The Color of Ethnic Domination in South Sudan
By: Gordon Buay, CANADA 3/18/ 2012
When South Sudan became an independent state last July, many people had hoped that the newly independent country would be built on principles of ethnic equality, democracy, rule of law and federalism. There was a reason for people to be optimistic about the future of South Sudan. Those who had hoped that South Sudan would become a paradise of equality justified their argument on the belief that the people of South Sudan had bitterly struggled for equality in the old Sudan for over fifty years. Common-sense has it that people who struggled for ethnic equality for more than five decades would be able to manage ethnic diversity in a way other African countries failed to do. It is true that people who struggled against the imposition of Arabism and Islamism in the old Sudan could not end up having a government that would behave like successive Khartoum regimes that treated ethnic Africans in general as second-class citizens and the people of South Sudan in particular as third-class citizens.
When late Dr. John Garang told the people of South Sudan in 1994 that “an oppressor has no color”, a lot of South Sudanese thought that he was referring to black Sudanese who oppressed their own people. But with the advent of independence, so many people have begun to analyse what he was referring to and realized that anybody, whether a brother or a sister, could become an oppressor if s/he denies the citizens equality, democracy, rule of law and justice.
Prior to independence, so many Southern Sudanese thought that an oppressor who denied people their rights was a Muslim man in Khartoum with a turban on his head. Little did the ordinary people know that a Dinka man with scarification on his forehead would become the new oppressor who may practise the worst kind of ethnic domination in the newly independent state. During the reign of successive regimes of old Sudan, ethnic domination was practised on the basis of religion and political ideology. South Sudanese were marginalized as a unit because the Northern elites wanted to assimilate them into Arab and Islamic culture. Within the north, there was some sort of power-sharing among the tribes of Shaygia, Jaaliyeen, Danagalla, etc. Political participation in the government was not dictated by one tribal affiliation but by whether one was a member of a sectarian party or Muslim brotherhood.
One could argue that despite the existence of so many tribes in the North, participation in the power structure of the state in Khartoum was not dictated by tribal origin but by ideological affiliation. The UMMA, DUP and Muslim Brotherhood have memberships across many tribes in the North including African tribes of Western and Eastern Sudan. It is well known that the UMMA party’s stronghold was Darfur prior to 1989 coup. The talk about racism within the Islamic Movement surfaced after the split of 1999 between Dr. Hassan Turabi and Field Marshal Omer Bashir. However, one can still see African northern Sudanese in the leadership structure of the National Congress Party. The same thing is true with Popular National Congress of Dr. Hassan Turabi which has Arab tribes as its members.
The issue of division of Islamic Movement along ethnic lines was accelerated by Hassan Turabi himself who wanted to use tribalism as a tool of political mobilization to bring down the regime of Omer Al-Bashir. The manufactured polarization of Islamic Movement along ethnic lines assisted Turabi to achieve his objective in Darfur because the Movements fighting Bashir’s government were formed on the basis that the Africans in the North were marginalized by the Arab regime which favored Arab tribes in Darfur. What was important to Turabi was not the issue of ethnic equality between the Africans and the Arabs in the Sudan. His main concern was the loss of control of state power. If equality among ethnic groups in the Sudan were to be his main concern, he wouldn’t have helped to dismantle the 1972 Addis Ababa accord which gave the South local autonomy by persuading President Nimeir to cancel the deal to impose Sharia.
In attempting to compare Dinka domination of power in the South and the marginalization of South Sudanese in the North before independence, people need to differentiate land dispute between African and Arab tribes in Darfur which is an undeniable fact and the representation of African Muslims in the state institutions since the independence of Sudan in 1956. In comparison to South Sudanese, the African Muslims in the North were better represented in the government institutions because of their religion than South Sudanese. The African tribes of Nuba and Darfur dominated the Sudan army from 1956—1985. As late John Garang said, “the Arabs who were fighting South Sudanese in the first civil war were Nubas”.
The argument I am trying to put forth in this article is that political tribalism among Northern tribes is less destructive than what we are seeing in South Sudan. Islamism and Arabism were the pillars of political mobilization in the North prior to Darfur conflict in 2003 and participation in the political institutions in the North was based more on political affiliation than tribal origin that we are now witnessing in the post-independent South Sudan in which the Dinka elite based nation-building on ethnic domination.
