Let’s fight tribalism together in South Sudan

Category: Commentary
Published on Tuesday, 27 January 2009 21:56
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(Juba, South Sudan) - The tribalism, which is creeping into the politics of South Sudan today will cause headaches for all well-meaning South Sudanese people [sooner or later]. As South Sudanese one would have thought that we have seen enough of what senseless engagement in tribal politics can do to our nation. Most of us are living witnesses to the carnage that went on in Rwanda and Somalia. These countries all fell into the abyss due to tribalism and ethnicism. I believe South Sudan is highly enlightened not to descend that low but our current behaviors show that things that happen in other countries can also happen in our country. Military coup which started in Togo and Congo spread through Africa like a tsunami. And that is why it is expedient that we safeguard our dear country against any attempt to inject tribalism into our infant democracy.

The question one is tempted to ask is what is tribalism? What are the reasons behind why some people feel so strong about the superiority of their tribes over others in South Sudan? Why do learned people who should know better also engage in this uncivilized tradition? It is the hope of the author of this article to examine these questions.

The dictionary defines tribalism (among other definitions) “as the exaltation of ones tribe above others.” In other words tribalism is the feeling that ones tribe is superior to some other tribes or all tribes. As a result the tribalists have a disdain and often disrespect for the tribes they think are inferior to theirs. Such people therefore discourage association in any form be it marriage, work or friendship with tribes they deem to be inferior. In most cases they have derogatory names for the tribes they deem to be inferior. In South Sudan almost every tribe has such names for other tribes. The reasons for tribalism and tribal discrimination may include the following:

The first reason is history. Many a tribalist traces the superiority of their tribes to history. They will recount how their forbears defeated the other tribes in a war or a series of wars. They will recount how their forebears enslaved the other tribes. Such people take pride in their history and no amount of persuasion can persuade them to see today’s reality. They believe that since their ancestors were "better" than the other tribes so also are they now. Linked to the above is indoctrination. In most homes children are taught to discriminate against people from tribes their parents feel are inferior. Such parents will continuously bombard their children with the virtues of their tribes and the vices of the so-called inferior or despised tribes. Some parents persistently warn their kids not to take friends from some tribes. Children who grow up with such training turn to be adult tribalists.

Another reason for tribalism is geographical location in relation to national resources and power. By this, I mean that tribes which are endowed with resources and jobs often tend to disrespect people from other tribes who come to seek work on their land. Similarly tribes which have the seat of power tend to think that they are better than the other tribes and sometimes look down upon them. The foregoing has been aggravated by politics. It is sad to say that most of our politicians either publicly or privately try to whip tribal sentiments for their own political purposes.

They try to concert stories that will infuriate one tribe or the other so that they may not vote for certain parties. Scavengers as they are, these corrupt politicians know that they have nothing better to offer when it comes to issues of national development so by playing the tribal card they are able to skip the issues at stake. They fail to recognize that their actions cause more harm to the very state they want to govern. Perhaps one will be able to forgive these politicians a little if one considers the fact those politicians are like vultures who feed on peoples vulnerabilities.

However, the innocent citizens of South Sudan cannot forgive journalists who engage in tribalism. It is the most worrying trend in politics of South Sudan today. The media, which is the objective fourth arm of government is supposed to be an objective observer of politicians and put them on their toes. The media is the ear of society and its work impacts greatly on the national psyche. The media's objective reportage of the news helps the electorate to know the going on in the government and the realms of politics. Therefore, it’s just so sad that some of our journalists have thrown good journalism to the dogs and have chosen to join the tribal bandwagon. It is a pity that our journalists have not learnt from Rwanda and other nations who went down the drain because of their engagement in senseless tribal journalism. There is no justification for a journalist to engage in tribalism and our journalists who have chosen that cause should bow their heads in shame and desist from the practice.

The negative effects of tribalism in South Sudan are not far fetched.
First of all tribalism breeds nepotism. Once people feel that their tribesmen are better than people from other tribes they tend to surround themselves with their tribesmen when get into positions of trust. The tribalists are willing to hire people from their tribe who may not otherwise be the best candidates for a given job. Such actions deprive the nation of the right people for the right job.

Secondly tribalism affects South Sudan national cohesion. To the tribalists their allegiance is first to their tribe before the nation. They do not see themselves as South Sudanese but as a member of tribe A or B. Therefore they do not look for ways that can benefit the whole nation but rather they look for ways that will strengthen their tribes at the expense of the nation. And this does not bode well for the nation. To some extent they try as much as possible to create hegemony when they have power or are put in a position of trust. Also petty tribal conflicts divert national attention and resources. The amount of money and personnel that are used to quell such chemises could have been used for other pressing and important needs. Above all tribalism can be a prelude to a struggle war.

How can we control the spread of tribalism? First of all, the GoSS Ministry of Information and civil society leaders should make fighting tribalism one of its major priorities and means to fight it. They can device radio and TV programmes that will let people see themselves as South Sudanese first. They can also device programmes that will tout our common identity and what brings us together as a people of one nation.

Secondly, our educators and policy makers should incorporate subjects that will teach our young ones the need to respect one another in the school curriculum since the seed of tribalism is sowed in the kids at very tender age; it’s equally important that our educational system cultivate a sense of oneness and nationhood in our kids. Our schools, colleges and universities should also discourage the formation of [dangerous] tribal based associations. These associations which are recipe for tribalism could give way to regional associations that embrace all people from the particular region. Our Kings, chiefs and traditional leaders should also be utilized to help fight the spread of tribalism.

Since our chiefs are the so-called custodians of our culture, the onus lies on them to teach their subjects about our common ancestry. They should try and eschew tribal pride a little and embrace other tribes in their functions and also encourage inter-tribal co-operations, marriages and associations.

On the individual level we should all do well to see people we meet and work as individuals and not as a microcosm of one’s tribe. The fact you met one uneducated tribe A does not mean all tribe A are uneducated. The fact that one tribe B stole a goat does not mean all tribe B are thieves. There are good and bad people in every race, tribe or family.

We owe it as a duty to leave a peaceful South Sudan to our children just as we inherited it. All the tribes in South Sudan have more things in common than things that divide us. I could not help but to recognize the importance of peaceful tribal co-existence. In the end we must all pray that our mother South Sudan will continue to be a safe and a secure haven for all. May GOD bless South Sudan and its people.

*The author is a GoSS employee Deputy Director for planning and Development, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, MCI. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.