The Disturbing Intolerance in South Sudanese Society at all Levels, including the “Top”

BY: Professor Nyantung Ahang Beny, USA, DEC/19/2012, SSN;

Earlier this month, we learned with great shock and sorrow of the wanton murder of Isaiah Abraham at his own home by unknown gunmen. While I did not know Isaiah Abraham personally, I had often seen his writings online and even read a few of them. While I did not always understand his position, or necessarily agree with it, he had every right to express himself in the way that he did. South Sudanese fought and won against the forces of oppression and brutality after a long and brutal struggle. And, it was freedom for which they fought. It was freedom that should have been Isaiah Abraham’s oasis and protector. Sadly, however, he faced just the opposite on the morning in early December 5, 2012 when he was viciously gunned down.

While it may be sheer coincidence that an outspoken writer and commentator was killed in such a cold-blooded and unanticipated manner at a place where in normal circumstances he should have felt the most safe, it is very unlikely to be mere coincidence. It is hard for me to avoid the conclusion that he was gunned down precisely because he was often critical of the political system and individuals within it in South Sudan.

Some of his commentaries were bold and abrasive to the ruling elite and even the political opposition. That being so, however, the freedom for which South Sudanese fought tirelessly, I thought, included the freedom to be critical and outspoken against the system. As I wrote elsewhere, if the powers that be (including oppositional elements) took (or take) issue with Isaiah Abraham’s or any other person’s writings the best approach would be to hold a public discussion regarding the contested issues, not resort to wanton violence.

Isaiah Abraham’s sad demise, rather than being sheer coincidence, is more likely a product of the systematic breakdown of the South Sudanese political system and social fabric, both at home and in the Diaspora.

Over the years, and especially after Independence in 2011, I have observed with horror a disturbing trend of intolerance, lies, deceit, anti-intellectualism, violence and deep misogyny or hatred of women (particularly educated and outspoken women like myself). Viewpoints that are outside of the so-called mainstream are frequently not dealt with on their own terms but rather the person holding those viewpoints is often subject to malicious verbal attacks, lies and even at times threats of physical violence.

I personally experienced these things in late August and early September 2012 when I expressed my opinion about a new “think tank” recently founded in South Sudan. This “think tank” is the Sudd Institute. In late August 2012, as I was doing my usual early morning reading of the Sudanese news online, I came across an article on insecurity and ethnic violence in South Sudan (http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article43742#forum196993).

Curious about this new organization and its membership, I searched online for information and was quite shocked, to say the least, to see that an organization that claims to be promoting inclusivity, anti-tribalism, and perhaps gender equality in the society was led by all Dinka men. Not a single woman was on their team at that point (perhaps they have changed since then but I have lost interest to follow them).

Therefore, as I often do, I decided to post a comment and wrote the following pithy opinion: “The Sudd Institute is shockingly run by a team of all Dinka men, while it purports to promote inclusivity in the society… I’d have expected a more diverse team on their website, in light of their theoretical claims.” I sent the same comment to the USIP’s email address and to a few of the founders of the new “think tank.”

I was expecting a well-considered reply. What I received, instead, was a barrage of jaw-dropping personal insults and even one thinly veiled physical threat if I did not “stop running your mouth,” which I duly reported to U.S. federal law enforcement authorities.

At no point did I receive the rational, well-considered reply befitting of a “think tank” receiving international funding and claiming to promote safe and open discourse in South Sudan. The two founders to whom I had directed my initial comment forwarded the comment to another founder who was at the time in charge. That founder responded in an arrogant, dismissive and nonchalant fashion with the curt remark: “I am sorry I do not see anything here that merits my response.”

I responded that this was an arrogant remark, and further that as a U.S. taxpayer (who partly funds USIP via government funds), I have every right to express shock and concern. I will spare the reader the rest of what followed. But suffice it to say that I was showered with a barrage of personal insults, including dragging my child and my marital status into the discussion. In short, their replies, and those of a number of their supporters were very disturbing.

In that exchange, I saw and experienced firsthand what South Sudanese writers and intellectuals are now experiencing – a culture of exclusion, intolerance, anti-intellectualism and even, sadly violence. In addition, as a woman, I painfully experienced firsthand the deep misogyny of South Sudanese culture and many of its men.

Rather than taking women on in debate as equals, many of these men feel that they have every right to besmirch a woman’s reputation to silence her and, if that does not work, to then set the forces of violence (or threatened violence) against her. I would expect such behavior in a retrogressive society, but not from so-called “enlightened” individuals who receive Western funding.

Most appalling perhaps was the silence and/or complicity of many of the online observers.

South Sudanese are by and large intolerant and tolerate intolerance and brutality against one another. So nobody should really be shocked about incidents such as the recent cold-blooded murder of Isaiah Abraham. It is, unfortunately, par for the course in the kind of society we are building and tacitly accepting.

I, for one, will not tolerate it and I will not be silenced as an educated woman whose late Father, Ahang Beny, raised me to participate courageously and freely in public discourse. So they may continue to spread their malicious lies about me but they will not stop me.

May Isaiah Abraham rest in God’s eternal peace and may the rest of us who are able to continue where he left off. I extend my deepest condolences to his family and children.

Nyantung Ahang Beny, United States, December 19, 2012

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Jienge says:

    Sorry, Prof. Nyantung, for going through all those dramas. I sometimes wonder about those who call themselves educated, and they don’t have a bit of civility in them! These people beg with our name, justice, equality… etc but once they get back to their cave(South Sudan) they turn into beasts. I think we as people need to organize ourselves and start campaigning against them. Otherwise they will always get away with whatever they want to do.

  2. South Mole says:

    Dear Dr. Beny, Sorry for your ordeal but it’s typical of (sorry to say) Dinka mentality that is tainting the tribe. We need people like you to speak up to make South Sudan a better place. Sadly, it is hard when one tribe tries to monopolize resource and to promote its narrow tribal agenda. However, as southerners, our weakness is that we’re always hopeful of a better future. Hopefully, together we can build a great country.

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