South Sudan: A country in need of a national identity

BY: Garang Achiek Ajak, Syracuse, New York, USA, FEB/24/2013, SSN;

I recently traveled to South Sudan and was appalled by the lack of unity among people of South Sudan. People of different ethnic tribes viewed each other as rivals, rather than countrymen, and blamed one another for the hardships they were experiencing. I was saddened that a national identity had not formed for the country. If anybody ask a resident what their national identity is, he would probably respond he didn’t know. At this, South Sudanese do not know who they are.

To me, this is troubling. For country like South Sudan that is just in its infancy as a sovereign state, a national identity is of utmost importance. An identity of community is needed for them to realize its objectives as a prosperous, peaceful and democratic country. The reality I witnessed, however, begged the question; who are the people of South Sudan?

It is my opinion that scholarly research and discussion should commence immediately across the country as they try to find an answer.

At this time in history there are no Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk or Bari people; there are only the individuals who live together in South Sudan. The lack of a national identity should be the calling card for unity and this should start with the elites in the government. A new paradigm for a national identity should be at the forefront of building South Sudanesism. Regardless of different tribe affiliation, upbringing, culture, and beliefs, all people of the nation are first and foremost a South Sudanese.

South Sudanesism must incorporate “interculturalism,” especially given the diverse nature of the populace. Interculturalism is defined as the way to recognize commonalities, reduce tensions and promote the formation of social partnerships among different cultural groups. South Sudan needs a public culture that would employ and encourage cultural diversity because that is what makes up the fabric of South Sudan. The diversity of South Sudan, in this sense, must be the strength and unity to tackle today’s pressing issues. This must be done together.

Interculturalism is critically important in forging the South Sudan Identity. It is inclusive and pluralistic in nature. We, individuals with ancestry in South Sudan, have endured too much struggle, pain, and division within the fight for liberation to turn on one another now. We should not let years of fighting for democracy go in vain. We have a country now and must carve out our identity, one that is build on liberty, cultural diversity, and democratic ideals.

State building is not an easy task. It requires the difficulties of redefinition and fostering an inclusive national consciousness. Although a challenging task, it is times like these where visionary and magnanimous leaders must step forward and take the center stage. It is their duty to unite the people on a common purpose.

South Sudanese leaders must make national reconciliation a national priority. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “the moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come… we must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation-building, for the birth of a new world.” These were words spoken as South Africa looked within to overcome apartheid and Mandela’s words relate to South Sudan today. Our leaders should replicate his wisdom and use it as a call for national unity among the people of South Sudan.

This is not a time to hold grudges against each other in our nation. During the liberation struggle, there were competing interests on how to better achieve Southern Sudan objectives, but that is in the past now. South Sudanese must begin on a new foot. All ethnic tribes must come together as one and forgive each other on past grievances for the sake of unity.

National unity must triumph over everything else. South Sudan does not belong to any particular tribe; it belongs to all of us. We must stand together, work hard together, build our schools together, build our hospitals together, build our infrastructure together, and become self sufficient in food production together. There is nothing we cannot achieve as a nation if we are united. Nepotism and corruption must be rooted out as evils from the past. They are the root of state failure of every nation in transition.

In a country like South Sudan that is very diverse, ethnic sectarianism must not have a place. We are one people who have endured too much struggle in pursuit of a just and democratic country. Everybody is equal in terms of rights, religious beliefs, different cultural upbringing, and the pursuit of happiness. These were the principles of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement during the great civil war that resulted in the very formation of our new great nation of South Sudan. These principles must be central to the rebuilding of South Sudan.

Garang Achiek Ajak is a South Sudanese residing in New York, U.S.A. “I am who I am because of who we are together.” He can be reached


  1. Kenyi Alex says:

    Garang Achiek,
    God Bless you for understanding the need for national identity and I quote;
    “South Sudan does not belong to any particular tribe; it belongs to all of us. We must stand together, work hard together, build our schools together, build our hospitals together, build our infrastructure together, and become self sufficient in food production together. There is nothing we cannot achieve as a nation if we are united. Nepotism and corruption must be rooted out as evils from the past.”
    If going outside South Sudan means openness and maturity of mind, I can not hesitate to approve One million SSP to take all backward South Sudanese outside to understand and come back as good citizens of 21st Century, a precondition to take this Country ahead.
    However, some tribes pride themselves with being the majority, liberators, born to rule,…..if this arrogance is not replaced with what you have said above, then the identity you are talking about is not attainable for now.

