South Sudan: A country in need of a national identity

By Garang Achiek Ajak

New York, February 23, 2013 (SSNA) — I recently traveled to South Sudan and was appalled by the lack of unity among people of South Sudan. People of different ethnic tribes viewed each other as rivals, rather than countrymen, and blamed one another for the hardships they were experiencing. I was saddened that a national identity had not formed for the country. If anybody ask a resident what their national identity is, he would probably respond he didn’t know. At this, South Sudanese do not know who they are. To me, this is troubling. For country like South Sudan that is just in its infancy as a sovereign state, a national identity is of utmost importance. An identity of community is needed for them to realize its objectives as a prosperous, peaceful and democratic country. The reality I witnessed, however, begged the question; who are the people of South Sudan?

It is my opinion that scholarly research and discussion should commence immediately across the country as they try to find an answer. 

At this time in history there are no Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk or Bari people; there are only the individuals who live together in South Sudan. The lack of a national identity should be the calling card for unity and this should start with the elites in the government. A new paradigm for a national identity should be at the forefront of building South Sudanesism. Regardless of different tribe affiliation, upbringing, culture, and beliefs, all people of the nation are first and foremost a South Sudanese.

South Sudanesism must incorporate “interculturalism,” especially given the diverse nature of the populace. Interculturalism is defined as the way to recognize commonalities, reduce tensions and promote the formation of social partnerships among different cultural groups. South Sudan needs a public culture that would employ and encourage cultural diversity because that is what makes up the fabric of South Sudan. The diversity of South Sudan, in this sense, must be the strength and unity to tackle today’s pressing issues. This must be done together.

Interculturalism is critically important in forging the South Sudan Identity. It is inclusive and pluralistic in nature. We, individuals with ancestry in South Sudan, have endured too much struggle, pain, and division within the fight for liberation to turn on one another now. We should not let years of fighting for democracy go in vain. We have a country now and must carve out our identity, one that is build on liberty, cultural diversity, and democratic ideals.

State building is not an easy task. It requires the difficulties of redefinition and fostering an inclusive national consciousness. Although a challenging task, it is times like these where visionary and magnanimous leaders must step forward and take the center stage. It is their duty to unite the people on a common purpose.

South Sudanese leaders must make national reconciliation a national priority. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “the moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come… we must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation-building, for the birth of a new world.” These were words spoken as South Africa looked within to overcome apartheid and Mandela’s words relate to South Sudan today. Our leaders should replicate his wisdom and use it as a call for national unity among the people of South Sudan.

This is not a time to hold grudges against each other in our nation. During the liberation struggle, there were competing interests on how to better achieve Southern Sudan objectives, but that is in the past now. South Sudanese must begin on a new foot. All ethnic tribes must come together as one and forgive each other on past grievances for the sake of unity.

National unity must triumph over everything else.  South Sudan does not belong to any particular tribe; it belongs to all of us. We must stand together, work hard together, build our schools together, build our hospitals together, build our infrastructure together, and become self sufficient in food production together. There is nothing we cannot achieve as a nation if we are united. Nepotism and corruption must be rooted out as evils from the past. They are the root of state failure of every nation in transition. 

In a country like South Sudan that is very diverse, ethnic sectarianism must not have a place. We are one people who have endured too much struggle in pursuit of a just and democratic country. Everybody is equal in terms of rights, religious beliefs, different cultural upbringing, and the pursuit of happiness. These were the principles of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement during the great civil war that resulted in the very formation of our new great nation of South Sudan. These principles must be central to the rebuilding of South Sudan.

The Author is a South Sudanese residing in New York, United States. He can be reached at [email protected]

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