The Nuer fear of neighbors is not a big excuse not to disarm.

By J. Ojoch*


May 8, 2006 — Not too long ago the Lou Nuer politicians from all political parties including elders, chiefs gathered in Yuai, what they call Yuai conference in reaction to first disarmament attempt. The out come of the meeting was resistance to disarmament. They all agreed that no disarmament will take place in Lou Nuer territories unless the surrounding tribes [Anuak, Dinka Bor, Dinka Ngok, Shuluk and Murle] have been disarmed first. They see that these tribes are more threat to them [ Kot Tot: Feasibilty of the “Project Finish”, Disarmament of Nuer in the Southern Sudan, May 6/2006, Sudan Tribune].  The same fear has been voiced by the Nuer at various times. But they had forgotten they themselves are the major cause of instability in their own areas, Nuer against Nuer. Soon after Yuai conference elders from Nuer and Murle met two times in Pibor first and then in Akobo.  Who is breaking the peace all the time? If it is the Murle, that is not surprising because the Murle will continue to do it whether disarmament succeeds or not. Rustling cattle is their way of life. The GoSS will deal with that sooner or later. Over all, what is this political game being played by the Nuer to generate all these headachs?

The Nuer should not worry about other tribes. They should worry about what they should do with themselves first. The fear is in their house. Other tribes understand law easily. The Jonglei administration will not keep quiet if they misbehave. However, the Nuer must clean up their house instead of fighting unnecessarily with the SPLA soldiers and among themselves. The Nuer image is already damaged. Their name needs repair badly and quickly. They should work to repair it instead of fighting with the laws of the land. Blaming the Dinka and forgetting the lethal relationship that the Lou Nuer has with other Nuer sections is not a solution. No big or small excuses will solve the Nuer problems.

Generally the Southern Sudan nationalities or ethnic groups have problems of keeping peace among and between themselves. Between and within tribes there are quarrels and fighting, some very fatal. People fight about cattle. People fight about borders and intrusions. People fight about politics and government positions. The list is long. All of these lead to total insecurity which stretches the Southern Sudan security forces thin. The Arabs are only too happy when these happen. These quarrels are mostly a one time occurrence [among other tribes except the Nuer] and solved easily by elders or government.

The Nuer problems are persistent and damaging. This important group must transform and reform itself if it has to salvage the already damaged image, regionally and nationally. Much depends on how they look at themselves as a group of people with common norms. The elite must analyze, criticize and examine the anatomy of the Nuer social and political fabrics and the direction it is going. Transformation is required. The old ways of Nuerism must be left behind [Brown Bol: Avoid Nuerism, South Sudan Net, April 28/2006].

This is not to talk bad about Nuer. It is a corrective criticism. Some hot blood may not like it. But educated and seasoned individuals will appreciate what follows and find reason to transform. To ‘transform’ is a key word for acquiring new and positive outlook.

Let us see some of the bad examples that the Nuer showed recently and how they affect the Nuer politics and the over all image. The most extreme of problems is found in the upper Nile. Here the name ‘Nuer” is associated with chaos and bloodshed these days more than the “warriors” and “peace-loving” as always claimed. As already mentioned above, not too long ago that the SSDF militia attacked the SPLA forces who went to Yuai in Lou to welcome the SSDF forces who joined the SPLA with Matiep. Then there was the incident in Wau just because the salaries were late. Just recently a massive attack was carried out on SPLA forces at Ulang, near Nasir. Another unknown Lou Nuer group went to Ethiopia to rustle cattle from the Nuer in Jikau. Another group went into Anyuak villages east of Akobo town and killed several persons, some women, on the farms for no reason. It was to provoke a fight. And as we speak, Lou is at war with the GoSS.

All of these are major incidents that took place within a short period of time. A lot of people died in those fights. The Nuer blamed the SPLA and the Dinka for most of these unnecessary problems. They look at the GoSS as a Dinka government that is manipulating the Nuer affairs. This is another big and bad excuse.

The fact is, the Nuer as a people, are very complicated and thus their problems are very complicated as well. With all the complications, the Nuer are indeed a brave people who fought well in Anya-Nya I, II and SPLA for the liberation of Southern Sudan till 1991. After that the bravery started to be wasted to the benefit of the Arabs to this day. It is a pity that such a great giant would split up so badly giving the enemy the benefit to use the fragments at will. Those who remained in the SPLA ranks are called traitors by those who formed and still follow the SSDF politics. All areas under SSDF are lawless at this time. The Arabs wanted and still want those areas stay in chaos. The SSDF, as an organization, does not have control over its militia. It is the Arabs manipulating each station of militia as they want at any time while the bosses are drinking their tea in Khartoum under an eagle eye of Bashir.  For example the SSDF heads did not know what happened in Yuai and Ulang; it was the SSDF militia who staged the attacks. But if they pretended not knowing, it is not a surprise. That is the design and the way Arabs want things to be. Plus, the Nuer are so divided that the bandits or nyagats are rampant in the vacuum. This is an added advantage to the Arabs who do not want peace in the Southern regions.

