“Tribalism will bury us if we don’t bury it”

By: Morris Kuol Yoll, ALBERTA, Canada, FEB/19/2015, SSN;

“Tribalism will bury us if we don’t bury it,” Vice President James Wani Igga asserted in his speech to South Sudan community gathering in Alberta-Canada during his visitation in 2012. By then, Mr. James Wani Igga was a speaker of South Sudan National Assembly, the third man in South Sudan’s “who’s who” in power series.

Mr. Igga visited Canada when South Sudan was in relative peace and the SPLM party, as well, united; yet he pronounced this statement. What did he know then?

Mr. Igga was a Speaker of National Assembly when uncontrolled corruption was at its peak; when anti-corruption committee could not execute corruption charges; when even those arrested on corruption charges were forcefully freed from jail by community members; when the President finally released a letter asking those who misappropriated public fund to silently return embezzled money with impunity; when some of government ministries were literally run by one tribe, from Minster to the office cleaner; when various tribal militias, like white army and Yaya’s Cobra rebels, were terrorizing villages; and when armed cattle raids were frequently conducted in broad daylight in many parts of South Sudan.

Mr. Igga toured North America and met South Sudanese in Diaspora knowing that he was a Speaker of a wild South Sudan National Assembly, a country that requires tremendous efforts to fix it or else the hell could inevitably break loose in the country in which case we all, in its aftermath, be buried in ruins of our rampage, beneath ashes of tribalism’s destruction.

Tribalism in many Africans countries is a problem, a political endemic, that squanders efforts in nation building, development, democracy, human resources, and peaceful coexistence of citizens of one country.

Mr. Igga stressed tribalism in our country; because it has caused ethnic divide, bad governance, racial hatred, violence, rebellion, nepotism, corruption, and could formidably result into collapse of our country if not tackle head on.

According to Wikipedia, “tribalism is a state of being organized, or advocating for a tribe or tribes.” In conventionality, it is a belief or actions in which one is more committed to his tribe than to his/her country, friends or other communities, (Wikipedia). This is true in South Sudan today.

Tribes are politically organized to advocate for tribal cause, interest and for tribal defense. The legacy of tribal loyalty could be attributed, in many aspects, to various Sudanese regimes that instigated regional and tribal politics, and as well, invented tribal militias during last civil war in the Sudan.

Before and equally during civil war in the Sudan, various Sudanese regimes in Khartoum encouraged both regional and tribal politics in Southern Sudan as another mechanism of weakening Southern Sudanese’s solidarity and also as an organized counterinsurgency method of fighting rebellion in Southern Sudan.

In this regard, northern Sudanese political leaders created and cosponsored divisions of southern Sudanese in 70s & 80s. Both Sadiq al-Mahdi and Neimeiri coined and deployed the idea of protecting non-Dinka minority from Dinka majority domination to weaken Southern Sudanese’s Nationalism.

Out of this policy, came out decentralization of Southern Sudan, later imposed by decree in 1982 by President Nimeiri. With decentralization in 80s developed strong anti-Nolitic feelings in Equatoria. Finally, ethnic divide, hatred and fighting between pro-re-division (Equatorians) and anti-re-division (Dinkas) resulted.

Hence, part of 70s & 80s slithered into infamous regional and kokora divide in which Southern Sudanese fought themselves on ethnic lines. It followed that, in 1983, President Nimeiri decreed September’s laws that abrogated Addis Ababa’s agreement which triggered second rebellion in which the SPLA/M was born.

Subsequently, Nimeiri and various governments of the Sudan after him initiated formation of armed tribal militias against the SPLA/M, and as well as against tribes, in Southern Sudan, accused of supporting the SPLA/M rebels fighting Sudanese regime at the time.

Shortly after the SPLA came to existence, the Sudanese regime and their allies, at the time, portrayed SPLA/M as a “Dinka movement” to prevent other tribes from joining it and on the same time accomplish formation of anti-SPLA/M militias on tribal line as counter-insurgency forces fighting alongside Sudanese Military.