Since the independence of South Sudan last July, we have been witnessing a very dangerous form of ethnic domination which would surely lead the South to become a failed state. Prior to July, 2011, Dinka elite controlling power began to practise ethnic discrimination and marginalization within the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) that was formed after the conclusion of the CPA on January 9, 2005. But so many people didn’t notice the gravity of the situation thinking that the practice would be addressed after the independence of the South. Many South Sudanese focused on the implementation of the CPA and the exercise of the right of self-determination and ignored the glaring practice of tribalism in each ministry of the GoSS.
When the ministries were set up in 2005, there were practices of tribal exclusions that made a lot of people to question the underlying policies and vision of Dinka elite. For instance, the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development which was under the guidance of Michael Makuei Lueth employed mostly Dinka Bor. Majority of employees of the Ministry were from Dinka tribe. The same thing to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development which was also dominated by Dinka tribe. Filling ministries with one’s tribe—a practice mostly demonstrated by Dinka ministers—continued up to now and many ministries in Juba are dominated either by one tribe or a clan depending on where the Ministers who set them up in 2005 came from. Majority of employees in the Ministry of Finance are from Dinka Bhar-el-Ghazal because Arthur Akuein Chol, who was the GoSS Minister of Finance and Economic Development in 2005, hailed from that region.
The purpose of this article is to educate members of the international community who are not well-versed in the affairs of South Sudan to understand the root causes of the on-going ethnic violence in the country. After the world was awakened by the ethnic violence which erupted on December, 23rd, 2011 in Jonglei state, so many people in the Western World, particularly in the United States, began to wonder about the state of affairs in the newly independent South Sudan. In order for the people to understand violence which has now engulfed the South, it is crucial for members of the international community to be educated about the ideology of Dinka domination being pursued by President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
Although it is true that violence in Jonglei State between Dinka and Nuer on the one hand and Murle tribe on the other is fuelled by cattle, political violence which involved fighting between Salva Kiir’s regime and the rebel Movements in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity State was caused by Dinka domination of power in the South. It has become a practice among the less informed journalists to blame political violence in the South on the North by neglecting the politics of domination being pursued in Juba by Dinka elite. The same tactics of looking for a scapegoat in the north were used by so many African dictators in the past who blamed colonial powers for ethnic violence in the continent many years after Europeans left. The North may exploit a situation, but how did it come about in the first place?
It has also become a practice of some individuals in the media to dismiss the prevalent ethnic discrimination being practised by Salva Kiir’s regime saying that it is a normal practice among Africans to prefer their ethnic groups. People who dismiss the dangers of state-practised tribalism in South Sudan are confusing public realm and private realm tribalism. In South Sudan, consciousness of one’s tribal origin is a psycho-sociological reality that is largely universal in nature. However, as research noted, there is a distinction between public realm ethnicity which involves conflicts related to the determination of who gets what, when and how, and private realm ethnicity that may not invite state intervention. What is causing violence in South Sudan currently is a public realm ethnicity which denies non-Dinka public positions because of their ethnic backgrounds.
Public realm tribalism being practised by Salva Kiir’s regime is responsible for ministries to be filled by one tribe; it is also responsible for land grabbing in Juba, Numeli, Yei and etc. It is also responsible for the massacre of Shilluks in 2010 and the killing of ten Bari civilians in Juba this month. The on-going political violence in the South is a manifestation of negative aspect of tribalism as opposed to tribalism being practiced in the villages. It is the state-sponsored tribalism which we are more concerned about because ethnic domination at the level of state, as opposed to ethnic consciousness in Dinkaland, is divisive, and of parochial form that can lead to violence.
Experience from many African countries attested that the politics of ethnic domination being practised by Dinka elite plunged many nations into quagmires of bloodletting strife and instability. Before Yuweri Museveni took over power through revolution in 1986, tribalism in its extreme level reduced Uganda from one of Africa's most promising countries to one of the poorest. In 1994 about a million Rwanda’s women, children, men, old and young died because they were butchered by their countrymen due to state-sponsored tribalism similar to what Salva Kiir is currently instituting in South Sudan. It is one thing for Salva Kiir to behave like a Dinka chief in the village who may not be concerned about ethnic equality in his administrative area. But it is another thing for a President of a country to favor who gets a government job, where to build a hospital or a bridge, whom to give justice to in a trial or whom to give scholarship to enrol in a foreign university. In South Sudan under Salva Kiir, the state administration, the political posts, the key ministries and central government commissions are compartmentalized along ethnic lines and ethnic discrimination and favouritism.
