When listening to some South Sudanese political and self-proclaimed tribal leaders, one could come to the conclusion that traditionally there have been significant historical tensions and rivalries between Dinka and Nuer since time immemorial. These differences, it seems, could lead to serious consequences including mass killings and possible genocide. Some South Sudanese politicians and military leaders have fueled these perceived differences with catastrophic consequences during the last months. Unfortunately, peace speeches made and intentions uttered firmly for public and international consumption, differ greatly from what is being said and marketed confidentially in so-called tribal circles.
Thousands of innocent lives have been lost. However, analyzing Dinka-Nuer relations of the last three decades shows that in most cases, schisms between the two peoples are regularly artificially created by politicians vying with each other for political power and leadership positions within the SPLM/A.
While South Sudan has experienced inter-ethnic conflicts between Dinka and Nuer tribes in the past, for instance, because of grazing rights disagreements, cattle rustling and revenge killings, a further recent escalation of violence between the two groups has never traditionally occurred in such magnitude we are witnessing today. Only when SPLM/A-Leaders differ and fight over preceived power do usual tribal differences and conflicts get fueled out of proportions. Subsequently they degenerate to unknown levels of hatred and enemity— difficult to explain rationally— as they one we are witnessing today.
More importantly, these sort of differences also existed and still occur within Nuer and Dinka tribes themselves, as we have been witnessing frequently in Lakes State. In reality, Dinka and Nuer have many common physical and cultural attributes. The ethnological differences between the two groups are much less considerable than the ones between, for instance, Americans and Canadians or Germans and Austrians. There are countless examples of inter-tribal marriages, alliances and cooperations of all thinkable kinds. Without the two peoples mostly fighting militarily and politically side by side, the independence of South Sudan wouldn’t have been achieved.
Even during the current crisis, there are Dinka who work with Riek Machar and Nuer who support Salva Kiir – disproving the notion that the conflict is based on ethnicity. Dinkas such as John Garang’s eldest son Mabior Garang de Mabior and Dr. Dhieu Mathok are supporting Riek Machar, whereas Nuer such as Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin, Health Minister Riek Gai, the former Chief of Staff of the SPLA, General James Gathoth Mai, and the Speaker of the National Parliament, Manasa Magok, are on Kiir’s side.
New Sudan Foundation Chairman (NSF) C Garang Ring Lual also experienced countless examples of Dinka-Nuer cooperation, for instance during his time as part of the SPLM/A Nasir Group as well as in the South Sudan Independence Movement/Army (SSIM/A). C Garang Ring Lual has proven on multiple occasions that there are really no differences between Dinka and Nuer. During his time in the Nuer-dominated SSIM/A — which was lead by Dr Machar — he never faced any problems due to his ethnicity. On the contrary, his presence as a Dinka was very much welcomed and indicated that the SSIM/A was working for all South Sudanese.
It is SPLM/A Nasir Group under Machar which first raised and clearly articulated in December 1991/January 1992 in a secret meeting with a delegation of the Sudan Government in Frankfurt in Germany, the demand for the right of Self Determination for the People of South Sudan which ultimately resulted in the independece of South Sudan. John Garang and Machar differed on how to achieve the goals of the South Sudanese resistance, marched separately for awhile but at the end came together to achieve independence. Whereas Nuer like General Gathhoth Mai were on the side of John Garang, the current NSF Chairman and Dinka, C. Garang Ring Lual, was the most trusted number two to Machar during those days.
In the 1990s, C. Garang Ring Lual was one of the very few Dinka Leaders to visit Nuer areas to preach reconciliation not only among Nuer tribes themselves, but also among them and the Dinka after the SPLM/A Split of 1991. Whereever he went, he was warmly welcomed by Nuer leaders. In 1993 he flew to Leer to meet General Paulino Matip Nhial— who was known as a “Dinka-Cannibal” at that time— to supply him with much needed medicine. While initially surprised about the Dinka visitor, Nhial very much appreciated the gesture and C. G. Ring Lual was friendly received by the Neuer Commanders of the area. Ring Lual realized that the perceived differences between Dinka and Nuer at that time were politically motivated.
In 1994, C Garang Ring Lual facilitated together with Riek Machar peace efforts between the Lou and Jikany Nuer sub-tribes. Being Dinka did not hinder his efforts. On the contrary, the Nuer were grateful for C Garang Ring Lual’s friendship and assistance and his willingness to come to Akobo in those difficult days and help reconcile the Nuer tribes.
Therefore, it is reprehensible when leading South Sudanese politicians cause a rift between Nuer and Dinka for political gains. South Sudanese politicians have a moral obligation to unite the country, not to divide it. By instrumentalizing perceived differences, South Sudanese politicians are leading the country towards the brink of disaster instead of restoring unity among their people.
South Sudanese have suffered tremendously to gain independence. Their leaders now have a moral obligation to do their utmost to make sure peace is restored so that South Sudanese can focus again on developing their beautiful nation. The New Sudan Foundation is positive that this can be achieved despite the cruelty that has been taking place over the last months. There is no alternative to it. Dinka-Nuer unity is the corner stone to a prosperous South Sudanese nation.
2014 in Nasir, Riek Machar in his Headquaters in Nasir
2014 in Nasir, in the middle in white shirt, Dhieu Mathok and with hat, Mabior Garang de Mabior (both Dinka) with soldiers
2014 in Nasir, Mabior Garang de Mabior (John Garang’s son) talking in a meeting of the SPLM/A-I-Opposition in Nasir
1993, General Paulino Matip Nhial and C. Garang Ring Lual during visit in Leer
Naivasha/Kenia: C. G. Ring Lual und Riek Machar, during Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)
Akobo Peace Talks 1994, C. Garang Ring Lual sitting (in uniform) among Jikany and Lou-Nuer Chiefs
C. Garang Ring Lual, behind in uniform, Commander Muki Batali, on the right of Ring Lual with glasses is Sebet Sindani
Peace talks between the Nuer tribes of Lou and Jikany in Akobo 1994, C. Garang Ring Lual with his bodyguards
Abuja 1 Peace Talks with Khartoum in Nigeria, January 1992, part of the delegation of the SPLM/A Nasir Group: from right to left, Commander Gatwich, C. Garang Ring Lual, Achol Marial
Visiting Nasir in 1994: from right to left: Commander Koang Danhier, former Chief of Security of SPLM/A-U (currently South Sudanese Minister of Transport and Bridges), Riek Machar and C. Garang Ring Lual (with hat)