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Ethnicity Drives The Current Conflict –Explains The Brutality: Kuyang Harriet Logo Mulukwat

The ferocity, barbarity and brutality of the ongoing conflict has been intense. The actions of the armed forces are driven by ethnic considerations. The wrangling of the leadership might be the primary causes of the conflict, but the rest of it, is mobilized along ethnic loyalties. The hatred and resentment for innocent citizens is goalless and propelled by ethnic hatred. Taking stock of the brutality in a recent report published by the United Nations means things are even getting worse. The report accuses the armed forces of raping and burning girls and women. The most disturbing portions of the report indicate that women and girls have been raped and then burnt alive in their dwellings. The findings of the report have been contested vehemently and dubbed biased.


In the early days of the conflict – similar abuses have been recorded. Survivor testimonies have indicated similar brutalities. What else drives the brutalities other than ethnicity? One is tempted to ask wonderingly but perhaps, it is crucial to revisit the role of ethnicity in the conflict since examples from the past point to ethnicity as the primary factor in determining the trajectories of conflicts in South Sudan. The negotiating teams are concentrating on power sharing protocols, and putting the leadership in order, all the while, a salient feature of the conflict is being ignored. Pointing to the ethnic nature of the conflict has received very mixed reviews, but it is perhaps time to revisit the strength and role of ethnicity, yet again. The author reviews the role of ethnicity because of the ever worsening nature of the brutalities, but also because the truth must be told so that long lasting and workable solutions can be devised.

The politicization of ethnicity leaves no room for rationality, but rather reinforces tensions and the mobilization of support solely along tribal loyalties. Political elites from the two dominant ethnicities of Dinka and Nuer often fail to reconcile their vested political and economic interests and most importantly fail to convey the constructive and positive aspects of ethnicity in a post conflict environment – to assert that ethnicity can reinforce unity if viewed as a diverse and unifying factor. Ethnicity features prominently in the conflict – and yet its role is disregarded. The simmering ethnic tensions are being manifested in the actions of the combatants and nothing else.

The deadly violence is not necessarily and entirely ethnically driven, but the politicization of ethnicity and the manipulation of ethnic differences.Burning, raping and killing are not traitsof a conventional army, but are actions propelled by hate.

In 2011, the author was in a meeting where the UN Special advisors on the prevention of genocide and the responsibility to protect expressed concern regarding the ever prevalent tension and inter communal conflicts. The team sought to raise the early warning alarms for genocide especially for a country emerging from crisis and conflicts. The author vehemently opposed the advisors and in fact directed the UN to focus on other state building initiatives. How the author was wrong!

A more general and theoretic criticism of the effect of ethnicity is that the concept of ethnic conflict is in itself flawed, and presumes that ethnicity is construed and quite mutable.While recent approaches have not denied that ethnicity plays a part in conflicts, such a school of thought has strongly reinforced the assertion that ethnicity alone cannot explain the onset of conflict; rather, the salience of ethnicity and the animosity between ethnic groups may be an outcome of the conflict rather than its cause.The brutal crimes committed by both parties to the conflict disregarded the rules to be employed in times of non–international conflict because it was primarily driven by ethnic hatred.

At this juncture the leadership needs to redirect the histories of conflicts and wage it conventionally and in line with the applicable rules of war. The recent UN report is very disturbing – regardless of the authenticity of the contents, it sends the message that something is terribly wrong. In 1991 when the SPLM was undergoing a very shaky phase, ethnicity became the sole tool along which support was mobilized. Rationalization of the split and discontentment became secondary. History is repeating itself – the ongoing events mirror the famous split that occurred within the SPLM in the 90s.As we approach the 9th of July, there are promises of a peace deal. Should peace come or not, all the citizens require the protection of government and the protection should be accorded minus ethnic considerations.

When this nation rises again someday, hopefully very soon, it is essential to look back with remorse and adopt rhetoric sentiments of regret and never to hurt one another again. Learning from our experience is what will make this nation stronger and prosperous.

The writer is a lecturer at the College of Law, University of Juba and is a legal expert on Democratic Governance and the Rule law and a continuing scholar.





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