In the gaze of its benevolent sympathisers Southern Sudan is ever trapped in war, be it external against a belligerent Khartoum adamant on derailing the promised referendum, or internal as a result of perplexing tribal conflicts and clan feuds resistant to comprehension let alone resolution. In a campaigner’s take against the Obama administration’s Sudan Policy John Prendergast lately warned in the Wall Street Journal of an impending war between North and South, a war he suggested would be the worst round of Sudanese bloodletting yet. Such doomsday scenarios, without prejudice to plausibility, are exemplary of the fund-generating operationalism of transnational NGO politicking. In the language of campaign, politics is replaced by picturesque sensationalism and scare. The problem with statements like those John Prendergast is so fond of making is that they are so simplistic it seems perverted to contradict them. However they are to be resisted and exposed to what they really are: marketing tools for the transnational business of the humanitarientsia. What Prendergast is concerned with here is not Southern Sudan but the trademark Southern Sudan.
When press coverage of Southern Sudan gets a bit sophisticated the result is the disillusioned ethno-mapping of tribes and clans. In a piece for the Christian Science Monitor, Maggie Fick reported of a meeting joining Riek Machar and the embattled Luo and Jikani Nuer. In a mix of journalism and lay anthropology Ms Fick presented her readers with a multitude of Nuer ‘clans’ battling it out to a perplexed Riek Machar, a Nuer himself but from another clan (!), over the ‘Nuerland’, and confusingly resistant to reconciliation and peace as if addicted to the gallant AK-47. Machar, the Vice President of Southern Sudan, is quoted asking in oblivion: “Water has been here all the time. The fish have been here. So why is there conflict now?” Well Ms Fick, be assured, the designer of the ‘war of the intellectuals’, as the intra Southern Sudanese civil war of the 1990’s consequent of the SPLM/A split is known amongst those who suffered it, is much better informed than that.
The wisdom of tribes and clans although alluring and effervescently exotic cannot fully account for conflicts entwined with the agonies of carving out a state from largely acephalous societies stunned into modernity at the tip of the gun. Similar to their British and effendiya predecessors the liberation elite of Southern Sudan maintains implicit interest in generation of ethnic cartography, and so, their subjects lodge in ethnic categories, ethnicity here being a mode of political representation rather than a bond of common descent. To explain the Jikani-Luo confrontation one may have to look a bit further than fish and water, what about administrative boundaries; the spoils or even promises of the state?