The problem in our country is not old people per se, but the old mindset. The true elders in our country are a repository of wisdom which must not be undermined. The old mindset is a product of the old world in which it evolved. After the destruction of the major African urban centers – following centuries of brutal war – by European colonial powers, the only communities which survive are the tribal societies.
In antiquity, the geographical area today called South Sudan was boxed in by Civilisations of the Nile Valley. By Nubia/Cush to the north, the West African kingdoms, Kongo to the south and Aksum to the northeast. The fall of these cosmopolitan African centers, the advent of the transatlantic slave trade and colonizarion; led to the tribalization of the continent and tribalism as the only identity of African peoples.
The geographical area that is today South Sudan was once a hunting ground for slaves by these African civilisations. After the fall of the last African Dynasties, South Sudan became a refuge to those who resisted Greco-Roman domination – a black homeland, as it were. The tribalisation of South Sudan and then the isolation of these communities from the known world, due to the slave raids of the days of the Turkiya, has destroyed indigenous knowledge systems and magic, ignorance and oppression have become our traditions. The people who gave the arts, maths and sciences to the world, today live in total ignorance and believe this to be their lot in life. As a social mode of organization, tribalism is not dangerous. In fact, the communities of South Sudan share common values which can become the basis for a modern state – the second Republic of South Sudan.
The tribe – founded on totemism – becomes a threat to national security, when it becomes weaponized through politics – what we have called “political tribalism.” In our shared values as peoples, we abhor envy, greed, hate and jealousy; we had a culture of hospitality towards guests. Individuals treated the outsider with respect, lest they travel back to their lands and compose songs about the people’s lack of cultural values. In times of scarcity in South Sudan – like anywhere in the world – our peoples fought over resources and embedded within the culture, were ways to mitigate conflicts which arose and in times of plenty our societies would naturally cooperate.
Today there are two antagonistic expressions of our cultures in South Sudan – no matter which part you may hail from. They can be classified as the pre-Turkiya culture and the post-Turkiya culture. In pre-colonial times, power was in the hands of our peoples and we chose our leaders and they were accountable to the people. The culture had its own indigenous system of checks and balances. Among them was the ritual killing of kings and the fear of bringing shame to one’s family, clan, or nation/tribe. After we were conquered, a new culture of leadership based on collaboration with the foreign oppressor was introduced. The slave trading companies of the Turkiya and later the colonial administration of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, rearranged our communities – forming brand new tribes – and imposed new families as rulers. This remains the root cause of a lot of intercommunal violence in many parts of our country to this day.
This is the origin of the old mindset, a mindset of oppression in which some where born to rule and others to be ruled. In political science it is called, “divine right theory,” inherited from the Ottoman Empire. It is outdated! This is the political philosophy on which, the First Republic of South Sudan has been founded. It is an archaic political philosophy which has no place in a modern world where states are organized according to democratic and human rights values.
This is the state our ancestors struggled for over generations, not the current status quo, imposed on us after we lost the colonial wars. This old oppressive mindset is not only with old people, it is also there with youth. There are many progressive old people and they are valuable to our struggle for fundamental change. The old people who are promoting the status quo also discriminate our wise elders who could make revolutionary corrections – they have been sidelined. At the same time, youth are being groomed to be the future of maintaining the status quo. The chorus now being sang – by 30, 40, 50 year old grown men – is “youth participation,” when universally youth are between the age of 17 and 25. Even in the special case of South Sudan it is 17-35. When we talk of bringing about fundamental change in our country, we are not talking about getting rid of old people, we are talking about getting rid of an old mentality.
A luta continua!
By Cpt. Mabior Garang
The author is South Sudan Deputy Minister of Interior. He can be reached through his social media page at Mabior Garang;