The erosion of traditon in South Sudan

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Sunday, 05 June 2011 23:25
Written by Dr. Adwok Nyaba, The New Sudan Visioon (NSV),
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(Juba, South Sudan) - I would like to first commend the Rift Valley Institute, particularly its Directors headed by John Ryle and Centre of Peace Studies, University of Juba for initiating this series of lectures, which I believe touch a sensitive cord in the dual processes of state and nation in South Sudan. When I received the invitation I wrote back to John Ryle to say that he has started a very important activity which will rejuvenate and revitalise us intellectuals and academics in order to contribute effectively in the current social and political discourse for state and nation building in the youngest state in Africa and the world. 

Part of the university mandate is to produce and disseminate knowledge thus contributing directly to the development of society. The concept of having the University of Juba came as a political demand by the people of Southern Sudan because they at that early stage recognised the importance of having an institution of higher education in their midst. Thus an event like this should attract attention and participation. I call on the University Administration and the faculty especially in the colleges of social and economic studies as humanities to take up the challenge to continue such lectures and create a forum for educating ourselves. For, what would be the significance of University of Juba: Its students and faculty, if they can’t impact positively on the social and cultural environment or if they can’t influence and change the dominant negative social and political processes that affect the people in South Sudan?

 I was called upon to speak on the ‘erosion of tradition’ in the context of the general theme of ‘Culture and the nation’. Tradition and culture come in the sphere of social sciences. I must admit from the outset that I am not a social scientist and am not very conversant with social analysis therefore will have serious limitations in trying to address the issue. More often than not I do approach social processes from a political or rather ideological standpoint. Therefore I will use that method to try to address the ‘erosion of tradition’ and from the perspective of a geologist who is a civil society activist who actively participates in liberation process and the engineering of social change in South Sudan. I hope you will forgive me and bring me back into the fold if I have become irrelevant to or strayed away from the subject.  

Social change is my aphorism for the ‘erosion of tradition’ and I leisurely link this ‘erosion of tradition’ to the relentless struggle the people of southern Sudan waged over the past decades until the consummation of the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) in 2005 for freedom and dignity but more importantly to return themselves into history. The process of national liberation, which has now culminated in the independence and emergence of the Republic of South Sudan, was indeed the attempt to forge a unity from the many ethnic communities that comprise South Sudan. There are about sixty seven ethnic communities some of them being large enough to be categorised as nations or nationalities. A nation or nationality is defined by a host of commonalities and a sense of shared values or traditions.

With the declaration of independence on July 9th we enter a phase of state formation and nation building, which to my mind could be likened to putting up an architectural structure. A new state – South Sudan like a viable architectural structure requires strong foundation and building materials in this case principles and good policies. The principles and policies should be people centred; should humanise and uphold human dignity rather than dehumanise the people; should protect and promotes human rights, enhances and enriches our common culture, restores peaceful relations among our people, unites rather than discriminate among us, abhor corrupt practices, etc. Indeed, like an architectural structure, the new state in South Sudan must reflect all its diverse component nationalities. 

The main political discourse these days is about power relations as should be spelt out in the ‘Transitional Constitution’. I believe this political discourse should be on the construction of the state and system of governance in the new state that enjoys internal as well as external sovereignty and legitimacy. Our experience is that most Sub Sahara African states and governments enjoy external sovereignty while at home they are alienated from their masses through bad policies. We saw this in, Sudan, Zaire, in Central African Republic under Bukassa etc. where these leaders alienated large section of their people. In the same vein the revolutions that took place in North Africa starting with Tunisia, Egypt and Libya inform us that while their leaders continued to enjoy external legitimacy, at home their people already had delegitimised them.  

South Sudan is a product of a people’s revolution. Its independence was negotiated with blood, sweat and energies of the people inspired by the ideals of equality, social justice, democracy and human dignity. In the process of building a modern state in South Sudan we don’t want to repeat the mistake committed at Sudan’s independence in 1956 when the Sudanese identity was defined only to reflect its Arab and Muslim character its multiple diversities notwithstanding. Identity and what it reflects can be an explosive factor in nation building therefore much sensitivity must be attached to the social and political engineering that engenders national identity.


South Sudanese identity must be allowed to evolve slowly in a manner suggestive of the differential integration of our progressive traditions and values. In this case erosion of tradition conjures a parallel process of and its replacement with a new more inclusive and progressive tradition reflecting the daily economic, political and cultural activities of our people. This should be mediated by democratic institutions of governance that ensure internal as well as external sovereignty and legitimacy of our leaders. We have shown above that when internal and external sovereignty are incongruent; that is when leaders even leaders of liberation struggle turn despots the nation building process is halted and usually reversed. It really means that we should launch relentless struggle to combat negative legacies and vestiges of militarism, totalitarianism, national oppression and ethnic chauvinism.   

It goes without saying that the process that engenders social change is not an innocent process; it is death but rebirth on another plane of life; it is liberating. As a liberating process it must be participatory in nature for no one party, no matter how large and powerful, can solo undertake the task of building democratic institutions and structures of governance. It must be through collective and collaborative efforts of all and sunder engaged in conscious and deliberate steps to steer society away from the legacy of conflicts and wars. Ensuring mutual and collective visibility of all the people of South Sudan is one important block in nation building which also makes this erosion of tradition a palatable process. 

The theme ‘culture and the nation’ spurs up thought of the emerging political order which eventually should lead to the erosion and possible extinction of the contemporary tribally organised society in South Sudan. This results from the twin processes of state and nation building. State building means construction of instruments of governance and the rule of law while nation building means construction of modern society. It goes without saying that the different ethnic or tribal formations will give way sooner than later to knowledge based society.  

The tribally organised society we live limits economic development and reign of good governance and the rule of law. The patrimonial and personalised power relationship prevents the emergence of modern property rights and relationship resonant with modern economy and society. In conclusion, I admonish the university administration, the faculty and students; the intellectuals in and out of government and the political class in general to participate in these discourses and the wider theme of culture and the nation in order to stimulate thought and action that will shape a bright future for the people of South Sudan.


Thank you all. 

*Dr. Adwok Nyaba is South Sudan’s Minister of Higher Education. The Speech was delivered at the University of Juba on June 3rd, 2011.