After Bor’s Mutiny, Sudanese forces attack on Bor was backed by anti-SPLA Equatorian politicians and militia forces. At this juncture as well, the anti-Nolitics sentiments and harassments of mostly Dinkas and Nuers intensified in Equatoria. After Bor assault by the Sudanese regime, combinations of Toposa’s militiamen and policemen raided Bor areas in the aftermath of government attack. Dinkas of Bor organized defense force and repulsed the raid in which both cattle were looted and people, including women & children, were also targeted. The present of uniform Toposa’s policemen, found dead after the attack, led to suspicion of Equatoria region and the Sudanese political backing of Toposa militia raids of Bor villages.

Another militia formed in Equatoria against the SPLA was Mundari tribal militia. During Kokora campaigns, Mundari clashed with Dinka Bor in Juba. In the end, Mundari sustained death casualties and to their disappointment, they were not joined or help by the rest of Equatorians that encouraged Mundari initially. In event of Bor’s Mutiny and formation of the SPLA, some of the Mundari were persuaded by the Sudanese regime to form their militia against the SPLA and Dinka Bor. As pastoralist with grazing land dispute with Dinka Bor, Mundari militia was fascinated by the government’s campaign against Dinkas and joined the stratagem of war.

In Bahr El-Gazal region, the government of Sudan rallied Fartit tribes of Western Bahr El-Gazal to form militia against Dinka and Jurchol tribes. Hence by 1986, militia predominately Fartit tribes was formed in Wau, Bahr El-Gazal with government of the Sudan backing. It was an organized militia with objectives to ethnically cleanse Dinka and its related Jurchol tribes in Bahr El-Gazal.

The plan had about ten (10) Paramount chiefs from Fartit tribes signed documentations in which extermination of Dinka and Jurchol tribes was predetermined to ethnically cleanse Dinka and Jurchol tribes of Bahr El-Gazal. This militia operated in Wau in the mid 80s through 90s and up to 2005 when the agreement was signed. The atrocities and massacres committed by this militia were horrific in kind and thoroughly documented.

Similarly, in 1983 & 84, early struggle between the SPLA and Anyanya-II resulted into tribal killings between Nuer and Dinka tribes. Immediately after defection of Kerbino Kuanyin, William Nyuon Bany and Dr. John Garang from Bor Town, in 1983, the delegation of politicians from Bahr El-Gazal that joined them in rebellion was tasked to go to Bahr El-Gazal Region to recruit for soldiers.

While they were still in Bahr El-Gazal mobilizing and recruiting for Soldiers to join the rebellion, the disagreement and fighting between Akwot Atem’s group ( William Abdhalla Cuol, and Guei Tut) and Dr. John Garang’s camp (William Nyuon Bany, Kerbion Kuanyin Bol, Salva Kiir Mayardit, Arok Thon) erupted. Defeat by the SPLA, Akwot Atem’s Anyanya-II group, fled to Nuer-lands in the Upper Nile Region were the laid multiples ambush to refugees and recruits coming from Bahr El-Gazal regions to join the SPLA.

By 1985 the Anyanya-II, having established alliance with Khartoum and received guns and ammunitions, waged war on the SPLA. The Anyanya-II primary targets, in order to cut the SPLA’S recruiting supply line of Bahr El-Gazal, were multitudes of recruits and refugees coming from Bahr El-Gazal of whom majority were Dinkas. The recruits, having no arms to protect themselves, were cold bloodily massacred. The SPLA responded with enormous use of forces in retaliation against Gajaak Nuer who formed the backbone of Anyanya-II.

It should also be known that the Sudanese regimes did not only armed militias in Southern Sudan during civil war to systematically raid, loot, and target massacred Southern Sudanese tribes accused of supporting rebellion fighting against the government, however; it also purportedly armed Missiriya and Rizigeigat Murahaliin Arabs tribes of Kordofan and Dar Fur to commit ethnic cleansing in Southern Sudan during 22 two years of civil warfare in the country in conjunction with its tribal based militias, established and backed up, in all regions of Southern Sudan such as Fartit of Western Bahr El Gazal, Toposa, Lotuka, Mundari, and Acholi militias of Equatoria, Murlei militia of Jonglei, and Anyaya-II militia ( Friendly forces) of the Upper Nile region.

