I learnt the hard way
Not to say
The things that hurt.
I fear the flirt
Of a balancing tear
When you’re not here.
Those soulful moans
Chalked out as groans
Falling into silence.
Sighs like violence
Dished out in seconds
Don’t make amends.
When the tears flow
the silences grow
With no place to go.
The question making sense;
Do you outgrow friends
When the love ends?
Protests broke out in Sudan this past December (2018) calling for the downfall of President Bashir’s 30-year-old regime. The restive South Sudanese anger against Bashir’s crimes seemed to burst on social media, as youth shared stories about growing up under his rule. Aerial bombardments, discrimination against Christians and lack of development were the overarching themes. Anger, even if restive, built up from the sadness of unexplored grief.
The trauma inflicted by the cyclical nature of violence that has dominated the history of Sudan since independence in 1956, started a year earlier for South Sudan with the Torit mutiny. Yet the history of the division between the North and South can be traced back to several thousand years before Christ, when Arabs began expanding South-ward looking for slaves, gold, ivory and revenue for taxation, writes Francis Mading Deng. In the biography of his father, “The Man Called Deng Majok”, Deng explores the history of the Ngok Dinka, their interactions with the Arabs in the North, the colonial administrators and the Christian missionaries in the South. Identity is central in the biographical account of the Ngok history, a question that has over generations proven to be at the heart of the political tensions between the North and the South.
The history of Sudan is complex with various scholars writing on the decline of the Christian Kingdoms established in the sixth century. This decline was precipitated with the intervention of Islam in the seventh Century culminating in the eventual overthrow of the Christian Kingdoms in 1504. Yusuf Fodl Hassan observes that the spread of Islam was mainly due to the peaceful engagement of traders and the influx of Arabs who settled and intermarried with the peoples of Sudan (1967; 90). The spread of Islam was nonetheless halted for reasons attributed to the resistance of the Nilotic tribes. The South, however, remained a hunting ground for slaves and big game.
The contemporary history of colonization in Sudan begins with the Turko-Egyptian rule of the Ottoman Empire from 1821-1885. Facing a fierce Mahdist revolution which enjoyed a spontaneous nationwide support that cut across the South-North divide, the Ottoman Empire was defeated with the final showdown in Khartoum where British General Charles Gordon was killed. The Mahdi died and his successor, Khalifa Abdullahi ran a theocratic state which devastated Sudan for the next 13 years. Deng writes that the whole period of the 19th century is remembered amongst the Dinka as ‘the time when the world was spoiled’, marking a total destruction of the world as they knew it. The Anglo-Egyptian re-conquest of 1898 restored the colonial status of Sudan. The colonizers recognized and respected the Arab Islamic identity and even characterized the government as Muslim. The British however viewed the South as Pagan and primitive requiring protection and tutelage but little if any development. The British pursued separate policies in governing of the North and South.
Bona Malwal writes in his book ‘Sudan and South Sudan; From One to Two’ of the political struggle of the Southern Sudanese people for representation in the Sudanese government. Malwal writes that civil war in the South was the main cause of the overthrow of General Ibrahim Abboud’s dictatorship in Khartoum in October 1964. The government of Prime Minister Muhamed Ahmed Mahgoub declared war on the South inside the Northern Sudanese parliament, according to Malwal. Mahgoub went further and declared every educated South Sudanese a rebel against the Sudanese State, including officials in his own government. Within weeks the massacre of South Sudanese had resulted in the death of tens of thousands. Malwal’s newspaper “The Vigilant” was suspended for publishing news of the horrendous massacre of 1400 people on the streets of Juba on the night of July 9th 1965 and the massacre of 76 government employees attending a wedding in Wau on July 11th 1965.
The high-profile assassination of William Deng Nhial after the 1968 elections by the Sudanese Army created a volatile political atmosphere. This tension ushered in change in Sudan. On May 25th 1969, the army under Colonel Jaafar Muhamed Nimeri seized power in a bloodless Coup. Malwal notes that while Nimeri is credited for the 1972 Addis Ababa peace Agreement with the South, it was Abel Alier who was the architect of the peace process. The issues emerging from the negotiations of the 1972 Addis Ababa peace process are discussed in Abel Alier’s book “Too Many Agreements Dishonored”.
