South Sudan has changed and is changing-Can We Tame it?
By John A. Akec
THEY’VE builded wooden timber tracks,
And a trolly with screaming brakes
Noses into the secret bush,
Into the birdless brooding bush,
And the tall old gums it takes.
And down in the sunny valley,
The snorting saw screams slow;
O bush that nursed my people,
O bush that cursed my people,
That flayed and made my people,
I weep to watch you go
Wrote Frank Wilmot in his poem entitled Progress. Frank Wilmot was an Australian poet who lived between 1881 and 1942. This poem most probably bemoaned the disappearance of Australian wilderness in order to pave way for railroads and motorways - the necessary evils of modernity that marked 19 and 20 century. And if you recall the high temperature surrounding issue of land for development around Juba (South Sudan), you will identify with Wilmot. Progress and change are bedfellows. And there is a sense in which we too can bemoan the disappearance of our cultures and our most treasured values in our watch!
In the world of change, nothing is more certain than change itself. Change, and more change wait in the store for all of us. We must learn to live with it, adapt to it, and dare I say, enjoy it. However, the change that concerns me most is how South Sudan has already been transformed beyond recognition by the two decades of war and oppression, for better, and for worst: socially, culturally, politically, and economically.
Certain type of change is good and must be welcomed. Others less so, if not down right scary. That it is now perfectly acceptable in many towns in South Sudan for a “respectful” housewife to ride a bicycle, and does her daily shopping. Hearing that news first time did leave me with my mouth wide open (specially for a man living in Europe and who still believes girls must not be taught to ride a bike, let a lone own one!). But I can safely say I was delightfully shocked by the news because I quite like cycling as one of most environmentally friendly means of transport. It also helps housewives stay fit. I can live with it. What’s more, to travel to my village during the rainy season from Wau, these days the capital of Western Bhar El Ghazal state, you can hire a donkey. Very interesting, and should I say creative. When I was there, some twenty odd years ago, a donkey was a rare sight.
More scary though is the invasion of consumerism (and love of material) that came riding at the back of the dollar pumped into Southern Sudan partly from Diaspora and most recently from within - from the autonomous government of South Sudan. Few people are very rich. Great majority have nothing. For a woman to work as a house housemaid so that she can feed her family was uncommon. No longer. Drinking and alcoholism have invaded once a virgin countryside. Its victims range from men to housewives, to young boys and girls. And as to morality that once governed relationships in a community, it is in free-fall. The results are seen in the weakening of the family relations and threat with its disintegration. This is reflected in the rise of children running away from home and the rise of divorce rate.
The news of those who escaped the country for a life in exile is not rosy either. As seen from the eyes of those who remained behind, Professor Mosses Machar, a former vice-president of Sudan and a distinguished academic once told an astounded audience in London last summer about what they (back home) hear about those living in Diaspora:"In a family it is wife first, then children, then dog, and finally husband." You may call it stereotypical, but it is not far from truth. Divorce and homicide, you name it, have rocketed amongst the South Sudanese Diaspora in the West at an alarming rate. Unlike Jews who have survived centuries of exile since Babylonian captvity, many South Sudanese communities seem to have lost everything that kept them surviving over centuries in just two decades.
To be blunt, as a result of war and forced displacement of South Sudanese from their homelands, many once proud and isolated communities currently face a great crisis of identity. Like the mythical creature that is portrayed as half-human and half-fish, South Sudan as a unique Sudanese entity that was once defined as made up of African tribes that embraced either Christian religion or traditional African religions. No more can such a simplistic and straightforward definition of “Southern-ness” be sufficient. Millions have been displaced to the North and some found their way into Egypt and the Middle East where they have been exposed to intense acculturation. Others went to East and Southern Africa are likely to have picked the worst that is in those communities (corruption, for example). A sizable number spread in the West and also seems to have not done any better but also picked the worst of Western world - individualism.
I can delve into what has become of our communities. Probably this time is not the right time to be bombarding us with our deformed mirror image and telling of bad news. What I have done is simply scratch the issue at the surface. In ideal world, a government should be concerned about bringing into focus the changes that can impact family and community relationships andwell-being- the building blocks without which n nnations can exist and to help citizens make informed choices in the face of unavoidable social, political, and economic changes. Here the church and faith leaders can play an important role. And so do social and economic planners and scientists.
Change as I noted earlier, is inevitable. Certain type of change is good and can take care of itself. Yet we must know and be aware of change that is not so good in order to avoid being crushed under its mighty feet.
And as we celebrate Christmas, let us remember how God changed into man in order to redeem the world from clutch of sin, selfishness, and materialism. We must ask ourselves whether or not God has another purpose us. And if so, what purpose is there for you and me? We need ought to be asking: What can we do in order to save our community from perils of undesirable social changes?
I want to leave you with another poem by Delma Luben, a contemporary American writer and journalist who presents a kinder (less scary) face to progress, the bed fellow of change:
I see people in another country
at the touch of a button,
hear them instantly.
I fly at the speed of sound;
electronic marvels work for me.
I am educated, entertained,
and rebuilt by technology ...
Science is flying.
I see the bold power of authority
crushig old truth--and the
new flower of creativity,
individual candle flames doused,
pure energy hamstrung,
and ancient games, called
tradition, twisted into piety ...
Humanity is plodding.
- Delma Luben
I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.