South Sudan: The need to eradicate tribal politics & dictatorship

By: James Gatdet Dak, SPLM/A-IO, JAN/18/2015, SSN;

Oxford dictionary defines tribalism as a behavior or attitude which is based on being loyal to a tribe or other social group; or the state of being organized into tribe or tribes.
By that social definition allow me to add that tribal politics is about the identity of a given group or tribe that is based on common ethnic identity or cultural factors that are used to induce the group into a functioning political unit subtly or in a dynamic pattern.

A tribal grouping although based on a defined or understood interest may have some disagreements on how to express a common purpose but will, likely, ultimately rally behind that common purpose.

Formations of groups or tribes for mere social reasons have some advantages, such as clear communication and the establishment of traditions that are expected to be observed for tranquility and social development.

However, tribal politics always has bold negative side as it creates a barrier between the various other tribes that make up a given societal political constituency in a given country.

The consequence of this is that ascending to or maintaining political power in many instances becomes less about presenting attractive ideas such as visions, principles, policies and programs that are for the welfare of the collective all, but rather about manipulating tribal political alliance.

Groups and individuals therefore concentrate on struggle for influence, position and money, and in most cases play along without concerns about the consequences for cohesiveness and national development, which is being ignored and eroded.

This phenomenon also carries the danger that societies may become oligarchies by default, as an outgrowth of the shifting alliances of tribal leaders.

Thus, groups or individuals with a strong sense of tribal unity and identity can benefit from kin selection behavior such as common property and shared resources.

The tendency of these tribal members to unite against an outside tribe and the ability to act violently and prejudicially against that outside tribe is in this situation likely seen to be boosting the chances of survival in prolonging the reaping of the fruits of that unity of tribal purpose.

South Sudan Crisis
In the light of the above description one may confidently say the ongoing crisis in South Sudan emanated mainly from the curse of tribal politics.

A group of tribally motivated elites, which became desperate to scapegoat and avoid genuine national issues, unfortunately bent on entrenching dictatorship in order to dominate political power and control the country’s resources at the expense of the rest in the country?

Prior to the 15 December 2013 violence, cues were clearly written on the wall.
This group led by the president of the Republic, chairman of the ruling Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) and commander-in-chief of the organized forces – in government – was driving at it.

General Salva Kiir, in a seemingly mindset which combined tribalism and dictatorship, perfectly concluded his plan by first dismissing reformist leaders from his government and further dismantling organs of the ruling party.

In that he unconstitutionally dissolved the SPLM structures including the Political Bureau (PB) and the National Liberation Council (NLC).

He strangely further declared that only his office survived that unconstitutional undertaking and that the secretariat should single-handedly report to him. All these he did as the party’s national convention was to be conducted.

Coincidentally or by design, his action was more or less a replica of what he previously accused our late chairman of 10 years ago with these remarks.

“The Chairman killed the national Executive Council (NEC) by creating the leadership Council. But there is no provision in the Convention for a ‘Leadership Council’. Does he want to revive the Political Military High Command? The Leadership Council creates a situation where all are directly reporting to the Chairman – including SPLM County Secretaries. When I mentioned these facts, they should not be construed to be my personal or family problems. Those around the Chairman don’t tell him the opinion of the public. The Chairman is everything, from a finance officer to one at the lowest level,” Salva Kiir Mayardit, from the minutes of Rumbek meeting in November 2004 while reconciling with the late chairman, Dr John Garang de Mabior.

As if he was not the same leader who later on became president and administered tribalism as a silent criteria for selections in employments to public and civil service jobs, in which more than 90% of the civil servants at the ministry of finance, for example, came from one tribe; and as if 90% of the culprits and beneficiaries of the infamous Dura Saga were not from his home region, he further accused the late chairman.

“…Corruption, as a result of the lack of structures, has created a lack of accountability which has reached a proportion that will be difficult to eradicate….,” also from the Rumbek meeting.

General Kiir in that meeting also clearly showed that his primary interest and obligation as a leader was to first and foremost look after the welfare of his tribesmen or region when he stunned the same meeting with this anti-nationalistic statement.

“I assure you that the allegation that I am against peace is not true. I am really for peace so that the International Community could rescue our suffering people. People of Bahr El Ghazal have suffered too much from repeated famine and from the Arab militias – and for these reasons I am the first to embrace peace to relief them from suffering,” Salva Kiir.