  2. Nyikwec Pakwan says:

    Dear brother Garang Achiek Ajak,
    thank you for your well written article. Indeed, you are one of the few sons and daughters of this Country (South Sudan) who can see well the ethnic sectarianism and equality in terms of rights, religious beliefs, different cultural upbringing.
    Please, keep up and post your opinion, it will one time change the current situation.

  3. Dan says:

    I fully agree with your article, I think it’s sad and indeed troubling that we have these tribal issues that is increasingly growing in the country and i am sad to say that it will all result in tragedy if it isn’t already. However, it’s simple debates like this that can stop these types of issues, we need to stand together and realise who we are, where we’ve come from and what we aim to achieve before we could even call ourselves a nation.
    I for one do not have any confidence that the current government is capable of setting this wheel in motion so that means it’s you and me that can make a difference, brother.

  4. Gatluak says:

    Garang Achiek Ajak,
    Your call for a national unity is significantly important for the thriving and the development of South Sudan. The perceived division is a result of mistrust and lack of understanding for our common cause. South Sudanese are good people with incredible sympathies and love for each other if indeed they see ends from the beginnings. Lacks of resources and failing of creating infrastructural developments in addition to creation of micro-enterprises and entrepreneurial businesses to engage rural folks in to modern lives fuel disunity for extra miles.

    What I think we and govenment could do is to develop programs that allow people to move beyond their tribal arenas and merge them with people from different tribes in efforts to develop common financial benefits as well as trusts and understandings; otherwise, our people will already see themselves from tribal lens for years which will make it harder to achieve a united nation.

    I though you did a fine job!

    Thanks again,


  5. Danide says:

    Hello countrymen!
    Many thanks to the author of this article. This is how we can lift this nation forward. While we talk against division, nepotism, tribalism and all these …..isms that are trying to tear our fledgling unity apart, we need to take absolute care to do so without promoting them in a way. I say so because most of the contributors in this website contradict themselves in this fight, for they sometimes talk against these vices and tomorrow comment horrible pieces that promote them. Let’s fight on and we are sure we will win the fight together.

  6. Aj says:

    you will be the only dinka i 100% agree to your views. If most dinkas reason like you, man, we would have no corrupted government as it has happened now. Your reasoning is very open hearted. God bless you man and fight for that spirit. If all Dinkas reason like you tension and tribalism will be no issues.

    Brother, I was in Juba too last year and i personally don’t see what’s south Sundanese identity. I was called in Intra africa wewe. Government need to put forward education system to inform our people of who we are. We are a very diverse nation and multiculturalism needs to be recognized to reflect our identity.

    But I have for long thought that we have weak president and possible incompetence of president. We need someone who is not tribalist and basically dedicated his life to future of the nation just like Mzee Nyerere. At the same time may be Kirr is good person but he get held by bureaucrats of his tribes. He may be a good man but just got messed up by bad people who’re surrounding him.

    People like Dan and Dinka land are people who we don’t need to harbor their personal feelings for they can fuel the nation into another war against each other. I have noticed how they utter or write their rationale such as wiping others out of the map.


  7. Dan says:

    It’s nice to see that we all share the same sentiment that has been brought before us by Garang Achiek Ajak and it’s encouraging that so many of us here on the post are having a constructive look at the situation, I believe this is how CHANGE begins. Gatluak, you offer a fantastic narrative on where things need to start, good insight.

  8. Chief Abiko! says:

    Dear Mr.Garang Achiek:
    National identty is not a big problem for the disunity in the country! The problem is on bad politics on government. If there are corruption, partiality, nepotism, tribal bigotry and many more, it will bring animosities to people from backgrounds especially whose leaders are working in the government.

    According to what you said, they are very true to capture in minds the same time! Again, bear in mind people need talking from time to time so that they can be able to understand themselves accordingly in the tribes! Thank you.Take care! We will be continuing to educate our people from the grassroots up overground on earth!

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