The contemporary history of South Sudan’s political discourse has been dominated by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLA/SPLM). An insider account as offered by Steven Wondu’s ‘Bush to Bush’ commemorates the great loss Dr. Garang’s death brought. Stephen Wondu’s incredible tale of fulfilling not just his father’s legacy of being educated, tells a wholesome tale of SPLA/SPLM and indeed the historical struggle by South Sudanese against Islamist politics. Resting on Garang’s shoulders were the hopes and dreams of a people brutalized by a war that seems to have lasted lifetimes. Sudan and South Sudan continue to share ties like an un-demarcated border, oil revenues and historical struggles for independence. The shared identity found in music and poetry tells a story of a people rooted in tradition.
Image via Omnia Shawkat
Documented stories of Sudan’s bloody memories give perspective to the existentialist questions of identity in the Sudans. The traumatic history seems to tell itself, including the extraordinary tales of the ‘Lost Boys’ captured in the book “They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky” written by 3 lost boys offering an autobiographical account of the great distance they traveled to escape the war. There is also a concurrent movie adaptation of their story in “The Good Lie”. Abyei, the homeland of Chief Deng Majok, remains in the frontier between the North/South relations and in the hearts and minds of many South Sudanese. The question on the final status of Abyei was raised in the Regional Conference of South Sudan’s National Dialogue.
The notion that trauma can be transmitted from one generation to another is built on the historical trauma discourse. Historical trauma theorists are by no means the first thinkers to elaborate on how colonization shapes present day suffering, requiring the rebuilding of intergenerational relations to restore the individual and social wellness. This discourse has been discussed by various anti-colonial scholars like Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, Aime Cesaire among others who drew on the Marxist critiques of the relationship between colonization and capitalist interests. They also insisted on moving beyond the narrower economic analyses, instead using their experiences to articulate the psychological and inter-subjective dynamics of colonization.
Writing in 1957, Albert Memmi described how colonization actively negates the possibility of self-determination. Parents’ diminished hopes and expectations are transmitted to their children, further reinforced by the colonial education system disrupting the processes of social and cultural reproduction. (Memmi, 1965) These remarks are echoed in Frantz Fanon writings in the “Wretched of the Earth” in which he postulates that; “Colonized society is not merely portrayed as a society without values. The colonist is not content with stating that the colonized world has lost its values, or worse, never possessed any.”
From the brief history cited in this article, the historic relations between Sudan and South Sudan have been fraught with turmoil. With the signing for the CPA in 2005 in Naivasha and the unfortunate demise of Dr. John Garang, the revolutionary leader of the SPLA/M, the political environment of South Sudan after attaining independence in 2011 proved to be equally tumultuous. Herman Comen, the former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, writes in the foreword of Bona Malwal’s book that ‘self-government and independence have so far proven to be a poisoned chalice for the people of South Sudan thanks to selfish and callous leadership’.
Grappling with the concept of inter-generational trauma while writing this article forced me to examine aspects of my own life. Rarely did I praise my parents for the overwhelming challenges they faced raising me and my siblings. Growing up with two parents is a privilege most South Sudanese cannot claim. My mother certainly did not have this privilege. One of the things she doesn’t talk about is her family’s history. I read about our family history in ‘The Man called Deng Majok’, finding on page 248 that my grandfather had been ‘killed after being badly tortured.’ Losing her father forced her to grow up too fast like many in her generation.
My parents left Sudan in 1989 before Omar Bashir rose to power. While in Egypt, where I was born, my father obtained his degree in Law after having his scholarship rescinded by the government of Sudan. The family was then moved from Egypt to Kenya, settling first in Nairobi and then later in Kapenguria when the police started cracking down on illegal migrants in Nairobi. Because of war, we would sometimes see our father once or twice a year. Years later, I still contemplate on the relationship between my father and I laughing. He was strict and insisted on taking us on morning jogs and long walks.
Over the years the one thing that was instilled in us repeatedly was that they could give us an education. Much of my life in Kenya revolved around schooling. When I finished high school, I was able to apply for my birth certificate through the consulate for South Sudan and got my Sudanese passport thereafter. Early in 2008 my aunt, popularly known as Mama Mdogo, had visited our family house in Eldoret, retelling me stories from childhood of how I enjoyed watching a popular Kenyan T.V show called Vitimbi, calling myself Baba Kayai. She passed away later that year in an airplane crash. In Nairobi, when we arrived at her residence, my mother shed silent tears praying for the dearly departed.
Years after visiting South Sudan, going to my father’s homeland in Twic, voting in the referendum for an independent South Sudan, and obtaining my second passport, I struggled with the question of identity. It was not until the war of 2013, which broke out while both my parents and two siblings were in Juba, that I felt the connection to my country. Worry and anxiety followed after the news broke on T.V. In 2016, when the violence broke out in Juba for the second time, I walked around town noting the destruction that was wrought by four days of violence.