It is not easy to assess the Nuer problems and divisions without understanding some aspect of their life structure. They are brave and independent. Their democracy is very extreme such that everybody is equal and has the power to take action. Individuals, families or clans have equal power. In other words, there is no center of authority to lead and to control the community. The bravery is also extreme and applied at any time arbitrarily. For example, the Nuer do not fight by slapping or boxing of some sort. All fights between individuals involve clubs and spears and now the gun. Obviously the groups or clans use clubs, spears and the gun. Even fighting with a wife the club is used to punish the woman. It is not uncommon to see some women bearing deep scars on their heads and faces due to such brutal use of clubs and sticks.

Because the Nuer are so brave they do not accept compromise or guilt. Doing so is considered a defeat. The Nuer man will not accept defeat. It is unmanly and not in line with “Ram mi Ran”. They must always accomplish anything by blood even if other options are available. It is unusual and shameful for a man to say sorry for a wrong doing. The man is full of pride and cannot accept anything less than victory. The Nuer is ‘Ram mi Ran” i.e human of the human or the real human. Other people who are not Nuer are not real human in the Nuer eye. Make peace with the Nuer today, they will be the first to break it tomorrow. The above observations have been noted by experts on the Nuer society.

The above shows clearly that the Nuer problems and divisions have the roots in the very life they live. Their independence or democracy is at odds with any system of modern government beginning with the British who first attempted to institute law and order. The GoSS does not seem like a government to them. After all it is a Dinka government, as many of them call it. They adhere to the NIF now for matters of advantage and protection hoping that the CPA will fail as a Dinka creation and then hijack the power. What they don’t foresee is that it will not be possible because the NIF is up in the sky like a vulture watching the Nuer tactics.

The Nuer way of life, the application of bravery against each other at this wrong time goes against the Nuer as a community. It is damaging. The Nuer is sliding down the scale of contemporary politics very fast. They present themselves as a very unreliable group to trust or to work with. It is problematic and dangerous not only to the Nuer but also to other people of the Southern Sudan. This behavior has severely tarnished the Nuer image as a force across the Southern Sudan social and political landscape. All nationalities in the Southern Sudan are ready to settle to begin development and to rebuild their lives. On the other hand the Nuer are fighting the government, against themselves and neighbors across adjoining borders looking for “new frontiers for better life”. There is no peace where there is Nuer. We are seeing it presently. The same things happen in the Gambella region. Even in the heart of Addis Ababa the Nuer fight with clubs and stones with each other, group against group [like Jikany against Lou and so on]. In the recent past there was a big group fight in Canada which took the police a long time to disperse including helicopters hovering in the sky. That was a very bad show in a foreign land.

Can the Nuer salvage their name? Absolutely, it is possible to correct the situation if there is will and courage to accept new ways. The Nuer must adjust to new times of government law. They must accept some leadership or authority to lead them into a brighter future. There are a lot of options if the Nuer could change hearts and swallow some of their pride. For example: Accept the GoSS as legitimate and participate to make it stronger. The SSDF must be strong and must control its militia [if integrated with SAF] or preferably join the SPLA and isolate the enemy. Stop looking for new frontiers. Stop cattle rustling. Stop blaming the Dinka for own weaknesses. Look inwards and polish the wrongs and ills.

All of the above are difficult but possible if there is will to change and reform. It is possible if the Nuer long for peace and repair of their image. It is possible if the Nuer can refrain from thinking as individuals and independent warriors and accept the rule of law.

The interim period is ending soon. What do the Nuer have to get back into politics? If the only thing now is fighting and stealing cattle, vying for and migrating to new frontiers, what are the chances for success in politics? Being the second or the first largest tribe in the South Sudan without preparation for the coming vote is useless. The Nuer must quickly be in peace with itself to be able to have a unified force and voice. The Oromo of Ethiopia are the largest tribe found in all regions with richer resources. Because they are split in bits and pieces they are not a political force to reckon with in Ethiopia. Minorities still lead them. The Nuer situation is not different. All the elite must find common ground for unity and political preparation and action. Without unity among the Nuer factions, clans, families and individuals success will be too far from attainment. The Dinka will remain the masters on top of the Southern Sudan political affairs. Note carefully that not many people have problem with Dinka leadership. It is the Nuer that do not see their own weaknesses because of their divisions for which they blame someone else [like the Dinka]. The Dinka lead because they have a common plate form regardless of their size and affiliations. Similarly, the nationalities of Equatoria have common plate form regardless of their diversities in culture and language, and large number of groups. They are successful in politics.

The Nuer have to transform in attitude and action. It is not their problem alone. What they do spills over the borders affecting other peaceful people. Transform and give peace a chance. Allow the GoSS to function for development. People who are dying now do not deserve to die. Are you not tired of war? Find other ways to show the bravery.

* J. Ojoch is in the US and can be reached at

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