The case for moral re-armament: Waging war on social issues in South Sudan

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Tuesday, 19 March 2013 19:14
Written by Phillip Manyok, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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MISSOURI, U.S.A -- After more than twenty two years of intense and protracted civil war in Sudan, many things have happened, including the erosion of social and moral values. Of all the problems the war caused in South Sudan, the loss of social and moral values worries me the most. Such concern has prompted me to write this opinion article hoping to generate public debate. Having myself witnessed and heard about the erosion of morality and ethics and having seen their aftershocks, there is definitely an urgent need for ethical and moral revitalizations to correct some of the social problems that are plaguing our communities and/or our young nation.

  In order for people to appreciate this theoretical proposition, it makes sense to look at what led to the loss of social and moral values in the first place.  I am aware of the fact that some people don’t appreciate to be reminded of Sudan’s unpleasant past. However, for the sake of readers who never experienced and/or knew anything about civil war in Sudan, I am left with no choice, but to hesitantly regurgitate these disheartening facts and statistics about the war. I said hesitantly because, as a metaphysician, I am consciously aware of the ramification or psychological affects they might have on those individuals who are still recovering from many years of war traumas and/or from the loss of their loved ones. At the same time, as a citizen, I have certain responsibilities such as promoting constructive dialogue about social issues affecting our country.

For those who are familiar with Sudan past, you may choose to skip the next two paragraphs if you don’t want to resurrect those traumatic memories or events that befell our societies and people during the last war. And with your permission, allow me to provide   a brief synopsis of conflict’s outcomes for the sake of those who might find that helpful in analyzing and/or understanding the argument that I am making in this opinion article.

First and foremost, the statistics or accounts of what exactly happened as a result of Sudanese long civil war are incongruent. They varied depending on what person or source one consulted. However, there is unanimity when it comes to the magnitude or the nature of destruction and suffering.  Therefore, the following statistics may be contradicted by other sources that offered different accounts of this same conflict.  According to common statistics available in the public domain  about Sudan civil war , over two and half  million people are known to have died a war related death e.g. from fighting, disease, and hunger. Over six million civilians fled to neighboring countries. Millions of homes, farm animals and their farms destroyed, grossly human rights violations committed against children and women e.g.  Women being raped, use of child soldier, increased child abduction and child enslavement, extrajudicial executions of civilians, disappearance and torture of civilians both sadly endured by thousands if not millions of civilians as a result of the war.

These atrocities resulted into two major destructions, institutional destructions of all forms of governance both at the national and local levels. At the national level particularly in South Sudan, war decimated important institutions like judiciary, security apparatuses, economic infrastructures, and other social structures that used to hold the country together. At a community level for example, war robbed local peoples of most their most valuable possession, their dignity and pride.

 Across South Sudan, people and societies experienced indignity of some forms e.g.  people being forced to flee their ancestral birth places to places they never dreamt or, seeing a family member being killed or amputated in their sight, loss of farms and livestock to things like seeing their wives and daughters being raped in their presence or just seeing themselves humiliated by their fellow Southerners who they found refuge among them.  The collapse of governing institutions coupled, with the decaying of social norms, customs, and social expectations, and, being reinforced by inter-ethnic atrocities and countless rights violations in my view caused serious socio-psychological damages to communities.  This resulted into decaying of social values, and erosion of morality among the people of South Sudan, a virtue that used to be stable as a cup of milk in every household among the communities across the country.

 When I look at problems like corruption, police brutality, ethnic suspicion, and property thefts, breaking up of families, alcoholism, homelessness, increased poverty, child abduction and cattle rustling that have plagued some communities in most parts of South Sudan, the issue of ethics and morality or their lack of it comes to mind.  I wonder what life would look like in South Sudan if our communities and/or people again accepted to live a life guided by ethics and moral principles the way we used to live prior to start of the war. Well, the only way we will ever know whether lack of morality has anything to do with the above mention problems or not is if people and communities reclaimed and applied ethical and moral principles in their daily lives. If the restoration of ethics and morality led to civility and reduction in our social problems, then, we have solved our problems. If not, then, we will be at liberty to propose another theory or theories to explain our problems.

 Certainly tribalism has been thrown around a lot as one of the root causes of what wrong with South Sudan societies. Some people blamed SPLM and its leaderships for having failed to deliver on its promises while others still blamed Khartoum government for instigating intertribal conflicts among others.  I have a muted view on these theoretical assumptions. While tribalism, lack of leadership and Khartoum government may have a role to play, it is not absolutely known how much of South Sudan problems are directly linked to tribalism and leadership vacuum particularly when we are talking of social issues. It’s very difficult to comprehend how Khartoum could be blamed for instigating cattle rustling in Lake State. How would one blame SPLM for his or her hunger? The point is, these problems required a multipronged approaches including experimenting with ethics and moral principles.

