The Dilemmas of Nationalism, Tribal Politics, and Personal Interest in South Sudan

By Gatluak Veronica

November 12, 2013 (SSNA) — South Sudanese are face with serious tripartite dilemmas when it comes to politics and how the affairs of the nascent nation are handled. The writer of this article has found himself engulf or puzzled with the same dilemmas, as human being thrives for better future in any country where respect for rules of laws, respect of human dignity and Rights are supposedly are the pillars of daily operation of the government. A question however be asked as to whether these dilemmas are created by the government in having loss direction where decisions are left hanging without being taken or are causes by some unknown factors having forces of their own beyond human control? My personal opinion is that, the mess this country is facing and will dearly pay for in the long run is engineered by individual (s) whose interests might had been driven by tribal aspirations/influences and personal interest rather than that of the national interest.

The believe expressed above, came as a result of careful consideration of the current political situation and actions which has been taken by decision making body in the government, for instance, the dissolution of the entire government without previous preparation as to how it was to be replace and the unprecedented interfering of the President in the parliamentary procedures relating to the election of the new Speaker, shows interests which were involved in such decisions. In order for one to comprehend the full meaning of this article, we must first define and examine the characteristics of the tripartite dilemmas subject to this article first of which Nationalism and its relative components.


1. Nationalism, Nationalist and Nationalistic: All these three words have almost the same meaning, however the characteristics of their applications differ slightly, for instance:

a. Nationalism: is defined as the desire by a group of people who share the same race, culture, language, etc, to form an independent country, also as a feeling of a love for and pride in your country and the feeling that your country is better than any other country.

b. Nationalist: Is defined as a person who wants their country to be independent, and also as person who has a great love for and pride in their country; a person who has a feeling that their country is better than any other country.

c. Nationalistic: Is defined as having very strong feelings of love and pride in your country, so that you think that it is better than any other country.

The definitions and the meanings of all three words as readers can see above, carry nearly the same expression, however, one can also see the distinctive characteristics of each word and how it can apply to different scenarios or mind set. We can all agree to greater extend that (b) and (c) in context of the South Sudanese applies uniformly as we can collectively claims to have struggled for the independent of this country which is now achieved. We can also claims individually our love and pride to have achieved the independent of South Sudan and our great feeling that South Sudan is better than any other country. Now, the question to be asked relating to (a) the Nationalism, is whether as a group, the definition of Nationalism is applicable in our context since South Sudan is comprises of many tribe who speaks different languages or dialects? We have had a great desired and pride for an independent South Sudan otherwise we could not had fought the Sudan government for almost over half a century as we did. The half of the definition of Nationalism does apply to us in a group context as we all had yearned for an independent South Sudan. Now the areas to be consider within the definition of Nationalism is the Language and Tribe since we are from one race in South Sudan. We as South Sudanese uses words like Patriot/patriotic to expresses our love for South Sudan; which in definition carry similar meaning as nationalist/Nationalistic, and early on I agreed that we South Sudanese shares an equal desires and love for an independent South Sudan and also feels that South Sudan is better than any other country, therefore having link Patriot/patriotic with nationalist/nationalistic, we must now look into whether nationalism as defined above is in part or whole can be achieve in South Sudan.

South Sudan comprises of at least sixty (60) tribes, as such we speaks different languages or dialects, our love for South Sudan collectively and individually is unequivocally unquestionable, however is it possible for us to claims Nationalism when tribal aspirations come first and the nation second? It is in human nature to dodge the truth and chooses to live in denial, as such for many of us myself included, we would rather like to think that we are nationalists or patriotic and beliefs in nationalism without actually testing ourselves by fitting our actions and believes against the meaning of those words. We must accept the fact that South Sudan is enriches with diversity and therefore care should be taken in dealing with national issues as we all can be collectively affect by those issues irrespective of whether you come from small tribe or large tribe.

I personally think that for nationalism to be achieve in South Sudan, there must be an acceptance from a person of his/her negative feelings against members of other tribes, only when one accept the existing of such feelings, this is where one would be able to mitigate those feelings and be able to turn those negative feelings into positive one for the betterment of the nation.