The Dinka domination of public institutions
After the independence of South Sudan, the regime of Salva Kiir did not deviate from practising state tribalism that he started in 2005. On August, 26, 2011, he formed the post-independent cabinet which was made up of 42% Dinka giving all the key posts to his Dinka Rek clan. He awarded his State, Warrap, ten Ministerial posts in addition to his post, the Chief of Security, Chief Justice of South Sudan Supreme Court and the Governor of the Bank of South Sudan. Although Greater Equatoria region has higher population than Greater Bhar-el-Ghazal according to 2008 National Census, the latter was awarded twenty ministerial posts in which ten of them went to Warrap state alone.
On March, 9, 2012, Lt. Gen. Salva Kiir appointed ambassadors and again awarded the lion’s share to his tribe, that is, Dinka appointed as ambassadors constituted 53% while all the other tribes in South Sudan combined were only 47%. The population of Dinka in South Sudan is about 25% and the non-Dinka are 75%. If fairness guided the appointment of ambassadors, Dinka tribe, which is a demographic minority when we compare their population to the rest of South Sudan ethnic groups, cannot have 53% of ambassadors. The decision to give 53% of ambassadorial posts to one tribe is based on the arithmetic of tribal domination which can also be noticed between the regions and within Dinka clans.
Among the Dinka clans, the Dinkas of Unity and Upper Nile states have been severely marginalized and are not represented at all in the ambassadorial positions. In comparison, the Dinka clans of Greater Upper Nile have fewer ambassadors than the Dinka clans of Greater Bhar-el-Ghazal. When one looks at percentage of ambassadors from region to region, the Greater Bhar-el-Ghazal’s share of ambassadors is 38.36% while the population of the region is only 2.71 million according to 2008 National Census. Warrap state, which is the home state of Salva Kiir, once again dominated the rest of Bhar-el-Ghazal states in the ambassadorial appointments and became the second state in the South with thirteen ambassadors despite the fact its population in the South is 11% (the states of Lakes, Northern Bhar-el-Ghazal and Western Bhar-el-Ghazal combined have only 17 ambassadors).
The tables below show Dinka’s dominance in all appointments of President Salva Kiir. The appointments demonstrated that political posts in South Sudan are based on the ideology of Dinka domination, a practice which is worse than marginalization of South Sudanese in the old Sudan when one compares the ethnic marginalization in the old Sudan and Dinka domination of post-independent South Sudan. In the old Sudan, South Sudanese were a minority within the state dominated by Muslims. But in the post-independent South, Dinka, who are only about 25% of the population, controlled 55% of state power. In terms of demography, Dinkas’ domination of 75% of South Sudanese is like Afrikaans’ domination of black majority in South Africa.
THE COMPOSITION OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THEREPUBLIC OF SOUTH SUDAN
THE COMPOSITION OF AMBASSADORS BASED ON TRIBES AND STATES
The list of special Ambassadors above Grade (1) are:
2- Presidential Decree No. 19/2012 for the appointment of Grade (1) Ambassadors in to the Diplomatic and consular service in the ministry of foreign Affairs and international Cooperation of the Republic of South Sudan. The Ambassadors are: -
3- Presidential Decree No. 20/2012 for the appointment of Grade (2) Ambassadors into the Diplomatic and consular service in the ministry of foreign Affairs and international Cooperation of the Republic of South Sudan, 2012 AD.
The Ambassadors are:
4- Presidential Decree No. 21/2012 for the appointment of Grade (3) Ambassadors into the Diplomatic and Consular Services in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and international Cooperation of the Republic of South Sudan 2012 A.D.
PLUS the Ambassador appointed in October 2011 in Grade 1, Mr Mayen Dut (a Dinka from Warrap State).
Number of Ambassadors by Tribes:
CONSEQUENCES OF DINKA DOMINATION
Members of the international community who don’t know the academic backgrounds of ambassadors appointed may think that they are all qualified to represent South Sudan in foreign missions. Many people would be shocked when they discover that individuals who do not even have diplomas were appointed as ambassadors because of tribalism and loyalty to the ruling clique. In normal practice, an ambassador, indeed any diplomat in the Foreign Service, must at least have a Bachelor’s degree in order to represent the country abroad. However, in Salva Kiir’s regime, what is important is a tribal affiliation or loyalty to Dinka Rek’s regime.
