Ethnically targeted killing is heightening in South Sudan. The constellation of killings out of tribal detestation, ordinarily executed following effective identification to establish the correct ethnic origin of the person(s) to be killed, has, to this juncture reached its zenith.
A few days ago, presumably April 13, 2016, Simon Dhieu and his co-worker of the Danish Demining Group (DDG) based in Yei, were gunned down by a group of unidentified Dinka haters on the outskirt of town. They were on their usual routine – which involves locating and destroying mines and other unexploded ordnances – exploring suspected areas to be demined. Their killers, who stopped the commercial vehicle they were traveling on to the demining site, made no secret of what they were looking for. After forcing them out of the vehicle, they asked about their ethnic origins. The specific identification process employed by these determined killers included asking if there were MTNs or Dinkas among the occupants of the vehicle, numbering about eight people per the narratives of those who witnessed the scene.
Sensing the gravity of the situation, the demining workers grew numb, unable to speak for fear of being caught lying, which might have led to further catastrophic consequences; or as a ploy to hide the identities of their colleagues that the assailants demanded to know. Either of the two, the ploy did not work. The assailants asked for identity documents at gunpoint and were subsequently produced under intense nervousness. Satisfied with their search and identification that Simon Dhieu and his friend were Dinka people (the other who said his mother was a Kakwa from the area was spared), they separated them from the group, undressed them, tied their hands behind their backs, faced them away from the rest, took aims and in an unembellished bestial ferocity, shot them all in the back. The two young men, intelligent and dedicated nation builders who, on daily basis, risked their lives demining their new country from mines and other unexploded ordnance left behind by two decades of civil war - especially Yei River County – contorted and collapsed in front of their colleagues. The mother earth, unpreparedly, received their lifeless bodies pushed down on it by the curvature of space. On the ground, they lay never to get up again. Their colleagues looked on completely petrified, outraged but powerless.
Dinka The MTNs
The killers were out looking for the MTNs, a euphemism for the Dinka people. MTN is a South African-based Mobile Telephone Network operating in many countries around the world, including South Sudan. But to understand its contextual use in this ethnic-based targeted killing, one has to understand the Hutu paramilitary génocidaires of 1994 - The Interahamwe Militias - that likened Tutsi ethnic group members to cockroaches and set about to exterminate them; the Sudanese president’s likening of South Sudanese to insects (hasharat) that should just be sprayed dead. More broadly, think of any other time someone likens another person to a monkey, a dog or a pig – wishing to do unto them the treatment such animals would receive. The perpetrators always used these euphemisms to deny themselves any feelings of sympathy or remorse. It is a human way of turning off humanity and revealing the devil within in its full glory. But in this case, a simple analogy is that MTN coverage seems to be everywhere, just as Dinka majority in South Sudan could be found anywhere in the country, hence, the MTNs.
The killing of Simon Dhieu and his Dinka co-worker is one count among many: between Juba and Yei, people have been pulled out of vehicles and killed; between Juba and Mundri West and East, vehicles heading North of the country have been ransacked and travelers killed mercilessly; out of Rumbek to any direction, extrajudicial killings have been meted out on tribal identities. Even in Juba itself, people say it would be stupid to walk on in the streets at night without checking your back. Suburbs have become lethal tribal areas with people from particular regions of South Sudan settling exclusive from others.
Lethal Tribal Identity
At the moment of their death, and in the realms of the spirits – if there exists a metaphysical ability enabling the dead extend earthly tragedies into conclusive discussions in the worlds beyond the physical, Simon and his colleague would still be questioning their abrupt and tragic human-engendered demise. No doubt, even those alive and have heard or witnessed the killing are probing for answers as well. There is a need to fill-in the gap left by the deaths of these two young nation builders with answers. They had no time to ask their killers. Their killers were filled with rage. Simon and his friend were, in turn, filled with fear and questions. They died before working out anything for resolution or understanding. The only message that brutally departed with them was the question and confirmation of their Dinka originality. In South Sudan, a nation that must assert itself among the nations of the world, telling the truth could be part of nation-building. But, in telling the truth about who they were, Simon Dhieu and his Dinka colleague stumbled on a mystery: having been born Dinkas was a deadly natural reality that kills at once upon pronunciation or realization.
That was why they were killed. They might want to know why it was lethal to be found or born a Dinka? Would they have survived had their killers known that in the Dinka blood runs a shared DNA strains linking them with Kakwa, Acholi, Shilluk, Anyuak, Nuer, Taposta, Luo, Atuot, Aliap, Didinga, etc? Would they have been spared if they had a chance to remind their killers that, despite being the Dinkas they so much hated, they both shared the history of marginalization and, now, the independent South Sudan?
The Nation Built on Tribal Allegiances
To suggest that South Sudan is a nation built on the glaring reality of ethnic patriotism, one cannot be accused of overstating the network of the South Sudanese society’s identity crisis. We have seen this in government, where communities rally behind politicians hailing from their areas; we see it in the South Sudanese army, paramilitaries, and militias where people we have blood relations are the ones we support and stand by irrespective of inabilities and misleading, often destructive dreams; we know this when we speak and argue with pervasive national character and suggesting revolutionary changes while discreetly, wishing that these changes be done by somebody closer to home; we see it in the employment sector, where entire tribes dominate key structures of subsistence; in the airport and immigration where rules only apply to tribes other than mind; in service delivery queues where if an official delivering services is of my blood relation, tribe, region, or any other category that fits, we must be esteemed queue-jumpers. If ethnic groups favour themselves over everything, then the end of everything will always be ethnic clash - Clashing over resources, government positions, national projects, administrative areas and all that the country throws at her citizens. South Sudanese must rise and meet the challenges of true nationalism - It is not right to speak with national rhetoric while practicing ethnic patriotism. Nations of the world that are now considered prosperous, peaceful and strong did one thing: they shunned ethnic allegiances and accepted to be one and subjects of a nation.
It is in shunning ethnic loyalties that the deaths, like that of Simon Dhieu and his colleagues would be brought to an end. If it starts effectively at the national level, other gruesome deaths related to ethnic loyalties would surely be curtailed.