The answer to the question as to whether nationalism is achievable in South Sudan or in any Nation is yes; but have we as South Sudanese at this stage achieved nationalism in part or whole? The answer to this question is that we have only achieve half of it. Yes, we gained our independent because of our high desires and love for South Sudan, therefore nationalism in part is achieved by South Sudanese through hard and long struggled. We have not by a long short achieved the most important part of Nationalism as far as I am concern, we are people divided by tribes and languages or dialects, therefore must struggle even harder to breach these tribal differences for South Sudanese to achieve an absolute nationalism. The existing of many tribes who speak different languages/dialects should not be uses as a blocking stone by those in power so as to prevent the citizens of South Sudan from considering themselves as equal stakeholders of their country.


2. Tribal Politics: At its roots, is about the identity of a given group that is based on common ethnic or cultural factors that are thought to coalesce the group into a functional political unit. Factors other than that of religion can also be the basis for tribal unity and thus employ tribal politics in order to maintain the status quo. This is broader and not specifically in the context of South Sudan, however when we explore its application in South Sudan, this concept would yield negative result rather the positive one. The tribal politics in South Sudan is being exercise by individual (s) who believe in superiority of one or two tribes over 6o other tribes. While the formation of groups or tribe has many advantages, such as clear communication and establishment of traditions that are expected to be observed, tribal politics can also have a negative side as well. The tribal politics can works well in subgroup but act as a bearer between various subgroups. When this is put in context of South Sudan, tribal politics has been the basis in which government decisions are makes, and as well been the basis in which some politicians want to capture the leadership power by hosting the incumbent government through democratic mean or mechanism or else. The biggest problems with tribal politics in South Sudan is that the two major tribes playing this game are pushing each other to the limited so as to achieve an absolute political divorce from one another where each group would exist separately and completely segregated so as to form its own political institution that is based on tribal believes. What is not being watch closely or ignored entirely by these two large tribes is the existing of more than sixty other different tribes in South Sudan beside the two; these other sixty tribes regardless of how small some of them might be, has more or less contributed significantly to the liberation of this nation and have significant shares and says on how South Sudan should be govern or rule. When one reads articles in the internet nowadays, one can tells from first paragraph as to which tribes among the two or other does the author belong because tribal politics has consumed completely any impartiality that might had exist within them.

Moreover, South Sudan though its human inhabitants went through rough and agonizingly extensive civil war not to mentioned its high human costs which was driven by common interest and aspirations, the results of unintended and unpunished actions of some members within the SPLA and other Armed groups during struggle against the very people that they pledged to have struggled for and liberated from unjust Islamic government system of Sudan as well as the failure to hold those accountable for such actions, contributed enormously to tribal sentiments that are making it difficult to achieve nationalism. When these ideas are put in context to today’s political situation in South Sudan, one would have to be grievously brain dead not to comprehend the factors at add and reasons that allows for such decisions to be taken. There might had been calls from South Sudan intellectuals for new faces in the government, however only an absent minded person would take such call literally and act accordingly without considering the mentality behind such calls. Many South Sudanese intellectuals who were not in the government has been taking advantages of high ilitricity rates in South Sudan to their advantages and have claims to have been advocating on behalf of the people while their ideas had been driven by tribal and personal interests, for instance there had been journalists who wrote articles directing their blames on others who has for the last eight years been appointed to various Ministerial posts in the government by the President without examining the reasons with which the President kept appointing these individuals to such posts. How realistic and feasible such blames are? and whether the individuals leveling such blames seriously and with clear conscious exempt the President from corruption and give him or any other person who shall letter become a President a blank check by excluding the office of the President from blame being leveled against individuals whom he has kept in the government for the last eight years? Can we said for the sake of accommodation of the ideas of those who praises the President in changes he makes in the recent reshuffling of the government without considering the contribution of those who had for the past eight years served this nation proudly and dignifiedly without squandering public resources, that he indeed makes such decision freely without tribal and individual interest from those who were closed to him during the process? How difficulty is it to swallow one’s pride and allow the President to destroy the integrity built by few of the former Ministers who has remember that the two and half million that has said to have died during struggle had actually died and is not a simple figure used to achieve independent of South Sudan? The most tragic irony is that many South Sudanese have had seen enough death and does not want to see anymore, therefore nevertheless would allow region dictatorship to prevail even though in the long run will yield the same results.

