Monday, March 6, 2023

Ethnic Violence in South Sudan: Jieeng vs. Ethnic Groups in the Equatorias

By Kuir ë Garang 

 Transcript (Edited): 

The problem of ethnic divisions and ethnic feuds in South Sudan, and Africa generally, is something that has been studied a lot by Scholars whether they are African scholars or they are Western Scholars, the so-called Africanists. It's been studied.

And the mistake that many scholars tend to make is that the presence of different ethnic groups that have not been homogenized to build a nation is the problem. So, the presence of different ethnic groups with different languages and different cultures is the problem.

Scholars like Walter Rodney and Francis Mading Deng have [however] argued that the presence of different ethnic groups within a country, whether you're talking about Ethiopia or talking about Nigeria or talking about South Sudan or Kenya, the problem is lack of state infrastructure that can be used to ensure that state resources are distributed in a way that does not leave other ethnic groups with grievances. And also have in place state infrastructure that can resolve problems when they arise.

In South Sudan we have major ethnic groups like the Nuer and then the Jieeng who tend to dominate because of the numbers. That tends to make smaller ethnic groups wary of domination.

So, if there's no any state infrastructure put in place so that smaller tribes are taken care of or their grievances are addressed in a way that makes them comfortable, then there will always be problems. So it's a failure of the state, by the state, to put in place ways in which problems that arise can be resolved, then you will always have problems.

The problem within South Sudan is not that the tribes hate one another. The problem is that differences are politicized.

I lived in South Sudan. I lived among the Nuer; I lived among different ethnic groups, and I've seen their kindness. I've seen that the problem is not the people themselves. The problem is the social condition and the political setup they find themselves in.

So, what is happening between Jieeng and the local tribes in Equatoria now is the politicization of difference. It's also the problem of resources, the problem with spaces where people are saying “this is our ancestral land” and they feel they're not being listened to. They feel their source of livelihood is being destroyed.

So that tends to make people enter into a survivalist state. And when you push people into a survivalist mode, what they do, whatever they do when they kill people or they, you know, try to chase away people they feel like they're trying to protect their livelihoods. So they don't see any problem in what they're doing. They see it as protective.

Unless the state comes in to sort of intervene in a way that is fair, a way that satisfies whoever has grievances. That's the main problem.

The Jieeng people are in Equatoria not because they want to dominate. They are in the Equatorias because where they were born, their ancestral lands, are not safe. But then there's no, as I said, there's no sort of social infrastructure, political infrastructure, economic structure that has been put in place to ensure that the Jieeng who leave their own places and go to the Equatories live with the local people in a way that is respectful of the land, respectful of local people and then respectful of the local people's economies.

That is not being done. And it has reached a point now where it's almost impossible to resolve. But I don't think anything is impossible to resolve. But the government is not strategizing in a way that can resolve this problem.

But the problem in South Sudan now is not ethnic differences. It's the failure of the state to put in place ways to make sure that grievances are addressed. If nothing is done and the same sentiments we have now continue, then it's going to create a situation where people will be insecure.

If you travel for example now from Juba to the town of Bor, or from Juba to Yei, or from Juba to Nimule, you're most likely going to be shot at. People are afraid.

But one of the things I want to advise South Sudanese is: It's easy, and it's different, sometimes it's actually satisfying, to say something when you are offended or you feel your people are being oppressed to say something, to say whatever you want to say.

But here's what I beg from you. When you make another ethnic group unsafe then you make your own group unsafe. You cannot say "you know what I'm going to kill these people and then I'm going to sleep soundly and comfortably and safe." No, you can't.

So, the only way to resolve, the only way for you to sleep safely, is to make sure that other ethnic groups do not have negative attitudes towards you. That's the only way.

But the moment you say you want to go and fight or go and attack other tribes, what will they do? They'll still come and attack you. And [it] becomes counter, you know, attacks and counter-attacks and the people become unsafe. That's not going to help anyone.

But sometimes it makes us feel good to stop to sort of say things against the people who feel have hurt us. We say whatever we want to say. But then it comes back to us.


Kuir ë Garang is the editor of the TPR. 

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