 Of course, these theoretical assumptions deserved analysis, but not in this opinion article. I am interested in social morality which is an area where less attention is being focused on.  Theoretically, I argue that Sudan long civil war is to be blamed and/or partially responsible for South Sudan social problems or what I called moral decaying. It’s the past war that destroyed governing institutions in South Sudan.  It’s certainly the war that led to decaying of social values and loss of morality among our societies. Psychologically speaking, whether people are talking of SPLM/A as an entity, national governing institutions (executive, legislature, & judicial), states’ governments and local communities as well as individuals, the war has morally corrupted everyone mind which explains why immoral activities like property thefts, child abduction and cattle rustling have increased among communities in South Sudan.

Of course people may ask, how could one argue that the war traumatized people?  What is the evident?  If you look at activities and/or behaviors of soldiers (what they say to their conducts e.g. police brutality) who have fought during the war, people would understand why I suggested that soldiers are traumatized. In a nutshell, from they say and/or do, they think they are operating with normalcy based on their own definition of what they used to consider normal during the war. This is why the police, military and SPLM leaders sometimes fail to understand why people question or criticize them.

 Individuals’ civilians who witnessed and or experienced countless rights violations of which some are mentioned above are traumatized as well. Simply, we are not the same people who we were before we left for the bush.  I can attest to this experience myself. I am not the same person who left Jonglei state 26 years ago. Obviously, I am aged, may be more informed, but at the same time haunted by traumatic memories of the last war. There are nights when I wake up to memories of things I encountered in Fignudo and during my brief time in the guerilla army as a child soldier  serving in the foot hills of Mountain Navolou,  Muratika and Kiala in the outskirt of Torit. Other times, I tend to question everything the SPLM/A has done during the war, and then, there are days when I appreciated and thankful that I went to the bush. I believe you too can attest to it as well if you examine your bush-life  and would  agree that we are equally victims and we need not to blame each other because we share the same prognosis.

Instead, we spend our energies and time blaming each other or playing the victim game; we should focus our time and energies reflecting and thinking about our way forward. For instance, we need to ask ourselves, how we can improve ethnic relationship. How can we deal with the issue of cattle rustlings that are causing instability in some states? How can we get back important social and moral values that have worked so well in the past among our communities and societies?  I believe asking simple questions like these could further open other opportunities where individuals, communities, and societies can examine their own sanities and more importantly, perhaps, this may provoke a moral curiosity among people and/or communities.

 Short of this, I don’t see any other viable and/or feasible way to deal with social deficits and/or deviances that the war propagated among people and/or societies of South Sudan.  I don’t want to sound too pessimistic because that would defeat the purpose of this article.  I am optimistic and hopeful, as a proud and a dignified people who fought side by side to liberate South Sudan. We have what it takes to get through tough times.  Having said that, the struggle to reclaim our lost values is a big challenge; we need to be resolute to face it. It’s a war that I believed can be won primarily by the citizens not per se by government alone as some folks seemed to suggest and requires dedication on the part of every citizen.  

I am certain. We can win the moral war if we take some steps of which I have identified some of my own. First, winning the moral war requires courage and tenacity from each of us to recognize that ethics and morality do have place in building a civil, peaceful and prosperous South Sudan. Currently, many people seemed to have lost important social and moral values that are critical to building and maintaining a civil society or a country. Furthermore, people and societies are still in the state of denial while others are clung or surrendered to the past which hindered them to look into the future. As a people and society, we need to find courage to recognize and accept that we cannot change the past, but that we can shape our future using our experiences with the war.

Simple recognition like this could get people thinking to where each person looks inwardly to his or her life to possibly figure out what went wrong in a society. By doing so, people and individual communities can identify those values they lost  during the war and as well as identifying how those values can be  reclaimed and retaught to younger generation who are now the heirs of this young nation. My fellow citizens, I want you to remember this; a moral and ethical minded person is irreplaceable. No matter how much suffering and traumas the war caused us, we should not throw away or lose our moral and ethical values for they are a base for building a stronger society and/or country.

Second, South Sudanese by virtue of their experiences with the war are all traumatized and equally victims of the war.  As a nation and people, we need to recognize that unfortunate fact of war. I applauded President Kiir and Vice President Machar for publicly acknowledged this reality. All individual citizens, tribes, government officials both from national, state to boma level have to accept that each of us is a psychological patient who doctor is ourselves.  In other words, we need to stick together, rise or fall together because as a young country, our fate is intricately bound together.

