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Articles and Analysies Last Updated: Dec 20, 2009 - 3:34:53 PM

The fate of tribalism in Southern Sudan BY: George Thon Gai, USA

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The fate of tribalism in Southern Sudan

BY: George Thon Gai , USA


A few years ago, I wrote an article titled “Tribalism: the Cancer in Southern Sudan," in which I tried to show, with strong evidence from our nation’s history, how tribalism has always been the root cause of our problems; how it led to the total destruction of our struggle; and how it has thus far prevented the real success of all peace and national reconciliation efforts.

I also pointed out that as many leaders have shown in the past, the main problem lies with the allegiance to the tribe than the central government system of our “tribe affiliations” which often leads to disunity, strife, constantly shifting alliances and perpetual instability.

The feedback that I have received from the Southerner readers, both at home and in the Diaspora has been in its totality very positive and the overwhelming majority of them agreed with my analysis. I, Thon Gai, am proud Southerner who isn’t afraid to say where is my tribe heading or where I belong on the tribal line. One reader e-mailed me to oppose the thrust of my argument – perhaps just for the sake of opposition,   as is now common in highly polarized Southern Sudan communities – and he wrote: “Tribe is an asset not a liability for Southern Sudan. But unfortunately some people have failed to see it as such.”   He then continued claiming without providing sufficient evidence: “Tribe is what feeds, protects and allows the locals on the ground level to communicate at amicable and frank level.” The word “true” is losing its meaning and, instead; word relative is taking over.

But with all due respect to the views of this reader and the other gentlemen, the negative aspects of tribalism and its destructive nature outweighs its benefits. Mind you, like nepotism, favoritism, chauvinism, imperialism, etc., tribalism or any other thing that ends with –ism normally indicates something negative. In this regard, when we had a functioning SPLA/M, we did not need a tribe to protect us or to offer us the numerous social services that we used to take for granted.

Furthermore, in the new traditional African faiths, tribe affiliations are not supposed to be a source of discord, animosity and oppression- as stated by former President of the Republic of Kenya , Daniel Arap Moi.   In one of his hadiths (sayings), even Prophet Mohammad also declared that it is totally forbidden for a Muslim to shed the blood of another Muslim, to take over his property or to damage his family-honor. What argument does it make in the failed Lou Nuer Community to disturb the peace among the neighbors?

While I do understand that there are bad people in every community, I would not hesitate to be called a tribalist by going negative and pointing fingers on the whole community of Lou. It is to my best understanding, that these barbaric killings are not for the interest of the community but some individuals who are thirsty of power such Riak Gai Kok and his counterpart Dr. Machar.   

Although many communities have remained silent not to file petition to the GoSS and state governments, these barbaric killing of the Lou Nuer should not be ignored in all forms. Should the government fail to protect its citizens, it is the due respect and duty for every community member to be safe in their dwellings, properties, and enjoy the fruits of the faked CPA.   Lou Nuer should know any cause of instability in the Greater Bor area would not be between the Nuer and Bor like it happened in the “Bor Massacre of 1991”, but it would only be Lou and Bor. And guess, when the giant stood up and said enough is enough; what happened then, what will Lou do? Many politicians have said it all, but I doubt that there are no leaders in Lou Community.

In the view of many experts of Southern Sudan affairs, tribalism and clan-based rivalry is what led to the divided SPLA/M in 1991 and to the inability of Southerners to end their ruinous civil war. This is so despite the fact that many peace accords and national reconciliation conferences have so far been held for that purpose with the help of the international communities, and particularly Southern Sudan neighboring countries, both morally and materially. Read the book by Mulana Abel Alier Kwai: Too Many Agreements Dishonored.

All reconciliation efforts have failed because certain individuals – most of them semi-illiterate ex-truck drivers, messengers or ex-police sergeants who have not even ran a small governmental office or unit in their entire lives – have been playing the tribal card to become presidents/prime ministers in Southern Sudan by any means in order to monopolize power and privilege and, thus, marginalize other clans.

In this connection, these covetous and misguided warlords such as Paulino Matip and Dr. Riek Machar among others – who were comprehensively defeated recently but are still there – used tribalism as a tool to gain both political and economic power, and not to serve their nation. But even when they gained power, they have never attempted to help their own tribesmen in return.

None of them has set up a one-classroom elementary school or a small dispensary or a single borehole in their own villages to serve the needy inhabitants of their clan areas who have no state to serve or protect them. This is despite the fact that some of these unscrupulous warlords used to earn hundreds of thousands of US dollars per month from the NCP and from their concubines that they illegally married and the sale of oil and other illegal drugs that they were engaged in.

Brigadier Gov. Taban Deng Gai has done it all by bringing back the services lost to Paulino Matip in 1998 back to the communities.

Last but not least, to the supporters of my current failed Vice President Dr. Machar and the Deputy Commander In Chief Dr. Paulino Matip. Do the means justify the end result or does the end result justify the means?

In conclusion, if we don’t find an appropriate and lasting remedy to the devastating disease of tribalism (cancer) in Southern Sudan which has plagued our nation in the past 43 years, destroyed all its state institutions and kept our people in perpetual insecurity, abject poverty and misery, we will suffer even more.

And our country may become prey for the disruptive interference – or even total takeover – of its hostile neighbor ( Khartoum regime) who has always sought to dismember and dominate the people of Southern Sudan .


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