For instance, Mr. John Andruga Duku appointed as Grade (2) ambassador, who allegedly, did not even complete high school let alone having a diploma. He was appointed as GoSS Head Mission to Nairobi in 2006 because he was formerly a babysitter of Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior (the wife of late John Garang). There are a couple of individuals from Warrap appointed like him as Grade (2) ambassadors without having diplomas or Bachelor’s degrees. There are also people who were disqualified to serve in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sudan on academic grounds in 2006 who are now appointed as Grade (2) ambassadors.
The tribal, clan and sectional favouritism in the ambassadorial appointments introduced a mess of inexplicable nonsense especially among South Sudanese who served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sudan prior to independence. There are qualified people like Mr. Kureng Akuei Pac, who has experience of twenty years in diplomatic service of Sudan but was appointed as Grade (3) ambassador while concubines of SPLM Secretary General who don’t even have academic qualifications, let alone diplomatic experience, were appointed in Grade (2). An example of injustice is the case of Ambassador John Simon Yor Kur who was a deputy ambassador of Sudan to Canada before independence but was appointed in Grade (3) while individuals who were secretaries of community affairs of GoSS Missions in Europe and Africa found themselves as Grade (2) ambassadors because they hailed from Greater Bhar-el-Ghazal. Another striking case is that of an IT officer, a non-diplomatic job, who was pole-vaulted to be top of the Grade (3) ambassadors. The only qualification he had is that he comes from the Gogrial Dinka in Warrap State.
The diplomatic community of South Sudan was also caught off guard by the deliberate exclusion of qualified ambassadors like John Ukech Lueth and Moses Akol Ajawin. It is reported that the Dinka Rek’s kitchen cabinet persuaded Salva Kiir to dismiss them technically because of their social relations with the leader of SPLM-DC, Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin. From the Shilluks appointed, the majority of them are either relatives or in-laws of SPLM Secretary General, Pagan Amum.
On the other hand, most Bari from Central Equatoria appointed are either related to Wani Igga (Speaker of parliament) in blood or loyal to him through political affiliation. People are no longer appointed on the basis of merits in the kingdom of Salva Kiir, and non-Dinkas have found themselves in an era where one has to compromise a lot, including morally, to be appointed to a civil service job. Because of demands of loyalty to dominant Dinka elite, some known non-Dinka personalities of Upper Nile were appointed to some prominent positions because they persuaded President Kiir that they have Dinka blood. Getting civil service jobs in the post-independent state of South Sudan has become so difficult for non-Dinkas unless one is either a loyalist of the ruling clique or has demonstrated blood ties with Dinka ethnic group.
The international community has to be aware that Dinka elite are not interested in ethnic equality but domination that would lead the South to become another Somalia. During the drafting of the Transitional Constitution in 2011, the hegemonic ambition of the Dinka elite in the SPLM Political Bureau was the major factor in blocking an effective power-sharing arrangement in South Sudan. The SPLM single-handedly dominated the constitutional drafting process and the procedures for establishing an elected government that would replace the transitional government in 2015. The SPLM was more interested to promote its project in reasserting the hegemony of the Dinka elite than adopting a Transitional Constitution which would ensure ethnic equality, and hence stability, in South Sudan.
The Dinka elite in the SPLM are not interested in ethnic equality but in the control of state power at the expense of democracy which cherishes majority rule because they have been benefiting significantly in getting a dominant political and economic position disproportionate to the share they should have been given in accordance with the ethnic entitlement principles of ethnic equality as it has been proclaimed by late John Garang. There is no justification whatsoever that an ethnic group which is about 25% of the population could control 55% of state power.
According to the SPLM’s principles of fair and equal representation of ethnic groups, the Dinka, who represent 25 percent of the South Sudan population, should have assumed a minority role, if the intention of Dinka elite of the SPLM was not to imitate the Afrikaans of South Africa. But because the Dinka elite have been operating contrary to the rule of John Garang’s vision since 2005, the SPLM party is operating in South Sudan as an instrument of coercion and domination rather than equality and freedom. As a result, nation-building in South Sudan has been characterized by Dinkas’ economic monopoly, militaristic domination, and brutal suppression of the rights of South Sudan political parties which oppose the SPLM.