In this fashion, massacres and raids against tribes accused of backing the SPLA/M were carried out by Government’s tribal BASED militias throughout three great regions of South Sudan (Bahr El-Gazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile regions). In defense, various tribes in Southern Sudan formed tribal defense by forming tribal militias. Subsequently, killings in retaliation occurred repeatedly among South Sudanese tribes and outdid by 91’s ethnic target killings in Bor by Dr. Riek’s SPLA/M Nasir faction.

Hence, in South Sudan, today, both tribal antagonism against other tribes or tribal loyalty to one’s own tribes is very strong in all tribal groups of South Sudan. Most importantly, and to note, is the fact that South Sudanese tribes have tasted their own blood in ethnically killing themselves during civil war before Rwanda’s genocide occurred in 1994!

Indeed, tribalism was an intended political plot deployed by Sudanese regimes to discredit Southern Sudan from partition from the Sudan by using justified claims that Southern Sudanese are tribally divided and cannot form a nation of their own. In this regard, various Sudanese regimes sponsored tribal killings and persistently, time and again, claimed southern Sudanese will end up killing themselves along tribal line, because they know the seed of hatred they saw within social fabric of South Sudanese community.

By the time Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Bosnia’s genocidal wars began, in the late 80s and early 90, death in Southern Sudan by combination of ethnic cleansing, starvation and civil war had already claimed to two millions. And by far, death by genocide in Southern Sudan, from 1993-1994, was 2.5 +; exceeded a combined total of genocidal exterminations in Liberia (100,000 dead), Sierra Leone (about 50,000 dead), Bosnia Herzegovina (200,000-400,000 dead) and Rwanda (800,000). Yet, it is the least talked about genocide of all the above mentioned atrocious crimes committed against humanity of twenty first century.

Not the least, while the warlords of Bosnia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda brought to the book of justice to account for their crimes committed against humanity, our warlords in two Sudans STILL run amok in the eye of justice, actively than ever, committing the same atrocious crime against humanity and hardly, still, noticed by radars of international court of justice. Such colossal destruction of human’s life with impunity, in Sudans, encourages bloodthirsty crimes and criminality of any degree imaginable in these countries.

Indeed, ethnic violence yet prevalence in South Sudan is due to the fact that warlords that committed atrocious crimes during the civil war escaped punishment for their crimes meted and instead rewarded with positions after peace agreement was signed, and above all are still heads of their organized killing squad forces, strong enough forces to reckon with.

In many aspects, stage in South Sudan for another round of ethnic cleansing is set: guns are in every tribe hands, tribal hatred at its zenith, and the fact that many of our warlords have tasted ethnic cleansing blood with impunity. Comrade, James Wani Igga, our current Vice president, as a conscious moral leader, knew about this dark side of us that is glowing in the dark, ready to consume us all and our country in its abysmal abyss.

He (Wani Igga) proved us right with December 15th, 2013, onslaught and its aftermath. It is now evidence that South Sudanese are tribally divided, polarized and coerced to hating and hunting themselves on tribal and ethnic lines by politicians who are playing ethnic or regional political cards to promote their political endeavours.

Borrowing from our past misdemeanours of tribal and regionalism divides, many of our leaders have found solace in their tribes and using tribal or regional slogans to justify their cause of struggle. This tactical tribal and regional ploy has driven many of our people to point of no return in hatred, and thus it is tragic. It is politically unhealthy for our country, in many aspects, to face tribal war. And surely it would not serve us better in the nation building whether we federate the country or practice democracy in the country. Not the least, it is a recipe for disintegration as a country.

With no doubt, after December 15th incident, many inclined to tribal divide with hope to revenge their grievance which is a potential doom to befallen us and the country should it be allowed to occur. Indeed, our country is ripe for violence, discrimination and worse types of rebellions (tribal rebellions). We have already witnessed destructions of this current civil strife in which our people have lynched themselves tribally (30,000 people dead just in weeks).

What would become of us if we let such obnoxiousness and inhumane onslaught lose to its maximum? Unbecomingly, violence, nepotism and discrimination have become part of our culture and daily life and that is why our country with billions of dollars it received within last ten years, still has no basics public services, schools, hospital, roads, etc.

What demons would any of us say it didn’t see in action during our last ten years of freedom or within last two years plus of our independence? We have seen power corruption that resulted into discrimination in either denying justice to those who needed it or denying able citizens to serve in the government or simply denying individuals employment where their potentials and know how would have blossomed into progress and success in delivering services needed by many in our young nation or denying able employment to simply make a decent living for themselves and families due to their tribal background.

