopes only among their native masses while ignoring the far-reaching consequences on their respective countries.

This has expediently been a successful exercise with well-known costs whether at state, district, province or national levels elsewhere throughout countries where ethnic loyalty much sounds. Under these startling circumstances, the role of the furious masses who respond en masse cannot be undermined in subsidizing the national disorder. This is simply because the exercise of their role has been negatively influenced with the core preservation of ethnic nationality rather than that of a nation.

However, because of general low status and flimsy reputation of political immaturity and reluctance attached to it, many progressive African governments have decided to avoid ethnic nationality and preferred its replacement with single national identity through not only established but practiced policies of their governments. These include the prohibition of hate speech, punishing discrimination in public service and ban to customs and traditions that undermine the existence and value of other communities and the use of force as a means of acquiring power.

In South Sudan, these policies have been clearly enshrined in the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan, 2011 (amended). Whether they have been fully implemented or not is a question of much doubt. Though our view that some might have been implemented cannot be absolutely dismissed, questions raised out of anxiety such as; are we now really implementing them and when exactly the time for their implementation is, remain a classified area of controversy that has always been confronted with divergent views embedded between those who think we are and those who think we are not implementing them. Given our present known situation, it is necessary to point out that much need to do individually or collectively to provide space for the former claim.

Since the government has an upper-hand contribution in shaping our national identity and thus serving as a constructive step towards addressing infertile hatred and nepotism that has long been used as a recipe for institutional reform, an urgent review even of modalities set forth for public sector reform should be a priority of both the national and state governments. Conversely, the exercise of “reviewing” in itself cannot be justified since the decisions are often times influenced by the decision maker’s background. This has instead constituted institutional weaknesses since GOSS.

In a forthright manner, the question of ethnic nationality in South Sudan is a disturbing one that must be availed a fruitful discussion. As this has nothing to do with whichever government, political party or religion one serves, it is a serious matter that every citizen is obliged to invoke or even eliminate for the good of one’s country. However, under circumstances where violent characters or activities of individuals affect peaceful characters and activities of others and ultimately of the country, these circumstances are subject to debate and even to a more comprehensive conclusion, remedy.

This is when such suggestions as are necessary for the restoration of peace and nation-building are not attacked but recognized. In this view, I should, therefore, like to clearly put that ethnic nationality or tribalism is most dangerous and harmful to nation-building especially when practiced by public servants.

The practice of it has drastically been increasing among South Sudanese in a very startling manner than it had ever been before. Though the practice is broadly clear in both public and private sectors, I should give special attention to the former in that its far-reaching consequences have been borne by innocent South Sudanese for now unbearable period of time.

The public service is like a pyramid to which the base is the civil service. Such imagined pyramid is shapeless without the top end. A politician elsewhere at the county, state or national level may find him/herself in this category after having employed all possible means to reach a decision-making level in the government hierarchy.

These means sometimes include prove of competence; prove of incompetence and lastly, the desperate means which are always the last option for those who had not found space under preceding attempts. This has particularly been the most harmful to South Sudan over the last few years. The final means is a dirty destination where ethnic nationality kicks off and where the country losses its balance.

With desperate means, the lobby for a public position is never a recommendable one since it is geared at the tribal division, hatred and championing doubts among people along ethnic/tribal lines.

Whether this lobby has been resorted to as a possible means by any politicians before or reserved for future benefit, an apparent observation is that it has always been coupled with simple justifications such as one’s community/tribe is not well represented in the existing government. Well, such justifications are almost always obvious but can only be somehow admired if they were called for by those underprivileged under the pursuit of peace and tranquility but not necessarily at the frontier of disorder but individuals feel nothing from the consequences.

Like I have already mentioned, we must look at the primary causes of tribalism in order to address the issue. The ethnic or tribal concept begins with only a few individuals before it ultimately takes root in the people. Some activities may be seen as positive at the beginning but these may turn out quite different in the far end. Distinguishably, gratitude ceremonies lay the ground for a good example of a few which later turn out to cave ethnic or tribal identity elsewhere in the country.

These do not simply create themselves out of smoke – every occasion we think is organized in good faith including celebrating appointments particularly to public positions by a single community or ethnic group is a completely useless exercise that must be discouraged in South Sudan.

I do not see any reason of celebrating public appointments by a single community or a tribe if someone of related background gets appointed to a public position. This is without prejudice to the position of the governor who may enjoy this benefit since he/she is directly related to the people of his/her respective state.

