• Taban Gabriel

The music of the Upper Nile: a Governor's spat

By Taban Gabriel, Juba


The row over the governorship of Upper Nile State has turned into something of a household dispute, orchestrated by regional politicians who seem to enjoy the music of their own catastrophe. The anti-Olony rhetoric has dominated South Sudan’s political airwaves in recent weeks, as tribally drunk kinsmen add their voices to an ethnically flammable cocktail.


This melody of discord has also infiltrated the Presidency, making it difficult to handle the Upper Nile issue. Despite this, the President is doing the best he can to restore sanity amongst the population of Upper Nile State. As granted by Transitional constitution, he alone has the power to judge the fate of South Sudan in instances such as these.

Gen. James Olony, the controversial candidate for Upper Nile State governor

Serious business


On 9th December, the Presidential office agreed to form a reconciliatory community conference for all the tribes of Upper Nile State. The conference was slated to start on the 16th December, although it has since been postponed.


Before the conference’s postponement became public, however, some regional politicians had already begun questioning its legitimacy and the work of the First Vice President (FVP) therein.


In a letter dated 15th December, a group of 6 leaders from the Padang communities shared an open letter on social media, rejecting the FVP’s involvement. Titled the “Rejection of the Upper Nile Conferences called by Dr. Riek Machar”, it was addressed directly to the President’s office.


Padang community leaders at a recent conference

However, the letter has been decried by some as a mere conflict of interest. Instead of representing the Presidency or community leaders, it is instead a tool of disgruntled politicians to air their grievances associated with the governorship of Upper Nile State.

In doing this, it might be said they have forgotten the love and compassion shared by the communities of the Upper Nile State. History shows us that the Upper Nile has traditionally enjoyed jovial and pleasant relationships between its citizens. For years, Malakal Town has accommodated all the Upper Nile’s tribes as its capital.


Why, then, do we have this trouble now?


Upper Nile State and culture


Some of the successes and failures of the historical relationships of Upper Nile State can be attributed to several shared customs amongst the state’s communities. These include social links, language, and dress code. Each goes some way to solidify the fraternity of Upper Nile State peoples.


In terms of dress, the prevalence of ‘lau’ and necklace beads worn by both men and women during weddings is common to all communities in the state.

Shilluk tribesmen in traditional attire, Upper Nile State

Linguistically, we know that Shiluk, Dinka and Nuer languages are spoken by every community in the Upper Nile. In one encounter with some Upper Nile Youths in Juba, it was both amusing and interesting to see them speaking all such languages in one conversation.


Marriage has also played a key role in building interstate relationships between citizens of the Upper Nile, particularly in the Dinka areas of Padang and Chollo. One Chollo elder, commenting off the record, noted the most youth from the Padang community owes the right of uncleship to their counterparts in Chollo. He referred to the manner in which many girls from Chollo were married to men from Padang communities.


To conclude, let me sum up this article with a reconciliatory message to the people of Upper Nile State. Reconciliation can be a very painful thing, and it often appears to fail. It may seem as if there is neither hope nor future in reestablishing and refounding relationships.


However, must the process of reconciliation among the communities of the Upper Nile State flop, and be bound to failure? Must Upper Nile be destined for animosity?


The answer is no. Upper Nile communities can and must still resolve their spats without self conflicted politicians. This will only come from genuine conciliation. Peaceful solutions will surely prevail in Upper Nile State. Merry Christmas to all!


The writer is a freelance journalist and opinion writer. For any comment on the story, he can be reached by email at: gabronn2014@gmail.com


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