We have seen nepotism that resulted into embezzlement that sucked the country dry and individual filthy rich, that resulted into unnecessary political disputes, and that has finally resulted into violence and ravaging civil war. And due to political instability created by unnecessary rebellions and corruption, we have lost credibility and international community’s trust that has deprived our country with needed investments.

What devil would we deny to have not courted our country? We have various tribal rebellions, tribal BASED cattle rustlings, land grabbing, disunity created by tribal allegiance, corruption nursed by its tribal roots and steered tenets, and tribal and regional enmity, etc… And as a testimony, we have recently sent 50,000 of our people into their grave by means of ruthless ethnic target killings.

Mr. Wani Igga, our current Vice President was right to say that “tribalism would bury us if we do not bury it.” With December 15Th incident, none of us could deny that our thirst for bloodletting and ethnic hatred have heightened when our nationalism as people of South Sudan is wounded and crippled by wantons met on tribal lines in this current civil strife.

Whereas, in most cases, our country’s course to its inevitable collapse, if we don’t divert from political tribalism advocacy, is wide and smoothly paved for its eventual expeditious demise!

With all dooms that threaten our country, the question one would ask, amongst many questions, in the light of tribulation facing us and our country, would be what then prevent our ruling elites from addressing tribalism despite knowing that “tribalism would bury us if we do not bury it?”

I do not have better answer to this question, but I could surely speculate that tribalism is used as political cash cow that accord recognition, positions and political following and protection necessary to get or hang onto power.

Hence political will to eradicate tribalism is also hampered by tribal loyalty. Else, I was ready to ask MY Speaker of our National Assembly, after his speech in 2012 in Calgary-Canada, as to what really stops him, as a Speaker of National Assembly tasked with responsibility of making laws of the land, from burying tribalism. But to no avail, my attempt to asking him this very question was impeded by protocol that prevented asking H.E. James Wani Igga questions after his delivered speech.

Equally, my attempt to privately meet him in the meeting hall to ask him this particular question was thwarted due to the same protocol setting. Nevertheless, I concurred with his “burying tribalism” remark; else we are doomed, as he alleged. Unfortunately, I see our government putting the cart before the horse. They are denouncing tribalism without laws made to hold accountable tribalism perpetuators.

With no doubt, tribalism is multifaceted, agile and humongous beast; yet we have to have courage and political will to fight it to exist and prosper in unity and harmony as a nation. First, we have to hunt it down with set of laws to legally kill it. And to bury it for eternity, we have to outlaw it; making it a capital offense.

Our National Assembly should devise bills that denounce and target tribalism and ethnic discrimination in order to effectively eradicate it. Laws that fight racial discrimination, tribalism and ethnic or racial profiling or abuse should be instituted and put to work by reprimanding ethnocentric culprits.

Our government should promote cultural integration of all South Sudan tribes and adoption of one national identity by embracing all our dialects and cultures as unique heritages of our nations. Equally, our Parliament should produce bill of rights and freedom that emphasizes on freedom of association and movement.

Not the least, there are complaints made about tribal lobbying allowed or promoted by central government. Hence tribal lobbying by tribal leaders should be discourage and instead promote formation of organizations that reflect our unity, diversity and national identity. We should be consciously aware that tribalism is the mother of all evils in our country.

In short, tribalism is deeply rooted in our country, and as well, it is a formidable threat to our progress, unity and coexistence as people in one country. Therefore, it requires political will in making tough decisions, back by actions, to up root it.

Morris K. Yoll is a concerned south Sudanese Canadian residing in Alberta-Canada. He could be reached at: myoll2002@yahoo.com, YollMKN@gmail.com or 403/228-3290. Preferably, Morris encourages contact via email.


  1. Mr Kuol, having a tribe is a good thing and we must be proud that we in south Sudan belong to ethnic grouping. South Sudan is one of he country in the world that is ethnically diverse. And from these groups of people we have rich culture and tradition that emanated from our history. None of us chose to be in a particular tribe but we found ourselves by natural selection to be in one of them, we must cherish the beauty and honor of being in our tribes. In the western world, we are always encouraged to keep our language and culture, that system should be reinforce everywhere we live.

