South Sudan Intolerance: Cultural or Situation-inspired?

By Kuir ë Garang

January 4, 2013 (SSNA) — It’s no secret that South Sudan is heading towards socio-political cliff or is actually free-falling already. There’s bad news almost every day. However, 2012 will go down in our history as one of the worst years in Juba’s watch and rule. I will list a few of these memorable events!

However, this article tackles the general intolerance that some are taking for ethno-cultural and systemic order-of-the-day. I do believe that we need to look at ourselves as individuals to ensure that intolerance to criticism and existential prominence of others, don’t become acceptable norms in our society. I’ll leave that to the end.

First of all, we have rampant insecurity in Juba. The insecurity comes from both the national security agents and the average thugs on the streets. Who is the worst, I couldn’t tell you! The average robber is preventing people, who are supposed to be building the economy, from growing their businesses. The national security agents are preventing the average critic from giving the government an alternative way of looking at issues, or a mirror through which the leadership can pause and think: ‘Oh, maybe we should look at things differently.’

In the beginning of the year we had the issue of Panthou—a land that belongs to us—which was ill-handled by Juba; leading to widespread condemnation of South Sudanese leadership by world leaders including the United Nations. The question one is left to ask is: “How do you occupy or invade your own land?” The answer is: things are done in Juba without serious energetic consideration and effort before action.

Then we had the shutdown of oil production; leaving the leadership wondering as to the alternative avenues of cash flow. So far, Juba is still reeling from that shutdown because the decision, while it had some merits, was taken out of emotive frustration; not on economic sensibilities.

Then we had the senseless killing of the civilians, who are fighting relocation in Western Bhar El Ghazal. This is a result of leadership incompetence or other-opinion-intolerance. Leaders are supposed to convince; lead by practical examples, not force civilians.

A leader who forces people s/he rules is a failed leader. Part of being an excellent leader is to be a good and patient communicator, not an evil, murderous ‘forcer.’ If a leader says s/he is willing to fight civilians, such as president Kiir in his Wau’s speech, then that leader ceases to be their leader; he loses legitimacy. In a sensible world, a leader who is willing to pick up his gun against his own people is a mad man, not a leader!! Besides, Governor Rizik Zachariah should have resigned if he cared about the people who elected him. The leader is the one who is supposed to be the humble one; the seeker of the solution. Force is not a solution but a failure of imagination and resolves.

And on December 5, we had the grotesque, incomprehensible and barbaric assassination of political commentator, Isaiah Abraham; a murder informed and instigated by our inability to tolerate criticism and social and political humility.

Finally, we had the shooting down of United Nations’ chopper and the death of the Russian crew on board.

Now, if one looks at the above listed incidences and suggest alternative methods leading to possible (and I say again, possible) solutions, then one is met by loads of frustrated and power-and-dollar-intoxicated hearts full of acrid intolerance.

Why is the government so intolerant to criticism? Why is there so much fear of opinionated people and hatred towards those who criticize the government? It isn’t that these people aren’t educated and are not used to consequences of people getting educated and afforded a voice and critical insight by intellectual exposure.

Some of these people are highly educated and know the value of getting corrected. Anyone who’d ever sat in a class knows that exams and papers have to be corrected in a manner one doesn’t always like. But one has to abide by the suggestions, give them due attention, or dismiss them with due sensitivity, if one is to improve grades and standards; in this case, governance.

This brings me to the question and the nature of intolerance in South Sudan. Some of us criticize the government as being intolerant to criticism; and we are justified in doing so. We are justified in criticising the government for the government is hiding under the idea of being ‘young.’ The country might be young but the leadership’s brain power isn’t young. Has the war destroyed the innovative, creative and compassionate capacities of our leaders? If yes, then they shouldn’t be ruling! They should resign en masse.

However, late Steve Jobs once said that “someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.” And when the old is cleared away and different blood assumes the leadership, my main question would be: “would the new breed be different and if so then what precedents do we have now that’d point to a conducive and tolerant leadership of tomorrow?”

Is the intolerable intolerance in Juba only a character of the mentally diseased former freedom fighters, or is the intolerance culturally acquired? If the intolerance stems only from the former freedom fighters militarized mentality; that is, they find it hard to accept that that criticism is part and parcel of any democratic society, then we’ll be fine once this old bed sheets are changed. However, if the intolerance is cultural, then we’ve got a problem.

What we have to do then is to look at ourselves and find ways to prevent this semi-cultural political malady from being a political reality for generations to come. But one would ask: ‘why would one think intolerance could be cultural?’ Maybe we should look at ourselves!

Are the leaders who didn’t join the liberation struggle more tolerant? Is the younger generation more tolerant? Is intolerance inherent in some tribal traditions and not others? Is pride being protected through destructive methods? You’ll tell me!

Personally, I don’t care where you come from but what you think and what you do. I don’t care whether you’re affiliated with SPLM-DC or SPLM or any other political party …or Bari, Nyangwara, Pajullo, Acholi, Madi, Jieng, Nuer… etc. How about you; do you? And if you think you don’t care, is that fact prominent in your life?

Unless we are sure that the culture of intolerance isn’t something that will continue to build up into the future, our country would be in jeopardy. We can’t blame the government if we would do the same should we be the power in Juba. Let’s shun practices we don’t like by not doing them. It’s pathetic to be critical of practices others do but do them all the same.

There are even prominent intellectuals in South Sudan, who harshly and unintelligibly criticize those who criticise leaders from their own tribe. If you defend a leader from your own tribe not on principle but on political and tribal allegiance and you expect others not to be tribalists, then you’re living in a fanciful cocoon. Intolerance to criticism is the same no matter who fancies it!

There’s a difference between valuable and constructive criticism and political and tribally motivated dismissiveness that is not based on principles of moving-forward and nation-building.

Juba leadership is confused, lost and impervious to correction. Dr. Garang thought it was Khartoum that was ‘too deformed to be reformed’ but he’d be disappointed to realize that Juba is more so, or worse. Besides, the dear doctor wanted one country with two political systems, but now we have two countries, with more or less, one political system.

In Calgary, tribes conduct their parties separately. Even within the same tribes, different clans operate differently. You find Aweil, Jogrial, Tonj, Twi, Gajaak, Jagook, Bor and so forth, conducting their affairs separately. But these are the very same people who’d be vocal in saying that we need a united South Sudan! What a shame! Countries don’t unite through miracle. They’re united from the grassroots.

Let’s live by example. It might be them today, but it’s us tomorrow! Would we be different; if so, then how?

Kuir ë Garang is a South Sudanese poet and author living in Canada. For contact, follow him on twitter: @kuirthiy or visit

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