South Sudan at Critical Tribal and National Identity Juncture, Part 3 of 3

Posted: November 6, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Columnists, Commentary, Junub Sudan, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers, Philip Thon Aleu

National Identity: Preserve tribes but enhance nation bonds

By Philip Thon Aleu, Juba, South Sudan


November 6, 2017 (SSB) — National Identity, a South Sudanese tag that we are proud of, cannot be installed by destroying our cultural identities. However, tribalism and associated traits should be preserved and shielded away and guided against tearing our nation apart. Is there tribalism in South Sudan institutions? Tribalism is defined by English Dictionary as “The state of existing in tribes; also, tribal feeling; tribal prejudice or exclusiveness; tribal peculiarities or characteristics.”

So the answer is YES (Uppercase). Our institutions are tribal and most public servants practice tribalism openly. This goes down the line to law enforcing agencies. I was traveling from Nimule to Juba in 2014 and as a practice, aliens or people who look like aliens, are checked several times and often harshly handled by police. At the first checkpoint at the foot of Gordon Hill in Nimule, our car was halted by men in South Sudan National Police uniforms.

The police peeped into the car, trying to recognize a foreign face, I guess. His eyes settled on me. I was seated in the middle in the back seat of the Taxi. He asked for my National Identity card. I told him if he needs all ID cards, he should start from the front seat, not in the middle. This upset him and he fumed at me. I stood my ground and refused to be intimidated. He swore that I will not go to Juba that. So we were barking at each other at the top of voices and this pending confrontation attracted more policemen.

All of them recognized me, having been the only news reporter in town a few months ago. Trying to disappear in shame in that confusion, I tasked him to explain his discriminatory and selective demand for IDs. He told his colleagues that he thought I was not a ‘Dinka.’ I lost my temperament at his ignorance as a man in a national police uniform and reminded him that South Sudan is not the Dinka Republic. I advanced toward him. I was restrained and he disappeared in the commotion that nearly ensued.

This distracted the rest of my journey, revising his last words for the rest of three hours drive to Juba. In July 2013 in Juba, two non-uniformed security guys threatened to jail a friend of mine and my poor self for urging that security is not supposed to jail people as they wish. But they ignore that explanation, plainly telling us to better leave right now or will never see the sun again. We wanted to continue seeing the sun.

These security dudes were tribal, telling us that this is not Mading Bor. As we step back and created a reasonable distance I threw one sentence that ‘this is not your village too.’ My experience explains the depth of tribalism. Often time, it is even below tribalism. It is something we can be called “clanism.” If a nation has no myth that bonds citizens together in diversity, that country’s survival is at stake.

How can tribal identities be maintained without threatening national unity? It is a daunting task and involves a series of steps before accepting national identity. And national identity is not a threat to tribal survival. As a matter of fact, the Central Government must have the monopoly of power – a power not abused by a clique, in the entire country. Provision of basic services like roads, security, basic education, primary health care or facilitating the provision of above-mentioned amenities by Central Government is paramount.

But I believe that does not stop at the top. The citizens have upper hand in determining the fate of their citizens. This is where we, the downtrodden, have failed ourselves. Tribal identities can be preserved in tribal areas like villages. Provision of basic services, as outlined above, will ensure that individuals who choose to remain in their tribal areas are well looked after and intact.

On the other hand, national identity – a South Sudanese identity, will be forged in urban areas in many ways including;

  1. Religious centers: The last place to expect tribalism and clanism is the church, mosque or any other place of worship. However, with exception of very few, really few churches, most of the churches are tribal. Religious leaders, who believe in everlasting life after death, should move out of tribal enclaves and open up churches in neighborhoods and invite everyone. This is possible in towns like Wau, Juba. We can start from here.
  2. Suburbs councils: Again, our neighborhoods are tribal in towns. Sometimes, we even don’t know our neighbors unless they come from the ethnic background. I suggest that we should form councils from 50 or 100 households. Apart from helping us to deal with our immediate issues like security, provision of water and cleaning our suburbs, the council are the point of entry to nationhood, because one day, we shall have elections and those council members will be critical in the electoral process. It is here that different clans, tribes will be able to appreciate their diversity and work as a people with common interests and for common good. Right now, if you ask a South Sudanese her/his address; ‘where are you from?’ the answer would more likely be his clan or tribe but not the name of the Juba suburb or any other town he/she own a house.
  3. Elections: Right now, we have community leaders in towns who report to their chiefs in the villages. That is ironical. And during our last elections in 2010, people left towns and traveled to villages to vote for people who will not address their issues in towns. In fact, places like Juba were left for indigenous Bari to vote for state and national MPs. And that is the character of our national parliament. It is more of the tribal council than national leaders. Every tribe, the clan, exclusively elected its representative to Parliament. A South Sudanese should vote and be voted where she or he stays.
  4. Security: Simply put, every South Sudanese must feel secure in her country. Anything below that is detrimental to our national identity and that partly explains why clans and tribes choose to concentrate their homes in one area than the other. People find security amongst their clans and tribal members than the state provides. It goes without saying that this requires a professional army and police so that an individual is not targeted like I was by that police officer in Nimule or be threatened for being from the other tribe.
  5. Political settlement: The current war devastating our country should be brought to a swift end and that requires a political settlement. There is a famous statement uttered by Festus Mogae, the Chairman of JMEC, that “you don’t dialogue with friends.” That is to say: a political settlement to ending the conflict is about working with your rivals. The point is not that individual but the constituency she or he represents. Nelson Mandela in his book, Long Walk to Freedom, said he was happy that ANC did not win an absolute majority in the first democratic South Africa otherwise. Without quoting him directly, he said the ANC would have not had a chance to work with apartheid rulers and write a constitution that is representative of the rainbow nation. In nutshell, people must be represented in central government by individuals with needed political capital (i.e constituencies). Anything less that is hard to sell.


Unlike the years covering the period from 1956 (when Sudan got her independence from British) to 2011, South Sudan can only survive by the decision we make as it people. Such decisions should end the war as a first priority. There are limited ways of ending a political civil war; peace negotiations, military victories, breaking up the country or stalemate. Military victory is costly and leaves deep wounds that are difficult to heal. Peace negotiations are cheaper and sustainable if approached with the open heart. Breaking up the country is not a viable choice and when I read press releases from opposition politicians suggesting breaking up the country, my heart bleeds. We are at the stalemate right now because no party is winning politically.

Whether it’s a cattle keeper or fisherman, a crop farmer or hunter, we must accept to live together and respect our laws. Our resources should be used to enforce our laws without fear or favor.

God Bless South Sudan.


Philip Thon Aleu has Bachelor Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Ndejje University, Uganda.  As a journalist, Philip started his career as a reporter for Sudan Tribune website in Jonglei State (2007) and moved to work for UN’s Radio Miraya (2010), Voice of America (VOA) and BBC Focus on Africa.  He is currently working with a diplomatic mission in Juba as a political analyst but the views expressed in this article are not from that embassy. Contact:

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 SSB do reserve the right to edit material before publication. Please include your full name, email address, city and the country you are writing from.

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