    Tribal sentiment in south Sudan is strong because we have huge tribal qualms. The weakness of a tribe is a disease call is tribalism. Tribalism as defined by English dictionary is a “loyalty to a tribe or other social group especially when combined with strong negative feelings for people outside the group.” Strong negative feeling for people outside your own group is what is going to bury us in south Sudan. Yes, I do I agree that tribalism in many Africans countries is a problem, a political endemic, that squanders efforts in nation building, development, democracy, human resources, and peaceful coexistence of citizens of one country. But how can we disciplined our own tribes if their culture tells them that they are born to rule and the world belongs to them?

    Such feeling is echoed everywhere in East African countries, and we have this problem of tribalism which is difficulty to find a panacea for its cure. Let me give you an example; in Uganda, the Baganda thinks that Uganda belongs to them. In Kenya, the Kikuyu thinks that Kenya belongs to them. In south Sudan, the Dinka thinks that the country is theirs. And all these tribes exerted effort to degrade other smaller tribes: beat them up, kill them, steal their land, and cling to power tooth and nail. In Uganda Banyangkole used to be slaves to the Bandana: their job was to clean Banana plantations. But since they found the good use of the guns through scrupulous hands of M7, they have used it very well and they have became master of Uganda: and they have ruled it now for 40 years.

    Mr. Kuol, the point here is that we need to teach “our own tribes” that we belong to one nation. Because tribalism is a threat to our progress, unity, and coexistence of the people in south Sudan. Although some tribes are more enlightened than the others, we still need to introspect into our own tribes, and see how we can educate our tribe to understand the complexity of democracy and the value of other tribes too. In south Sudan, federalism is the key to this riddle because each tribe will be in their own region. There is no better fix of tribal problem in south Sudan than federalism, although nepotism and corruption will continue to reign but it will be in smaller scale.

    • Morris K. Yoll says:

      Hey Oyet,
      I am for peaceful South Sudan. I am also for “one people, one Country.” For me, tribalism and hatred will do us no goods, but death and destruction they will surely bring as they did already. I live in multicultural Canada where every citizen is respected and treated honorably and equally. I therefore have no reasons, in the light of this, to wish any system better for South Sudan than federal democratic South Sudan like Canada. I have written article entitled, “Treacheries in South Sudan’s conflict…” which is also published on this very website and in GURTONG site as well. I clearly stated it in that article that federal or decentralized democratic South Sudan will do it better for us. I am for teaching our people to love, to respect and to accept one another. Indeed, I wrote these two articles for said reason, and I hope they read them with open mind and understanding. To achieve better system of governance, we have to accept one another first. Even though I am for democracy and federalism, I also do believe that misguided Federalism without institutions of laws to guide it is a quick away for our demise and Somalization’s anarchy. I believe in Federal democratic system in which citizens of one country are given rights to freely move and association with no divide or discrimination, protected by the laws of the land. Canada is such Federal democracy and I hope South Sudan copy and paste Canadian system. Thanks for having responded to my article, and I am looking ahead to talking to you again.

  2. Eli says:

    Mr Morris Yoll;
    I comment your article, you have elaborated lots of historical and political facts. I wouldn’t want to add much because I too believe that we do need solutions in South Sudan now and not later rather than more politics, we need less politics and more corrective actions and civil harmonies.

    In Canada where you live there are two official languages; English and French; these official languages are both Europeans and to ascent into federal political position one must know both languages, but Canada still boast of its multi-cultural and multi-nationalities heritage and yet they abolished capital punishments not even for convicted murders. And let’s not start about the constant discrimination of the Natives or First Nations Peoples of Canada.
    However; Canada is trying hard to maintain its multi-cultural status despite some countries in Europe like Great Britain and Germany declared their objections to it, and the United States’ policy is to absorb and mix or melting-pot.