My doubt here is when a single community or ethnic group gather to celebrate this mighty appointment: that such and such community appreciates such and such leader for appointing our son as such and so on. What would be the feeling of the same community or ethnic group if their son/daughter was again shortly removed from that position tomorrow? Have no doubt about the speed of decrees in our government.

Moreover, there is no any clear connection between an official serving South Sudan at the national level and his/her single community or tribe. If such linkage exists, we cannot thus explain away why tribalism and nepotism remain widespread in the practice of government. In other words, such appointments may raise a sense of relief and appreciation and should of course, with either economic or political advantages or both, be celebrated.

However, the manner of celebrations should be inclusive of other communities and themes must reflect national purpose if an appointee’s object was to serve South Sudan and not their tribe/community. I strongly believe that an isolated practice of these occasions is the beginning of losing our firm hold of the national identity. Without this, nothing may simply lead us to such things as mutual representation, mutual deprivation and ultimately, mutual confrontation.

Frankly speaking, the idea of celebrating as a group simply stimulates the need to repay one’s supporters, hence paving the wave for nepotism, discrimination in employment mechanisms and hatred among the citizens. All these are misleading concepts and should be avoided. Inasmuch as crafting national identity is less of a documented one but much of a practice, anything we do as individuals or groups should at least ignore every tribal/ethnic aspect and value that of a unified country.

Some noticeable lessons we have learned from history are never positive, such lessons underlie ethnic nationality or tribalism merged with South Sudanese national identity. The many fast years have recorded clearly that these two nationalities had basically been in conflict with each other and remarkably failed to co-exist side by side. This at times gives rise to a set of tough questions about the future of South Sudan amidst the continuing confusion of national and tribal identities. Can we succeed with both? Honestly, I have never heard of any peaceful and successful country where these identities exist equally.

Arguably, it is a question that could be satisfactorily addressed by mere words. Well-nigh, the most appropriate answer could only be found by practically altering either of the two nationalities. By this count, the mere argument cannot be favored if our wish is to conserve a united, peaceful and non-violent South Sudan.

However, we are aware that there are adherents in either traditional or political context, whether at state or national levels who will always maintain the status quo for their own advantage. These groups will always be reluctant to shout or echo the voice of collective national identity; the former because they are less aware of the good of single nationality and the latter because of reasons well known to them.

Consequently, the blame of activating ethnic/tribal division in order to gain or cling to a public position should not, in reality, be thrown to those without formal education since those supposedly determined to finally remove it in our midst are those aware and somehow find themselves confronted with its outright elimination as a self-depriving task.

In fact, as a genuine matter obvious to the reader, those who are bent towards such identity confusion today are figures of indisputable academic achievements but not any other as anybody could be. Their political ambitions in regard to meeting the South Sudanese goal of peace as a consolidated hope of all citizens are far much short-sighted.

In all aspects, they should be proven wrong since times for division and violence have passed. The current generation is a generation that looks for peace and our demand for peace, above all others, must reign. This generation too, I think, will soon recover from some sort of long illness and begin to stand with those who support the idea of unity and peaceful coexistence among South Sudanese.

In conclusion, ethnic loyalty has done much harm to South Sudan than good. Except for those who still live in the past, modern days regard this passion as obsolete and undesirable. To save the country, there is an urgent necessity to enormously turn away from all sorts of tribal inclinations whether in political or civil life. However, to serve this purpose, a clear review of employment policies especially in the public sector is the only viable step towards sustainable national development and a positive response to threats posed by increasing nepotism and tribalism.

Our leaders in that field need to do a lot to satisfy us particularly on answering the pressing question of South Sudanese nationality that has always stood at a weaker position against tribal affiliation and ethnic penchants. The youth, on their share, should be informed that what marks national consciousness is not merely the direction chosen by the old but the will of its rising generation to even question the end point of that direction. Such choice is a challenge especially at a point where our daily lives have been purely dominated by misleading impressions and uncaring falsehood behind ethnic loyalty.

Finally, we are aware that many approaches had been exerted on the spur of the moment to find a solution to South Sudanese problems though most efforts were exerted within the tribal and national identity blends. To find a permanent solution to the emerging spirit of ethnic loyalty as an antecedent to nepotism and tribalism, there should be first and foremost, encouraged an over-all identity that provides the requisite unity and hierarchy of the people above the tribal edifice and which projects itself as an all-purpose identity. This will surely be the collective effort. Without it, South Sudan is bent towards stagnancy and failure.

The author is an L.L.B student, University of Juba. 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, plus a concise biography of yourself.

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