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Articles and ViewsNegative Ethnicity: A Threat to Any Peace in South Sudan By: Adeeb Y
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Negative Ethnicity: A Threat to Any Peace in South Sudan By: Adeeb Y

12-25-2013, 07:36 AM
Adeeb Yousif

Negative Ethnicity: A Threat to Any Peace in South Sudan By: Adeeb Y

    Negative Ethnicity: A Threat to Any Peace in South Sudan

    By: Adeeb Yousif
    December 25th 2013

    There is no bigger challenge facing South Sudan today than the scourge of dealing with their issues of negative ethnicity and tribalism. I have always wondered how such issues develop and are allowed to go far, especially where negative tribalism is concerned. How does mutual tolerance, respect and even love transform into deep hatred? How can elites use their power and capacity to change negative ethnicity into a positive one? Every passing day, it seems that south Sudans’ conflict gets worse as it is marred deeper into social and political tensions.

    One of the biggest conflicts that I have witnessed and lived through is the ethnic dispute in South Sudan. A day does not go by where there is no new development to this conflict. In this paper, I will explore the causes of the current conflict, highlight some regional and international responsibilities and then propose possible ways to intervene to make people of south Sudan safer and more secure.

    Regional actors such as The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) together with the international community in particular the United States of America have played a positive role in trying to bring peace to South Sudan. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement CPA that was signed in 2005 between the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) and the National Congress Party (NCP), brought an end to Africa's longest civil war and then, it considered as one of the rare achievements in the contemporary history of Sudan. The CPA couldn’t be achieved without positive reinforcement, encouragement, some pressure, and support from the international community. At that point, there was no contradiction between the Behaviorism point of view who looked at this development as Appetitive – a desire for peace- and conflict analytic standpoint what viewed this as the Tuning Point. Thus the conflicting parties worked on developed a way forward through a negotiations.

    The corresponding peace accord encouraged some Sudanese to seek a peaceful unity but the reality was that the referendum of 2011 led to a political divorce. In this case, when little effort was put into peace building, establishing institutions, creating harmonious society, making common national interest and indeed ignoring internal South-South-Dialogue (SSD), any such plans of national unity would have ultimately failed. Unfortunately for the post-conflict zone of south Sudan with inhabits from different ethnic groups with unresolved collective memory of prior conflicts, grievances, unequal power/wealth sharing, infrastructure damage, and high levels of unemployment among others, the foundations for a new conflict were already in place. The already fragmented society started falling apart through intertribal fighting , political crisis and with the destruction of any social fabric that looked to be built upon. Though the peace dialogue had managed to forge a new country, it could not absolutely help in addressing those issues and as such the situation was ripe to create new conflict fuelled by tribalism that seems to have mobilized the various ethnic groups for collective action.

    South Sudan combines 64 tribes with different dispute factors, but there was a single factor that united all of them, which was the formation of the New State, that they had been yearning for regardless of its identity. Bitterness of Africa's longest civil war had played unpleasant emotion for southern Sudan; their trauma and suffering had created mistrust and increased their enmity towards the Northern part whom they viewed as killers and as such guilty individuals they could not live with in the same country anymore. It was therefore because of that that led them to breakaway by any means necessary. As such when the citizens of South Sudan went to the polls to vote on the referendum for independence, the outcome was inevitable; the referendum for secession passed by more than 98% of the vote. Secession from the Republic of Sudan was the South Sudanese people's response to a long history of acrimony, mistrust, and war. On July 9, 2011, when South Sudan declared its independence, all 192 member States of the United Nations offered their endorsement— United Nations News Centre (2011).

