Near the end of the defense, one of the examiners who had lived in Sudan, asked the question how he saw these concepts, as understood by the Dinka and Nuer, relating to the current conflict in South Sudan. My ears suddenly pricked up at that question, because I wanted to know the answer too!
Ramadan explained that the Dinka have a strong cultural heritage, and each person is taught what is “right” according to the tradition of the clan to which one belongs. Various clans have different names for “God”, and traditions that go along with that name. There is no overall belief system that is seen as central to the Dinka, or in fact, to the Nuer. As these are the two largest language groups in South Sudan, and they are the two fighting for power in the current conflict, this is significant.
While the Shilluk have a king and a system of paramount chiefs, chiefs and sub-chiefs, the Dinka and Nuer do not. Each person or at least each clan does what they think is right according to their traditions.
The external examiner broke in at this point and said, “That must make converting people to Christianity very difficult!”
“That is correct,” replied Ramandan. He then went on to explain that missionaries had worked in his home area for 50 years, and at the end of that time had only made four converts. One of these was Ramadan’s father.
Ramadan continued to explain that during the time of the British, the Dinka chiefs were given local authority to settle disputes in their own areas. Therefore, it was not until relatively recently that the Dinka have had to conform to a law larger than their clan traditions. If they broke a law in South Sudan, they could be put into jail because they had broken the “law of the land”, even if it would not have been seen that way by a traditional court. Having a law larger than the Dinka tradition was quite a new concept, and not one everyone has come to terms with it yet.
Ramadan went on to explain that from the Dinka perspective, the government leaders of South Sudan were doing what they thought was “right”. The Nuer, former Vice-President Riak Machar and his fellow leaders, had tried to seize power from the Dinka, and in the Dinka view, that was “not right”. Therefore, since the Nuer started the fight, the Dinka had every right to pursue “justice” and that included killing the Nuer.
He continued that from the Nuer point of view, the Dinka had forced them out of power and that was “not right”. Therefore, they were in the “right” to start the fight and kill the Dinka and anyone who was seen to be on their side. That unfortunately included a lot of Shilluks.
It is not hard to see how this would lead to a cycle of violence and destruction that very rapidly threatened the very existence of the country. If there is not some way to establish “justice” and “righteousness” for both sides, and to bring reconciliation and forgiveness between them, then this disaster would not end until both groups are completely destroyed.
Today, 10 May 2014, I read that President Salva Kiir (Dinka) and former Vice-President Riak Machar (Nuer) have signed a peace agreement.
“South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar agreed a pact on Friday, after a five-month conflict that has displaced 1.5 million people.
Their truce, the second attempt of its kind, comes into force on Saturday.
The previous deal, struck in January, collapsed within days, with both sides accusing each other of restarting the fighting.” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27354568)
Time will tell about peace in South Sudan. Ramadan, however, passed his viva and is now Dr. Ramadan!