Dealing away with tribalism in South Sudan: Should we fix the people or the system?

manyok_0_1_18(Abeliene, Texas) - There are reasons behind everything that human beings do in this world. Some reasons are sometimes misplaced. So they work against those who generate them rather than working for them. What I learned recently about the motive behind the reasoning of people who demonize other tribes is that they are doing it for propaganda’s sake. I read one comment to my recent article in which my fellow Sudanese disputed my view about what causes low self-esteem. He argued that the reality about the causes of low self-esteem was opposite to my view. He said that what other tribes said against Dinka “will bring the Dinka to low self-esteem finally and soon” if Dinka does not turn around and change. He might be right because that is the reason why he can hardly recognize anything positive about the tribe he does not like. But I believe beyond doubt that no social scientist would buy into the idea that people who are blamed lose their self-esteem. Research has repeatedly confirmed that low self-esteem is caused by feeling of worthlessness. Nobody feels worthless when he or she is blamed. Instead, those who blame other people for everything are the ones that develop the feeling of worthlessness in them because they regard themselves powerless. This idea is also true when it comes to gossiping. Those who gossip fear to be part of what they see as the problem that they do not have control over. So they relieve their feeling of worthlessness through gossiping. Those who are blamed for everything even when they do something good sometimes develop the feeling of denial. They always count themselves as not part of the problem when you blame them. So their self-esteem remains higher but they become resistant to change. This article will be in two parts and will explain the techniques that sometimes work for change when it comes to racism or tribalism. If we want to effectively fight tribalism in South Sudan, then we need to fix the system, not the people.

The reason why it is better to fix the system and not the people is that power does change hands. No one tribe in South Sudan is going to always be in power. So if you fix one tribe today, then tomorrow South Sudanese will elect another competent person from another tribe that might have been the arch critic of the tribe that was in power yesterday. So what all the other tribes, including the one who was in power yesterday, will do is to turn and demonize the tribe that now has its member in the highest office in the nation. So the nation becomes the nation of those who know how to blame tribes but do not know how to solve problems.

Some people might think that there is one bad tribe as we always read on the website where some fellow citizens do not even have shame to declare their tribes spotless, non-corrupt, and even non-tribalists, not knowing that not all their readers were born yesterday. Sometimes, I laugh wholeheartedly when I read these comments. There is no way one cannot be amused to read such comments. Some even appear to know what they are talking about today because their tribe is not feeling what other people from other tribes are feeling. Then tomorrow those same people become serious critics of what they condoned yesterday. For example, last year, some people wrote that the event of 1991, in which thousands of civilians in Bor area were massacred by those who were meant to protect them, was a blessing to South Sudan. This year when civilians from their tribes were killed in Malakal, they became the first to condemn the killing with all strong terms they had in their memory. This makes me wonder whether we are really in our real senses in South Sudan! I thought that informed people would have a stand when it comes to human rights in relation to what they perceive to be of national importance. If they believe in killing of innocent people so that the nation is blessed, then I expect them to be consistent. Those of us who believe that the killing of innocent people is bad even if they are on the enemy side would remain consistent forever. For accuracy’s sake, let me quote the whole paragraph that one of those who recently condemned the killing of civilians in Malakal supported the same thing not long time ago. This man wrote in support of the article on the topic that some of us had condemned.

“The clear message I want to send to those who might have been blinded by tribal sentiments and cheap propaganda against leaders who have greatly contributed or actually revolutionized our way forward as the people of Southern Sudan is that they should get realistic and honour these great leaders like Dr. Machar with utmost respect,” He wrote. “28th August 1991 Declaration should not be used for negative propaganda, but instead be remembered as a blessed birth day on which a clear path for the liberation and freedom of the people of Southern Sudan was set. The road to our freedom is still long and painful! We need to get united as one people with one objective that will lead us to our desired destiny. Propagating on the so-called Dinka Bor massacres with fabricated negative stories attributed to innocent and great leaders like Dr. Riek Machar will not help the cause the Dinka Bor want to achieve in Southern Sudan or in a united Sudan” (Sudan Tribune, Friday 4 July, 2008).

People who write like this about moral issues do not even fear to become the first to condemn what they support against other civilians. This makes you wonder whether there is a sweet innocent blood and the bitter one in their philosophy! If there are innocent civilians who are supposed to be killed so that the nation is blessed, then what criteria do they use to identify them?

The only reason behind this moral contradiction in our educated elites is propaganda. Some of us in South Sudan are more willing to destroy our fellow brothers and sisters than we are willing to protect them. Some of the people that called the killing of Bor civilians in 1991 “a blessing for South Sudan” did not only condemned the killing of innocent civilians in Malakal (which is a right thing to do), they went far to send selected photos of the innocent victims from one side of the conflict to foreigners so that they can turn them against the Dinka. When these foreigners tried to analyze the situation with objective eyes of the outsiders to the conflict, the Sudanese who initially extended their arms to involve the foreigners into the problems jumped onto the throats of the objective foreigners, accusing them of being the enemies of peace.

What I am trying to say in all this is that we are still far away from being objective in how we deal with issues in South Sudan. This tells us something about what we should do if we are to end tribalism in our country. There are many tribes in Sudan, 597 tribes, to be specific, that speak over 400 languages and dialects. These tribes have capable individuals who will be our presidents in the near future. Therefore, what we need to do is to fix the system instead of trying to fix tribes. Dr. Adwok Nyaba in his article that was published by South Sudan Nation recently argued convincingly that the problems that we have in South Sudan today are in the system, not with the people. The system, to me, is larger than one tribe, however much that tribe might be controlling the government.

My next article will deal with the importance of fixing the system in order to minimize tribalism in South Sudan.

The writer of this article is a Graduate Student at Abilene Christian University, Texas, USA, and a regular contributor to The New Sudan Vision. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.