Although trying to finish Law school had come with numerous frustrations, I had found Juba to be the respite I needed to work and earn some money for myself. I was by then struggling with alcoholism. An intervention by my mother revealed a part of her life she had not talked about previously, she had once brewed and sold alcohol to make ends meet and seen its effects first hand. My father too had once warned against alcoholism, I’d scoffed at the lecture thinking I knew better. I had tasted alcohol the first time during a house party in Kapenguria, left over beer by one of our uncles.
Alcoholism is a big challenge amongst South Sudanese. The pervasiveness of alcoholism in everyday escapism has been discussed by Stephen Wondu in his book ‘Bush to Bush’ where he recounts the typical life of a refugee family living in Nairobi in the early 90s. Stephen Wondu gives a fictional depiction of the life Southern Sudanese led during the war, an abridged version of which was published in ‘SPLM-SPLA Update’ in September 1993 under the caption ‘An Ordinary Day in Nairobi’. In the story, Wondu recounts the story of a man applying for a work permit and ending up meeting with friends and drinking late into the evening before getting arrested by the police.
In 2008, when I first came to Juba, the nights were quiet and peaceful. After the war broke out, the darkness was more ominous, with checkpoints erected on every road and increasing insecurity. As things got harder in Juba, incidents of criminality seemed to increase. I came face to face with a gang of criminals in 2017 after a night out with friends. Driving the car was Apollo, a friend I had been to Law school with. He disembarked from the car to confront one of the criminals when he was suddenly forced to retreat into the car seat. Watching as the robber rummaged through his pockets taking his phones, I shouted back at him ‘mafi haja tani (there’s nothing else)’ repeatedly with my hands raised after noticing the pistol. Apollo then rushed to the nearest military checkpoint on the roadside, the soldiers boarded the car and told us to take them to the place where we got robbed while cocking their guns.
That incident seems so surreal now that Apollo is deceased. Receiving the news of his death through social media was devastating. He left behind a young family, a son who shares his name. Grieving the loss of a friend, I wrote the poem Roots to express a need for change. It is impossible to recount the generations which have been affected by war in the Sudans. My generation being the first citizens of South Sudan has a significant role to play in creating a national identity. The question is perplexing, to say the least, beyond the liberation wars fought and the independence won, what unifies the people of South Sudan other than the experience of being a part of Sudan. The Sudanese identity has different connotations to the South Sudanese, it was more than a generational dream and hope; it was won after a great strife. Despite the numerous challenges of running our own state, one that endures generation after generation. This has been my observation.
South Sudan is in the process of writing its own history, yet it grapples with the question of what changed since attaining Independence. Identity has once more taken centre stage in the National Dialogue of South Sudan. Represented in the hall at the Ministry of Education in Wau were 3 generations sitting in the steering committee; Bona Malwal, Abel Alier, Francis Mading Deng and Angelo Beda to mention a few. Nearly 300 delegates were chosen from grass-root consultations, conducted by 15 committees of the steering committee that went to the former 10 States. The purpose of the National Dialogue as stated by Angelo Beda was to solve the political deadlock following the clashes in Juba in 2016.
When President Salva Kiir Mayardit announced the National Dialogue Initiative on December 14, 2016, and then launched it officially on May 22, 2017, it was met with skepticism and cynicism amongst the populace. Opposition groups had out right rejected taking part in the dialogue, with Dr. Riek Machar refusing to meet with one of the steering committees sent to meet him while exiled in South Africa. The opposition groups had since then agreed in principle after several meetings and were supplied with documents on the national dialogue to review. In March 2019 the first regional conference of the National Dialogue was held in Wau with 5 documents produced from the grass-root consultation, setting the agenda being put before the delegation and an announcement that the Former Detainees had chosen to send an observer while contemplating whether to join the process.
The National Dialogue has since initiation been merged with the process of making a permanent constitution and continuously gained momentum as an independent process. This has been characterized by the exercise of free speech by the attendants amongst whom was Hon. John Luk Jok, one of the drafters of the transitional constitution as a former minister of Justice, who admitted that there were pitfalls in the constitutional order. The Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCISS) was signed between the Government of South Sudan and opposition groups and became a part of the transitional constitution because it established the Government of National Unity.