When in 2013 he felt that he was losing popularity in the Political Bureau as colleagues declared intention to constitutionally contest for his chair, General Kiir went to his home region and uttered tribal remarks in which he asked his kinsmen whether or not they would allow “their leadership to be taken away.”

The answer was a big NO followed by an assurance that the homeboys would defend “their” leadership with bloody iron fist.

From that moment he relentlessly continued to play up threats against the Nuer community from which a leading reformist and challenger, Dr Riek Machar, hails.

Immediate recruitment of tribal private militias was then entrusted to the then governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, Paul Malong Awan.

The recruitments ensued in the president’s regional states of Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal without the knowledge and consent of the then army’s Chief of General Staff, General James Hoth Mai.

This is the private militia group which teamed up with the presidential guards and carried out the targeted massacre of Nuer unarmed civilians in the capital, Juba.

General Awan was later on given the new task as army chief in recognition of his role in the recruitments of the tribal militia group and the subsequent massacre.

Thousands of the Nuer civilians butchered inside their houses and in the streets of Juba for many days knew nothing or had nothing to do with the political debates in the SPLM.

They were simply targeted due to sharing ethnicity with the leader who happened to come from their tribe.

I want to reiterate by underlining that before the 15 December crisis, reformist leaders were much concerned about the prevailing state of tribalism, insecurity, corruption, stagnant economy, poor foreign relations and lack of vision and direction in the ruling party.

The leaders were also from different ethnic groups, of whom members from the Dinka tribe were the majority.

However, the ongoing challenge to democracy in South Sudan is not the prevalence of ethnic diversity, but the use of tribal politics to promote narrow tribal interests. This is tribalism.

This is a worrying trend given its obvious negative consequences. The 15 December tribally motivated violence by Salva Kiir and his accomplices revealed the extent to which tribal forces could deny freedom, democracy and development and quickly plunge the country into civil war.

The regime would argue that their blood tainted administration recognizes inclusivity in ethnicity. But this is just a coated cover on a bitter pill.

It is crystal clear that elite leaders in Juba have exploited tribal loyalty, coupled with the treason of surrendering the country’s partial sovereignty to foreign agents to advance personal gains.

These unsecure leaders also engage in patronage to these foreign agents and continue to dwell on parochial interests at the expense of the suffering masses.

In essence, tribal chauvinism and practices have occupied a vacuum created by lack of strong democratic institutions in the country.

South Sudan needs peace and introduction of various reforms including political reforms under an able leadership so as to build genuine democratic institutions and viable political parties that compete on the basis of ideas, not tribal groupings, as foundations for political platforms and competitions.

There should also be concerted efforts to organize and step up civic education among the populace as well as create a common identity for South Sudanese with the aim to discourage tribalism and dictatorship and instill nationalism and democratic values in the minds of the people.

We should not allow the gains of the decades of our collective struggle for freedom, democracy, justice, equality and prosperity, etc to be swept under the carpet by these unremorseful elite leaders in Juba.

We should be one people, free, secure, equal, prosperous and happy.
The struggle continues…and may God bless South Sudan!

The author is a Spokesperson in the Office of the Chairman, SPLM/SPLA. The opinionated contents in the article are however his personal views. He can be reached at


  1. False Millionaire says:

    Mr James:
    I thank you most profoundly for the opportunity of letting me know something about you.It’s good to see you being sincere n I appreciate to understand that,your fight among the SPLM-IO comrades is the continuation of the power struggle within the SPLM/A elites that led to the tragic events of 15 December 2013 n the civil war that has followed.Is this for general interest of our country n the masses is an open question every one of us has the chance to think about to answer.

    It’s most interesting that you denounce acts of tribalism in our society.You will find many people including myself in total agreement with you.But this position has been gravely compromised as you have written about the brutal death of nuer innocent citizens in the hands of pro Kiir’s malitia but forgotten to account for the innocent dinka citizens murdered coldly by the nuer forces in Bor,Akobo,Malakal,Nasir,Bentiu n through out the marshlands in Upper Nile.I don’t doubt your great vision of things.But any reconciliation among ordinary citizens like dinkas n nuers may never be possible if leaders like you refuse to assume an acceptable middle ground.I hope you would have the courage to work hard to achieve it.I believe that’s the only way out.The sooner,the better.Good luck!!!

