Imagine being caged in the contemptible conditions of a refugee camp. Yet, as if that hell is not searing at the core of your heart to engage your total attention, you go for fatal combat with kin, over a broken chair. How laughable, yet how tearfully pathetic.
Mayhem and death because of a stool for your emaciated behind!
You are confined in this misery because a common enemy, though a countryman, has rendered you stateless. But what consumes all your passion is that a different tribesman, denied the same identity as you, took your seat.
With due apologies, I am tempted to distort one of the great literary works of Mzee Richard Ntiru, the august poet who hails from an area close to the soil of my birth. His poem, ‘The Pauper’ is a must read for all who care about the wretchedness of some humans.
The poem, first with distortion: “[African, kin African, killing kith over a mere seat/Rushing to your death in far-flung waters]/What brutal force, malignant element/Dared to forge your piteous fate?/Was it worth the effort, the time?....../What crime, what treason did you commit/That you are thus condemned?”
But first, why I am grieving.During a world Cup match last Sunday, two S. Sudanese refugees went for each other’s throat just because one, on returning to his chair, found it occupied by another. A non-issue, really, but the problem: one was a Dinka tribesman while the other, a Nuer!
It didn’t matter that they were countrymen, in the same hopelessness.
Still, maybe it’d have been understandable as a simple brawl between two men, but was it? Not on your life! A deadly fight broke out between the two tribes, each to the defence of their man. The death toll: ten, if not more.
Elsewhere and earlier, the fight by the refugees was about delayed food. Equipment belonging to relief agencies was destroyed, triggering a longer delay. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!
That was not all. Earlier again, S. Sudanese refugees clashed with refugees from other countries, resulting in eight deaths. A motorcycle accident had knocked down a child, most probably accidentally.
But the belligerence of these people is out of this world!
There had been another time before. With Dinkas and Nuers pitted against each other again, they sent eight of their own to the hereafter. And the violent bizarreness goes on.
What’s more dreadful, however, is that inside S. Sudan itself, it’s not this relatively small-scale duel going on. It’s an all-out war engulfing the whole country, involving all tribes to turn this sorry young nation into a land of killing fields.
To misquote Ntiru again, “[‘Do these lords of the killing fields’] pat their paunch[es] at the wonderful sight?”
I talk of the leaders, who are in an endless deadly tussle of their own. President Salvar Kiir and your nemesis, Riek Machar, you stand accused for your inability to deflate your swollen egos. It’s for that ego that you are sending your people into the abyss, without sparing yourselves.
We can only hope that the accord recently inked will hold. It’s hoping against hope.
This side of the pond, I shudder to think that twenty-four years ago, Rwandans could have easily taken this route. It’d have meant that in place of this fast-growing nation, we’d be in a void, dead as dodo.
We didn’t go that way because we knew the point where our history went horribly wrong. The close-to-a-century history of divisive and oppressive colonialism and then its genocidal indigenous successor regimes was where our history got fractured.
When in 1994 our forces of good halted its horror hurtle into darkness in 1994, then it was time to re-forge our destiny for a future of hope, with our erstwhile, albeit modernised, ‘Mudugudu Leadership’.
A leadership that’s anchored on every single member of this society. And which is therefore both centralised and decentralised. How so, you may ask.
An idea can be incubated at the lowest village (umudugudu) level, go through the cell (akagari), sector (umurenge) and district (akarere) levels. From the local government, the idea reaches the province (intara) level, where it’ll have entered the central government and its three organs.
With the consensus of all, the decision from the idea is then shared by all levels, in a down-up, up-down continuum of leadership.
But to reach and collectively work from there to promote our society has required sacrifice and determination.
Punishment of crimes, yes, but with forgiveness for some wrongs instead of wholesale revenge. Total security of person and property. Consensus-building and end to belligerence. Humility, not hot-headedness. Dialogue, reconciliation and unity.
Building a society around a common vision; and so on.
Societies and leaderships are built on more complex and more varied pillars, no doubt. However, it’d be a good point for South Sudanese leaders to start for social cohesion.
Otherwise, self-seeking leadership can only land a people into self-immolation.
The South Sudanese need to form a united front towards a purposeful future, or else they’ll remain an embarrassment to their caring neighbours.