Performing at the opening ceremony of the National dialogue regional conference in Wau, Emanuel Kembe was met with enthusiasm as his songs reverberated through the hall. The National Dialogue of South Sudan drew on the experiences of Rwanda, Liberia, Nigeria, Tunisia and South Africa according to Angelo Beda. While the agenda set by the 5 documents were supposed to be discussed in groups of no more than 60 people, the delegates assigned significance to topics which they favored. When discussions on the governance cluster began, the group discussing the system and form of government had the highest attendance of all the other groups with 75 delegates and had the most heated of discussions. The other groups discussed building national unity, provision of services responsibilities, communal relations and peaceful coexistence and the last group discussed land tenure and administration.
Image via brookings.edu
Observing the various consultative meetings, it was remarkable seeing the significance which various female delegates assigned to the issue of land tenure and administration. The participation of women in the discussion pointed out how the patriarchal society had essentially prevented them from land ownership. The security cluster also received significant contributions from the various Paramount Chiefs represented in the national dialogue forum and women. The Paramount Chiefs pointed out that the government’s attempts at disarming members of their communities had not been consultative. They further pointed out that they had been disempowered by the gun wielding members of their society, often usurping their traditional roles as adjudicators in communal issues. Women on the other hand felt victimized with the increasing insecurity which had left them vulnerable.
The discussions of the national dialogue often seemed to deviate from the agenda set before them as the various delegates competed for a chance to be heard. The agenda on system and forms of government gave rise to concerns of inclusivity within the 32 states declared by the President with calls for more states to be created. Additionally, the issue of Abyei’s referendum held in 2013 was assigned great significance as the Paramount Chief, Sultan Bulabek Deng of the Ngok took the podium. He inquired why there was no support from the people of South Sudan despite the overwhelming majority of the Ngok Dinka voting to be part of South Sudan. This prompted a declaration of support from the other Paramount Chiefs in attendance. Through the National Dialogue South Sudanese grapple with the question of self-governance and the need to build a national identity. The question on the final status of Abyei remains unanswered, with the declaration of support by the delegates attending the Regional conference of the National Dialogue seeming too little too late, coming 6 years after the referendum was held.
In the meantime, the uprising calling for the downfall of President Bashir has taken root amongst the Sudanese populace with women playing a central role. Drawing from the long history of Sudan, images of John Garang and invoking “Kandaka” from ancient Kush Kingdoms, the protests have gained momentum even receiving support from the Sudanese army. With the genocidal regime of Omar AlBashir collapsing, uncertainty looms on what follows after Bashir’s downfall since he sponsored the signing of the R-ARCISS in Khartoum in 2018.
The Sudanese protests, which started in the town of Atbara, have been characterized with police brutality, internet shutdowns, extra-judicial killings and arrests. The Sudanese citizens consistently show resilience, creativity and determination, in expressing their grievances, and have even evoked the memory of Garang citing his vision for a New Sudan. As images and videos of the uprising started taking root on social media, the international media initially simplified the current uprising to economic woes, ignoring the vast historical context. The media in South Sudan was however warned against covering the uprising. In January 2019, the acting director of the media authority, Mr. Sapana Abuyi, banned the media coverage by stating that the protests are internal issues affecting a ‘friendly nation’.
Reading through the history of the Sudans, the legacy of the military governments that have ruled for 52 years out of the 63 years since independence is tainted with gross human rights abuses. The current leadership in South Sudan maintains this legacy of military rule. Another remaining legacy is that of negotiated peace agreements failing to bring equitable justice to the people most affected by the wars that raged on in Sudan. To quote the words of Chief Giir Thiik Kero on the one-year anniversary of the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement in 1973, ‘Which peace? The peace of yesterday? Why don’t you let it last for 10 years before you celebrate it?’ The wisdom and truth in his words reverberate through history of South Sudan as the years of conflict continue to traumatize one generation after another. Growing up as a refugee I always wondered how having a national identity would change my perception of things. In civics class we learnt of ways to acquire citizenship as either by birth, naturalization or registration. After voting for an independent South Sudan, I had fulfilled part of a historic struggle to acquire this identity. The part that remains is reconciling the diverse experiences that make up South Sudan which requires active dialogue, a National Dialogue.
The Man Called Deng Majok by Francis Mading Deng
Sudan and South Sudan. From one to two by Bona Malwal
From Bush to Bush by Steven Wondu
Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
Historicizing historical trauma theory: Troubling the trans-generational transmission paradigm by Krista Maxwell, University of Toronto. Available here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1363461514531317
The Candace’s of Meroe: https://www.ancient.eu/The_Candaces_of_Meroe/
National Courier: https://www.facebook.com/thenationalcourier/posts/780039112161126