    • Bol Akuol. says:

      False Millionaire:

      You are a true, caring son of South Sudan. You have said it all Brother/Sister and therefore I would not add anything to spoil your good statement to Mr. Dak. All I can tell you is that Mr.James Gatdet Dak is the same as Gatcharwearbol and he is a blood Brother of Paul Dak whom is known here as Bentiu Ramaran. Mr. James Gatdet Dak and Dr. Riek Machar were part of the corrupt regime of Juba until they were fired by Kiirdit Mayardit. So What kind of a political leadership are they fighting to bring to the people of South Sudan since they are themselves corrupted? What kind of leadership did they show when they captured Bor, Bentiu, Malakal etc? Oh my God! Whom are they trying to fool here on this forum. Mr. James Gatdet Dak, Please let me tell you this, you and Riek Machar will never set your bloody mouth and feet again in the presidential Palace of South Sudan whether by Bullets or Ballots. PERIOD!

    • False Millionaire,

      I know you have been a supporter of Nuer massacre for a long time, but remember that Killing did not start in Bor, Bentiu, and Makal. All the killings that are happening every where in Upper Nile are packages of Juba massacre that has been successfully carried out in your favor. And bear in mind that everyone life is important. As I have been monitoring your bias comments against Nuer in Support of Dinka, I came to realization that Nuer lives are not important as Dinka ‘s lives to you. However, for us we Nuer we believe that our lives are important as anyone else life.

  2. jok lual says:

    i know very well that Nuer in Oxford universty and Nuer in the village are no differnt

    • info@southsudannation says:

      Mr. Jok Lual,
      That’s really preposterous. Nuers or any South Sudanese at Oxford is automatically presumed educated regardless of your biased perception of the Nuer people.

  3. Don M. says:

    This article by my brother James Gatdet raise a lot of interesting questions, I think brother James mentioned good things about the caused of this current conflict. However, I disagreed with him in number of points in regards to the way he had defined tribalism and the way to addressed it. Because, himself being DR. Macher right hand man make no sense at all for him to tell us anything positive because DR. was the first one who started tribalism. All I can tell my brother Dak is to advise his boss to acknowledge his part being equally to Kiir when it come to the use of Tribal Ideology. Making Riak as good guy and Kiir as bad guy will not solves this current problem, because both men and the rest of SPLM members are equally responsible for this crisis. Also, I wanted to reminded my Brothers in the Opposition moment that, any attempted to alienated Dinka in the name of removing Kiir will never works because result are going to be worse then Post Saddam and central Africa Republic, because we already seen what happens after the collapse of the government there in those countries. In Iraq for example, when Saddam was removed, what ended happening? there is ISIS, in Central Africa, there you have Anti-Balaka, so for my borther, JAMES DAK, this is message to them should they succeeds on taking power by force. Anyways, I do respect brother Dak personal opinion, but he should not be pretending like not part of it. Also, My second Question to James Dak is,if they were truly fighting on the behave of All South Sudanese and the interests of the Nation, why they wanted to destroyed some important infrastructures,particularly the oil fields. After all, if you win, how are you going to run the government if the oil fields are damage and no longer operating?

  4. Kondokoro says:

    F milionair
    you are absolutly right a common ground is what bring peace among two groups who had hurt each other so badly that they want to drag the whole nation into it
    This war is not between Dinka and nuer but it fall on Dinka becuze of the president but this war was a war on all 63 tribes
    Riak was planing to rules all of us but see Dinka as an obstackle to reach that goal is just like how palestinians looked at US when they would had finish Israel but US stood on the way so .concerning Oxford University if you cant match your Degree with your character then you are not educated, because you still behave like those who are not educated, It had to find an educated Nuer who will give justice to Dinka accept Gordon Buay, so they cant give justice to an elephant how can they give justice to the whole south sudanese especially the small tribes
    according to South sudan Institute For Strategic Studies anlysis.

  5. you are really Nuer , you cannot distinguished between educated Nuer and ignorance. they don’t reason as human they behave like animals. you claim to define the tribalism but fail to same tribal circle mindset .you suppose to be honest with yourself and say the truth but unfortunately you fail. The Mathiang Anyor was mean for defending the border states of NBG, WBG, Warap. The word Mathiang or Jur Mathiang mean Arab in Dinka language .Mathiang Anyoor was formed after the battle of Helgig between SPLA and SAF even James Hoth know this .

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