Articles and Analysies
Oxford dictionary defined “Tribalism” as a “strong loyalty to one’s own tribe, party, or group”.By Simon Riek Gatluak, April 12, 2009
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Apr 13, 2009 - 10:55:41 PM

Oxford dictionary defined “Tribalism” as a “strong loyalty to one’s own tribe, party, or group”.


By Simon Riek Gatluak, April 12, 2009


Thousands of articles have been written by Southern Sudanese, most, if not all claimed the existence of tribalism among South Sudanese leadership; the author of this short article believed contrary and did not see tribalism at all. The above definitions of tribalism does not represent any South Sudan leadership ever ruled the South for the last twenty or thirty years of our struggle. Let us omits Abel Aler administration and take this from the SPLA/M administration led by the late chairman John Garang until the beginning of the government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), and see if there has been tribal loyalty. Abel Aler administration deserve no analysis here because it was proxy administration which receives orders from Khartoum; and all claims of tribalism that is said to be there, was Khartoum policy of divide and rule. From the formation of SPLA/M in 1983, the top leader was Dr. John Garang and his deputy was Keribino Kuanyin Bol. The two leaders were from the Dinka tribe, but differentiated only by their regions. None objected this hierarchy knowing how seniors the two were in the Sudan army and their tribal affiliations played no role. Though many might have some reservations, this tribal connection did not hold the two very long and four years later, the deputy rebelled against the chairman of the movement. The cause of that early defection is hardly to explain here, but rumors put it that military distributions to the war zones is believed to be the cause of that disagreement between the two leaders.


At the time of his defection from John Garang, Keribino was commanding a huge SPLA forces most of those soldiers were from his Bar El Gazal region. He felt confident that nothing would harm him or took him away at the hand of all these soldiers; but the deputy chairman did not understand that those soldiers were more loyal to SPLA/M cause and John Garang as the head of that movement. It took John Garang sometime to think about what to do and how he could arrest his rebelled deputy. At last, keribino was captured without a single bullet and arrested. The beginning of the movement proved to us that there was no tribalism played at that time. If it was, the two leaders from the same tribe could have said to themselves that “let us not spoil our golden chance by fighting each others”, which in fact, did not happen.


After the two leaders fall a part and the former deputy was jailed, another rebellion emerged from the same tribe man. Arok Thon Arok who was numbers five in the SPLA/M rank and from the same region as John Garang rebelled against the leadership. I later heard that this man (Arok) was allowed to go to London to visit his children. As the Sudan government was in desperate need to destroy the SPLA/M, they sent some one to Arok Thon in London and talked about how he could remove Dr. John Garang and took the leadership with Sudan government as his supporter. After Arok agreed and made all the promises and how easy it is to remove John Garang upon his return to Southern Sudan, the informer took all the records and forwards them to John Garang. Arok knew nothing and came back to fulfils his mission. As soon as he arrived, he was taken to Bilpam where the tape was opened for him to listen. After the tape, Arok confirmed that it was him and finally he was arrested. Arok Thon is not only from the same tribe with John Garang, but from the same Dinka Bor and perhaps related in some ways.

This scenario indicated that there is no tribalism existed, because if it was, Arok Thon couldn’t ‘ve suggested the removal of John Garang by force since both were from the same tribe and most importantly, from the same section and region from that tribe.

It is common to investigate who are the allies to the arrested person in any situations, and these two events did not end only by the arrest of the two leaders. We have to note here that a campaign to root out their supporters took place and perhaps, the majority of those who faced the law thereafter were from the tribes of these two leaders. The laws of that time were strict and quick to be implemented with unpredictable result. It is impossible to know what kind of punishment their supporters faced, but what we know is that none was spared because of their tribal connection with the chairman of the movement. As it is explained above, general believe is that SPLA/M under the late John Garang was free from tribalism.


It did not take a long time to see another split in the SPLA/M; in 1991 a major rebellion was announced on august 28 of that year. That rebellion did not ended in the arrest as the two above, but divided the moment into two major factions. The splinter faction was commonly known as Nasir faction by the SPLA/M mainstream until it total collapse in 2002. The leaders of that faction were Dr. Riek Machar, Dr.Lam Akol, and Gordon Kong, and the news of leadership change within the SPLA/M, caught most officers and soldiers by surprise. None expected this to happen within the SPLA/M, which was well organized and has laws that favor none from top to bottom. However, this feared laws did not prevent this mutiny to happen and different tribes were the main backers of this new movement since it announcement, but what happened two years later is what we are going to analyze here. After two years (1992-94) as I said, the chairman of Nasir faction Dr. Riek Machar, broke rank with his deputy (Lam Akol) in 1994. The cause of their disagreement was not well divulged to the masses, but Dr. Lam went and created or left with SPLA/M United to rival with his former chairman. From this time, many leaders of other tribes and few leaders from the chairman’s tribe began to desert the new faction until it was categorized as a tribal faction.


This categorization was not widely supported, because the Nuer who made up the majority of Nasir faction did not see it in this way. What happened was internal destruction between the Nuer sub clans, which lasted for more than ten years. The Nuer villagers began to fight themselves in all part of the Nuer land. Most Machar commanders defected from him in 1995 and some of these commanders went to the SPLA/M. Those who remained created numerous factions with Khartoum regime as their allies. All of these groups were within the Nuer land; and brought no alternative, but only fought each other’s for numbers of years. In the mid of all these chaos, tribalism or as defined tribal loyalty is no where to be seen. It would not be until the abrogation of Khartoum peace agreement for all these turmoils to subside in the Nuer land.   After the peace was functionless, Dr. Machar left Khartoum for Nairobi where peace negations between him and John Garang began. In early 2002, the two reached an agreement and Nairobi declaration was signed. This peace created only two choices, either to be part of SPLA/M or to be part of Khartoum regime with Nasir declaration and all its products became to an end.


Mean while, the attention of all Sudanese turned to the ongoing peace between the SPLA/M and the Sudan government in Kenya, another disagreement brewed between the chairman John Garang and his deputy Salva Kiir in 2004. What happened is hard to know, but some say John Garang proprosed the removal of Salva Kiir from his position and replaced him with Nhial Deng Nhial. The news was not well received by the deputy chairman and this event between the two strong men almost derailed the ongoing peace process in Kenya, but was wisely solved at the end of 2004 by the movement’s high executives. The cries and prayer of Southern Sudanese for peace to come between the two pillars of hope prevailed and as the result of their successful reconciliation, the peace (CPA) was signed between the SPLM/A and the Sudan government in early 2005. This short story explains to us that there is no tribalism as known to every body that the two leaders were from the same tribe.


As the GOSS was mired by allegation of tribalism and nepotism, this also is negative if we look at it critically and finding out who is who. Current Salva Kiir administration is rightfully designed to avoid claims of tribalism, but we will look into it some time later. With the above points that dismiss the existence of tribalism in any South Sudanese leadership, we should no longer use this term “tribalism”. If we have desire to use something or term, it should be the term that I never found written like this, “clandism”, but clannish in fact may describe all acts seen from any administration.



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