The Moral Discrepancy between Traditional Ethical Values and Practice at the Higher Echelon of Political Power in South Sudan
BY: Tongun Lo Loyuong, FINLAND, AP/23/2013, SSN;
While we are at it, kindly allow me to clarify my views on the previous article that I subjectively and perhaps erroneously so, entitled “The Dinka Problem in South Sudan: Part I.” Three main points can be recapped and set straight from that discussion going forward in this piece, which from now on should be treated as an examination of the moral discrepancy between traditional ethical values and practice at the higher echelon of political power in South Sudan in relation to the issue of corruption.
As some have correctly pointed out in the previous discussion, discussing corruption in the Republic is a thorny issue, and may cause you your life. It is even more sensitive to try to come at it from below without offending anybody by reflecting on what I previously called “impunity from below.”
Thus, it was clear from some of the public uproar, verbal abuse and threats following the previous piece that engaging in such an exercise may be counterproductive at the time being. It may also promote disunity rather than foster the desperately needed unity among our people and collective South Sudanese stance against the corruption venality in South Sudan—the very purpose for which we labor in putting our views together in writing.
Since there was plenty of misunderstandings, it is important to be on the same page regarding the main points articulated, and the morale of the previous exercise. The central argument I attempted to present as objectively as possible on that occasion, is that the carnal corruption is eroding the social fabric of our people, and impeding development and progress in our costly and hard-won Republic.
This is in part because of greed of our political leadership exacerbated by what I called “impunity from above,” and in part due to the need of our people who have been condemned to perpetual deprivation as a result of intractable civil wars.
Because of being subjected to deep and sustained impoverishment during the wartime, and even in the era of the CPA peace agreement, including after the independence of South Sudan, our people have albeit unwittingly, found it difficult to resist being lured into participating in corruption and hence indirectly providing impunity from below.
This impunity from below in turn further contributes to social disharmony and the polarization of our people across ethnicities.
But in light of the negative public reaction of some of our brothers, perhaps it is now best to dismiss impunity from below as a morally justified practice or a byproduct of an existential struggle to survive due to persistent marginalization and destitution of our people by the governments of the day, including both northern governments and their counterpart in the South.
Secondly, on the previous occasion I argued that the oil shut down and the subsequent “Kostirity measures, ”though biting hard on the poor, was nonetheless, a lesser evil and came to rescue and mitigate the greater evil of our continued social decay and ethnic multi-polarity, which is proving to be destructive to our nation building aspirations and efforts.
Moreover, due to the austerity measures I contended, the eyes of our people were opened as voices of acknowledgment of mis-governance and corruption that rose above tribal commitments and that would have otherwise been vulnerable to being quieted through petrodollar hush money as a result of the perpetual state of need of our people, became louder and clearer.
And thirdly, I maintained that the prophetic voices of dissent against wanton corruption and political malpractices, however increasing and deafening in recent months, will remain scant and ineffectual, as long as they are not bolstered by a collective effort and official public statement that assesses the performance of the government, and outlines a collective vision on the way forward to build a peaceful, just, equal and prosperous united nation called South Sudan.
While I may have regrettably failed to clarify why I examined this thorny corruption issue from a Dinka perspective, the underlying assumption was that, as an elder son of several younger siblings myself, in the absence of my father, I have had to assume the responsibility to lead my younger brothers and sisters by example, in order for them to develop into becoming healthy and contributing members of the society. If I fail, they will also fail or so my South Sudanese traditional culture tells me.
Thus, using this cultural metaphor where the older son assumes responsibility of the family in tandem with the fact that the Jieng community constitutes the largest tribe, and therefore, representing the elder sibling that also dominates the current government, I saw it fit to encourage our Jieng brothers to lead by example in addressing how corruption has been handled, to ensure the country does not fall apart.
South Sudanese have bitterly complained about power abuse and excessive constitutional powers wielded by the President. But monjang, and all South Sudanese are the true constitutional power holders in the Republic. Without the Jieng’s support, and our collective social contract to be law abiding citizens those constitutional powers held by the President, are null and void.
After all, the law is made for the people, not people for the law. In this context, South Sudanese collectively have the constitutional power and moral responsibility to inform the President on our vision for a peaceful united South Sudan that is not wracked by corruption. We also have the moral duty to kindly urge the President to grab this corruption disease by the horns and wrestle it to the ground.
Alas, I must stop “rumbling too much,” as our elder brother, Chief Abiko would wisely advice. Bottom line is that due to the three points outlined above, the rest of this exercise employs Dinka cultural lens to try and understand the seeming discrepancy between Dinka cultural moral ideals and practice in the Jieng’s majority led government of South Sudan.
In this regard, I am aware and take on board the constructive reservations that have been expressed about the “sensational” usage of the title “the Dinka Problem in South Sudan” in this sequence of reflections, and hence the change of the title here.
In fact in anticipation of such reservations, I attempted to use the subjective proposition “in” as in “the Dinka Problem (in) South Sudan,” to imply the problem exists as subjectively seen by me from a Jieng’s cultural perspective, rather than using the objective proposition “of” as in “Dinka Problem (of) South Sudan,” which may mean the Dinka are objectively being condemned as the Problem of South Sudan, which is far from it.