    Thus a new environment for both civilians and combatants was created where they could return home either from refugee camps in the neighboring countries or the battlefield. They used a common identity “Refugees” or “freedom fighter” as a baseline for having a new identity – an identity forged from a common enemy. When the peace agreement was signed both civilians and combatants alike, were expecting a new hope, security, development, and increased prosperity to meet their needs. Unfortunately, their perceived ideal society, did not factor in how to deal with poverty, a broken justice system, inequality, unfair hierarchal class system -where power resides in the hands of individuals from one tribe that deliberately excludes the other tribes from participating in power sharing. This behavior did not only create lingering hatreds between Dinka and the other ethnic groups such as “Nuer, Shilluk”, among others, but also helped in propagating “tribal-viruses” – hatred of other tribes - throughout the country.
    I argue that as such, even though the marginalized ethnic groups did struggle and suffer together with the Dinka on the battlefield or refugee camps when they were fighting the North, they came to see the agreement as a failure, and resumed fighting as their only option against the Dinka. Violent conflict could be viewed as a triangle with contradiction, attitude and behavior—Johan Galtung (1969). In her book Social Identity and Conflict —Karina Korostelina (2007) pointed out that the salience of social identity is connected with the primacy of the in-group or the belief in the supremacy of in-group goal and value over personal goal and value. This is supporting what is happening in Bor, Bentiu, Wau, Malakl, Juba and another countryside in south Sudan and similar situation. These examples highlight the components of the primacy of in-group identity: first, predominance of in-group goals over personal goals, second the readiness to forget all internal in-group conflicts in situation of threat to the in-group, and, third, the readiness to unite against out-group. In contrast conflict is most likely to be escalated taking into account the feeling, action and reaction of out-group that is “danger and threat”. Both feelings “danger and threat” refer to situations of possible harm or conditions of being susceptible to harm or injury. Thus the out-group threat reflects the negative or aggressive intention toward the in-group (Harre 2006).
    Considering some components of Humanistic psychology as well as Self-actualization theories for south Sudan; after taking on power, the ruling party did not apply the medium of love, of education, of respect, of tolerance, or understanding to govern the people. Rather they used their power and capacity to disempower the other ethnic groups and political parties. Applying the method of discrimination, medium of fear to terrorize the people and as such turned the country into a state of subjugation that helped to create territorial tribes and boundaries within the country because the ruling party was ignoring what used to unite them during the war. Rather, the new leadership chose to empower and hire their family members, friends – not based on their qualifications, experience or knowledge – but to work for themselves and to serve their own selfish self interest. Unfortunately it is for the purposes of defending elites and their tribes that the national institutions have been tribalized and this I consider as the seeds for the instability in South Sudan. Such attitudes have as such affected south Sudanese public behavior. Their understanding and perception raised an important question-how individual and the ruling elites view government? —Dr. John Garang once said and I quoted “Their practices and behavior shows that they view government as an object to be looted”. The outcome causes injustice, poverty, paralytic relationship and indeed corruption for which a significant number of ministers were sacked these are the main causality for the current conflict.
    The secession didn’t bring peace to the new county rather it created internal tribal conflicts, competition, visible and invisible-social-boundaries and new cultural identity. In that sense, how was the new identity envisioned? A new African identity based on geography (The colonialists already tried it and it failed? Or it is tribal identity because of the many of tribes that inhabit the country?) Thereby, a better future for south Sudan requires a paradigm shift in social and political reconciliation in order to deescalate the current conflict, create united and homogeneous society. To allow the marginalized ethnic group in south Sudan to dream and hope that a day will come when the ruling group realizes its folly and apologize to the other ethnic groups asking for, mercy and forgiveness. Will it be possible for the ruling party to say “let us live in this country with the power in the hands of the diversity, with respect for all”? I think the solution lies in the reforming of an organic government system of south Sudan as well as its civil society where all peoples of the country’s diverse communities are allowed full participation on their own soil. More efforts from regional organizations such as IGAD, African states and above all the international community in particular the United States of America is highly needed. This might help south Sudan avoid a continued future of chaos, anarchy and lawlessness. It is the way to stop the ongoing disastrous conflicts and mitigate latent under-the-surface future conflicts. And indeed it is the possible avenue to stop the bloodshed and stop the miseries of innocent civilians in south Sudan.


    Adeeb Yousif is, PhD researcher in the program of the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) at George Mason University, he may be reached at: [email protected]

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