Therefore, the elements of tribal politics in Africa context in general and South Sudan in particular are dangerous and may escalate or causes tribal conflicts as it was the case with the 2007 Kenya election which resulted in tribal conflicts and great loss of human lives. The question as to whether Nationalism can be achieve in a multicultural and more diverse country, is indeed deplorable. The best example where an absolute nationalism is achieved with a more diverse background is USA. The system of governance in USA is a product of a well written constitution frame by people whose interests was to create a system where equilibrium of its citizens was the guiding principle. Though such an equilibrium was achieved through great sacrifices by influential leaders who were willing to paid the ultimate prizes and forfeit their lives in order to force the implementation of the provisions of the supreme of law of the land, nevertheless and regardless of it cost nationalism at long last is achieved.


3. Personal/Self-interest: Self-Interest is defined as someone who in any situation only cares for him/herself without consideration of other people. This factor is very difficult to digest for the simple reason that every human being consider his/her welfare before others, therefore the logical reasons for any person not considering his/herself interest before others are to be ascertain. The enormous challenge present by Tribal politic and self-interests in South Sudan is devastating to the life of innocent people who after decades of war felt relief by the signing of CPA and subsequently the referendum that earned them their freedom, dignity and independent. For South Sudanese to achieve Nationalism there must be a radical change in leadership from top down, the leadership must first and foremost put the nation and its people at forefront of its daily planning and thinking. When a person is elected by people as their President, any tribal thinking/sentiments and accommodations to me would amount to treason, because when an elected President start displaying tribal behaviors while elected by people of all tribes is not only a disgrace but betrayal of the people’s trust and hope. Though excluding the President from demonstrating behaviors that are likely to increase tribal conflicts in South Sudan is inexcusable, it is however this author’s believe individuals whose interest driven by tribal politics and self-interests are to shoulder some of the blames, there are elements closes to the President who have scores to settle and those in the receiving end of their aggressions seems to include the President himself. Among these individuals Telar have to rank number one. Telar is perceived by people of greater Bar El Ghazal as hero; however it has to be minus people of Lakes State, because it would be difficult for any person from Lakes State to convince me of the relevancy of Telar being so selfish to nominate himself for two positions leaving Lakes State at his mercy. Lakes State in previous government had four Ministers and one Deputy Minister, and all these were able to be trade in for the price of one with an exception of the position of the Deputy Minister. It would had been understandable if all the stakeholders of the Lakes State had agreed, even then, how realistic would it had been for the whole State to stand behind this immoral and selfish interest? These individuals Telar Included, has managed halfway to destroy the great legacy and integrity of the President whom he has built beyond my expectations within a relatively very short period of time.

Though removing his Vice President was within his prerogatives and his powers as well as the right thing to do considering his political fallout with the President, there nevertheless should had been consultation between the President and the members of the Political Bureau of his party. The President for long time has been harboring unity among South Sudanese by declaring many unconditional amnesty to armed groups who has causes more death of South Sudanese after the independent, however in light of recent political development in South Sudan, the behaviors being displayed by the President are nearly surprising to many people in a sense that it is contrary to everything that he has been fostering and believe in or at least I thought he believed in. This is because he has tried for the last eight years to unite South Sudanese by even forgiven those who have committed some hideous crimes against innocent citizens of South Sudan. The question however becomes, what has happened that forces the President to makes a complete U-Turn contrary to his humble action of the last eight years? The unfortunate reality is that, South Sudan is over flooded with individuals whose interest superseded people’s interest making it difficult to build a statehood whose citizens sees themselves as equal shareholders of its affairs; therefore it is up to the President to seek advice from individuals who believes and respects the interest of the people. The actions of the President lately must be influence by factors beyond his control because they completely are contradictory to his past believes. In a nutshell, South Sudanese shall only achieve nationalism under leadership which highly regards with respect the Supreme Law of the Land framed to safeguards and protect the social lives and social orders of the people.

Gatluak Veronica is a concerned South Sudanese living in Juba, South Sudan.

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