Third, there is a need for moral fairness and respect to every South Sudanese, child, woman, man, bigger tribes and smaller tribes alike. Currently, this is not the case; there is a moral greed or a disheartening narrative with respect to how some individuals or tribes presumptuously assumed themselves as more patriotic than those of other tribes. This is morally wrong and it needs to die with the old ways of thinking. Yes, you or your tribesmen might have suffered or experienced the worst of the last war. But that doesn’t give you the bullying rights over smaller tribes. Smaller tribes have contributed in their own ways possible and relative to their numbers toward the liberation of South Sudan.  The smaller tribes equally deserve respect and dignified treatment, not more, and not less of what the presumptuous tribes enjoy. If we all exercise moral fairness as equal citizens, we helped created common identity and narrative that replaces the current ethnic enigma that falsely sets our people against each other.

Fourth, as proud citizens and communities, we should view laziness as a society or individual moral failure that should be rejected. As I can remember, before the war started, laziness was treated among many communities as a social failure that comes with serious social consequences to those who don’t work hard to feed their families. In some communities, lazy people were belittled, and were made the talk of the village among their peers and even shaming dirges were composed to purposely chastise those individuals who refused to work harder.

Unfortunately, after the war, it has become apparent that laziness has become socially and morally acceptable among some individuals and/or communities. Because of the loss of morality and other decaying of social and cultural norms, some people or communities now make their living by stealing or robbing other peoples’ properties (e.g. cattle rustling and cunning people to give them money and stuff). Obviously, you can’t build a prosperous nation this way.  It’s pathetic for any able body to surrender to laziness and/or continues   to lead a parasitic life of dependence that reproduces and cultivates a generational poverty.

 Yes, some people may find these words insulting, condescending or too extreme. Don’t they? Never mind, truth sometimes hurts when it’s told.  Whether you share this sentiment or not, it doesn’t change my opinion and it wouldn’t hurt me either, because, I am just pointing out the obvious.  If we want to build a better South Sudan, then, we need to view laziness and poverty as an enemy of the state which needs to be fought by every citizen of the Republic of South Sudan wherever one might be living.

I don't expect everyone to agree with me and never expected it anyway. We are entitled to our opinion, provided it is respectfully presented. But, at least, Bible, an inspired God’s words would agree with me. Genesis 2:15 said, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it". Proverbs 12:11 said, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.”   Apostle Paul encouraged work and he called it a rule.  2 Thessalonians 3:10 reads, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Why wouldn’t you do the work when God gave you the Garden of Eden to toil (South Sudan)?  Isn’t that not what you spent twenty two years fighting for? Why would you want to spend your precious hours playing dominoes, table and board games and/or preying and/or saturating innocent young girls’ minds with promises that you wouldn’t fulfill.  That’s in itself is morally wrong. Don’t people see it?  Preying on innocent women and playing board games are not the right ways to compensate yourself for the troubles  and sufferings you went through during the war not to mention that it is wrong thing do before the same God that you prayed to days and nights to give you   a  nation of your own. Anyway, I leaved that unto each of us to reflect upon and hope we all pull up our sleeves, and join in the hard work of building a prosperous South Sudan.

In conclusion, we should recognize that we are fighting two wars with the government tasked to fight macroscopic war e.g. providing security, national defense, physical infrastructures, education and health policies, interstate policies etc.  On the other hand, there is a microscopic war or what I called a moral war which is a kind of war that requires every citizen to rise up, and tub into his or her moral strength and remained ever determined to move this nation forward.

More importantly, we need to mobilize whatever knowledge and experiences we have gained for national glory. Let educate our people and our communities to embrace moral obligations toward each other in a way that encourages all communities to adhere to the highest standard of ethical and moral conducts in everyday life.  If we all reclaimed our loss mores, norms, customs, communal ethical principles, and other values, we become more dignified. Our people and communities can again begin to recognize evil in things like child abduction, cattle rustling, laziness, and corruption, cunningness, and properties thefts.  What an amazing story would that be for South Sudan to witness a complete return of moral life?  

Finally, as I said earlier, the blaming game is not helping us in our collective efforts to fight problems facing our country. We have done enough damage to each other and that didn’t work to anybody advantage.  Instead, we need to extend our hands to each other with a message of peace, love and forgiveness.  For those who like to be critics, nothing wrong with that. However, let’s be good skeptics and contrarians who give any idea a due consideration regardless of where it originates from.  Sometimes, the best solutions are found in strange places and /or come from strange people. Therefore, whatever your political and social persuasions are, listen to your conscience, practice moral fairness, hard work, self-restraint, national patriotism and embrace constructive dialogue. We can be certain that we can build a morally and a prosperous South Sudan.

About the author: Phillip Manyok is a former Lost Boy of Sudan and a SPLA veteran himself.  He holds PhD in Metaphysical Science from Institute of Metaphysical Humanistic Science, Master of Art International Relations and Conflict Resolution from American Public University, Bachelor and Master of Metaphysical Science from Institute of Metaphysical Humanistic Science, Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Southwest Baptist University, Associate of Arts from Penn Valley Community College and  currently a 4th year PhD student studying conflict Analysis at Nova Southeastern University. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.