    Whatever the arguments are, there are some common things that these nations do share, and they are:
    – Having enough food to feed their citizens, even the poor in their nations do eat healthy meals through the means of food banks, food stamps, welfare etc. ( In S.S not even war vets and their widows and orphans are looked after by their own government)
    -Also they upheld the role that education plays, freedom to choose, development etc. (none of these matters in RoSS)
    I personally believe that number one driver of tribalism is poverty and starvations followed by massive illiteracy among others. Just try and provide enough food to feed everybody in South Sudan, then send their children to school with full stomachs every morning or introduce free school lunches or boarding schools where kids start to learn coexistence and teach them something call “civil-curriculum” (how to love you country) in every corner of the nation and promote less prejudice, and then see the difference.
    To fight tribalism we must start from grass-roots i.e. with the kids as young as three years old or even younger, and I am not talking about what SSTV is doing by promoting only single ethnicity which is more like black to black-apartheid; but rather it must be a nationally inclusive curriculum.
    East African nations are learning from this principles and look they even have surplus of food commodity to sell for us. Why did Mr. Museveni survive for so long beside his dictatorship tendency? Plenty of food to eat and cheap, that kept emotions low in his nation. Although some of us like to ditch M7 but under him the economy and education of Uganda has strive so much not to forget developmental progresses. He is playing is cards so well.

    In South Sudan all governmental institutions should promote the use of English language and later on as part of future E. African community we need to embrace Swahili in public or street communications, but when in your private households you want to keep your dialects that is your freedom to practice it although we are very nervous of such changes in the fear of losing our cultures and traditions which are like our gods “No pain no gain”.

    But not to forget, like every other nation S.S is going through (metamorphosis) like every other African nations has already gone through. We can’t just leap too far until we also experience and taste the joy of independence.

    Though it is okay to reminiscent about the past Jallaba era, (the so-called regionalism, the kokora, the pro-divisions, or anti-divisions, the militias, 1972s, 1983s, 1991s), even the N. Sudanese too are still going through their own turmoil, by bringing those dirty past political muddy water back in which everybody’s hands are dirty, those are not part of the solutions. They were part of the dirty past which we need to move away from and start afresh.
    Historical piece; (in 1940s the Soviet Union after defeating Hitler’s Nazis built a wall between the West and East Germany famously know as “The Berlin Wall”, but those two divided peoples rose up and broke the wall and today Germany is more united than ever, a World leader in technology and powerhouse of economy in Euro Zones, bailing out weaker economies like Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy to maintain the unity within the EU nations, however soon we will see what comes out of Greece.

    We have to honestly acknowledge that running an independent nation is as complex as a house full of teenage boys and girls with raging hormones. To be honest most South Sudanese and Northern Sudanese inclusive are still experiencing the shockwaves of the aftermath of separation, some Northerners are even bitter than us and they are cursing Omar al Beshir daily for their loss, most certainly we both are in the states of ecstasy.

    There is no single silver bullet to resolve our challenges, but this period shall past. Hopefully after learning some hard lessons of who we really are then the best is yet to come, just me being optimistic.

    The one thing that we need to admire is our diversity and the need to be receptive to new and complex ideas and learn to embrace changes although it is a bitter pill to swallow. “We must swallow our tribal and personal prides and submit to the pride of nationalism”.
    May God bless S.S
    Eli Wani

  3. Mawien Magol says:

    The genocide claims by Nuers is not true. They don’t want to says, 10,000 White army lost lives in both three States fighting but they want to make a escaped-goat that, genocide happen in Juba. In Bor town, the Juba’s government informed UN that, the former vice president who turned rebel leader have calls White army to attacked together with his defections forces but we told him not to included civilians in the military fights but if the rebel leader to comply with this warning then, we are going to treat them just like regular enemies. Truly, the rebel leader orders his SPLA IO and the youths called White army and they actually attacked government in Bor town and recaptures it many times however, the last fighting had touch the White army very bad and many young men did not make it back. The real question is that, who will take the blame? My answer is former vice president Dr. Riek Machar Teny because he was the one who calls them to fight with government. Another question is that, why not claiming White army who were killed on the spot? Well, those people singing about Juba’s genocide are using the word genocide in order to get written off the current president in hoping Riek Machar will get the chance but they are fooling themselves, there are many SPLM members educators ready to lead if Salva Kiir is not able to perform well. The Dinka also may have to claims those 60,000 Bhar el Ghazal people who were been killed while they were innocently walking on the path way to Ethiopia country and Bor massacres. I belief the genocide was been done already by Nuers people since when the late Gai Tut was in charge in Ethiopia and the Idea of trying to claims there was genocide in Juba is partially correct.

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