In the end these are my views and my views alone, which may perhaps make more sense to me than to others. If this is the case, kindly disregard this exercise, without the need for verbal abuse or posing threats. I stand responsible for my opinion pieces—that I know.
Now, picking up from where we left off we will attempt to answer the question of how does the government’s ineptitude to remove the impunity from above from the corrupt officials not only risks eroding the well-being of South Sudan, but also defies and contradicts the cultural moral existence and practice of our people?
This is examined here by looking at some of the core cultural moral values, or Jieng’s cultural moral discourse on issues such as greed, justice and wholeness of the society.
Without further ado, unpacking Jieng’s cultural stance vis-à-vis greed yields intriguing results. As a result, the Jieng culture like most South Sudanese cultures is one that can be summed up as a morally driven culture that is abhorrent to greed, and therefore, corruption and the impunity from above that condones the practice of such vice within the higher echelon of political power in South Sudan.
Looking at Dinka worldview and cosmology that defines the Jieng culture, for example, it is readily apparent that there is not only zero-tolerance of greed and corruption, but also that it was precisely because of human greed that the Jieng society conceptualizes and articulates our current human condition, and the reasons for our demotion to endless suffering by God the Creator (Nhialic Aciek), from our previous primordial state of bliss.
According to one of the most popular Dinka mythologies, which is reminiscent of the Genesis account of the fall of man in the Hebrew Bible, the current human condition was precipitated by greed of our ancestors — whose names were Garang and Abuk.
Before the world was “spoilt,” the account enumerates that the earth and the sky were not far removed from each other as is currently evident. Rather, Garang and Abuk, the first man and woman residing on earth, could with limited effort climb their way up to the sky—also known as nhialic by means of a rope that connected both spheres.
God provided Garang and Abuk with one grain of millet for their daily subsistence, and prohibited them from carrying out any effort to provide for themselves. However, because of Abuk’s greed (and Garang’s complicity too), she disobeyed God by cultivating more grain for consumption.
As she raised her hoe to cultivate the ground, Abuk ended up striking God, which prompted God to retire far beyond human reach, expanding the gap between the earth and the sky in the process. God sent a bird to sever the rope that linked the earth and the sky, thus alienating Garang and Abuk and their subsequent offspring from God.
Along with this separation, God told Garang and Abuk that they are on their own now. Consequently, hunger, disease and death became the fate of humanity, as the world became spoilt.
This rich Dinka mythology, which recounts the origin of humanity’s separation from God, highlights how divine-Dinka relationship was originally harmonious and peaceful, characterized by the Dinka’s relative accessibility to the divine abode in the sky. God provided for the daily needs of Garang and Abuk, albeit with the condition that they should rely entirely on divine providence.
However, greed meant that divine-Dinka relations deteriorated as God and the sky withdrew at a distance, while hunger, violence, disease, and death became a commonplace. Can you see the similarity in the current practices of our government owners?
Understood this way, greed in Dinka culture is a repellent vice that raptures harmonious divine-human relations as well as social relations, and is therefore strongly discouraged. Why are some of our people now indulge in greed and corruption—practices that are alien to our traditional cultural beliefs and moral practice with impunity from above?
Why have these values been rendered a thing of the past, and when we try to remind ourselves about staying faithful to our cultural values, we are accused of perpetuating tribalism and inciting disharmony in the community?
To restore sound divine-human relations and social harmony, Dinka religion was introduced to function as the bridge between the spiritual and corporeal. Spiritual leaders perform ceremonies and rituals of reconciliation between God and human beings as well as between human beings themselves centered on cattle transactions.
Perhaps, this also explains the unique affiliation with cattle-herding in Dinka culture. In Dinka religion, cattle are offered as sacrifices to appease Nhialic, as well as the spirits of the ancestors believed to be involved in our daily activities, and can invoke curse or bestow abundant blessings depending on our moral display, including in relation to greed and corruption.
These spirits are collectively referred to as yeeth. As the prominent Dinka expert, Godfrey Lienhardt, in his book “Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka,” aptly noted: “relationships between human beings and the divine are regulated by the transfer of cattle in dedication and sacrifice, as conflicts between different human groups are resolved by the simple transfer of cattle from the offending to the offended group.”
In short, greed and corruption is abhorrent in Dinka world view and religion, and therefore, those who practice this vice with impunity are not worthy to be seen as members of our traditional societies. This is particularly true of our current political leadership, who in their greed and corruption practices, have become a tribe unto themselves.
I will examine the remaining part of this discussion by reflecting on how the Dinka culture treats the concept of social justice, and the wholeness of the society in the last part of this sequence of opinion pieces due in the foreseeable future.
The discrepancy between our traditional ethical values and practice at the higher echelon of political power in South Sudan in relation to the issue of corruption will be examined in our next piece, more specifically as reflected in Dinka social organization, folktales, and songs, and also in terms of what is expected of a leader, political as well as spiritual. Stay tuned.
I am just a concerned South Sudanese, and happy to entertain questions and concerns at: firstname.lastname@example.org