The political violence which engulfed Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states cannot surprise people who are keen observers of South Sudan politics because since the formation of the Government of South Sudan in 2005, Dinka domination of state power has been the official policy of Salva Kiir Mayardit. But experience of old Sudan as well as other third world countries, does demonstrate that a continuation of brutal and forceful rule of a minority in a diverse country could lead to a chaotic scenario in which the majority may rise to take a desperate violent action to free themselves from the despotism of a minority group. One of the reasons that Peter A. Sule, former Minister of Rural Development, formed a rebel Movement one month after the independence of South Sudan was the rejection of ethnic equality and adoption of a transitional constitution with checks and balances.
The decision that Peter A. Sule had taken to form a rebel Movement last year to liberate the South was a clear indication that brutal tribal domination could not be imposed in post-independent South Sudan without bloodshed. We have seen in so many African countries that it is totally unfeasible and unsustainable for an elite from one ethnic group to assume a hegemonic position in a context where the consciousness of the people as well as of the ethnic communities is sufficiently mature to distinguish between what is appropriate and what is not. Military force and other deceptive strategies such as co-option of rival ethnic elites, and divide- and-rule tactics may work for some time, but such strategies cannot create a genuine framework that can nurture a workable political system in a sustainable way.
It would be practically impossible for Dinka elite to brutally dominate other ethnic groups in a country whose independence was achieved via a revolution. Dinka elite cannot institutionalize ethnic domination in post-independent South Sudan without facing a military uprising similar to 1983 formation of the SPLM/A. The current formation of various rebel movements in the country is a symptom of rejection of the ethnic domination being imposed from the top. As rebel leader, late Lt. Gen. George Athor Deng admitted in an interview in March 2011, “There is no equality between Dinkas and non-Dinkas in the government of South Sudan”. He further noted that most institutions of the government of South Sudan are built on tribal dominations and there is no equality and equity between various ethnic groups that would take place without regime change in Juba.
The politics of domination the Dinka elite pursue in South Sudan for the control of economic and political power is the main source of incessant conflicts among ethnic groups in the country. In other African countries, the proportion in which ethnic groups that produce the national wealth have access to political power or excluded from it may account for ethnic conflicts in the nation.
For instance, the entire budget of Unity State in South Sudan, including two per cent oil share of the state, is a property of the Governor. Sometimes civil servants take one year without receiving their salaries because the Governor and President Salva Kiir allegedly diverted the money.
The Governor of Unity State, Lt. Gen. Taban Deng, built a mansion in Akon, Warrap state, which is the hometown of the President, for a cost of five million dollars from the budget of Unity State to please President Salva Kiir while children in his own state die in hundreds a year because of treatable diseases. Experience in Nigeria has taught us that where the wealth producing ethnic groups feel cheated or marginalized in the country, the result always is war as it is now happening in Unity State.
In a country like South Sudan where the ruling elite favour their own kith and kin, competition for public jobs, admission into schools, distribution of state resources among others, constitute a source of conflict. In Nigeria, Sudan (before South Sudan independence) and Liberia, the ethnicization of state power led to civil wars. The international community could not be surprised to see South Sudan being engulfed in conflict six months after independence because Dinka domination of state power is creating internal explosions.
The side effect of ethnic domination in Africa is that civil wars resulting from ethnic tensions and conflicts usually plunge nations and countries into economic mess. For instance, ethnic violence in Nigeria’s Niger Delta area has partially paralyzed economic exploration of crude oil in that state. The ethnic tension between the ljaws, the Itshekiris, and the Urhobos has seriously affected the business of oil companies located in that area. In the process, economic setbacks are usually experienced. No sane person could argue that economic development will take place in Jonglei, Upper Nile, Unity and Warrap states which are infested with rebel Movements fighting to topple the corrupt regime in Juba. The cause of all conflict in South Sudan is not North Sudan as pathological Dinka elite would want the world to believe but the policy of ethnic domination which has become the manifesto of the ruling clique.
In closing, it is my considered opinion that the way to correct this malaise lies with the patriotic Dinka elites. They should speak out clearly and publicly against these malpractices which are being done in the name of their tribe. Otherwise, nobody will be blamed for generalizing all in the guilt by association.