Saturday, 4 September 2010

War War War

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?


  1. Almost impeccable, Dr.

    I just want to draw your good attention to the fact that Maggie Fick is actually a Southern Sudan Field Researcher for the Enough Project, the NGO john Prendergast is co-founder and de facto president of. The Christian Science Monitor article failed to identify her as such and credited her as a blogger for UN Dispatch.

    Here's her profile on the Enough Project website:

    Best regards,

  2. Maggie Fick no longer works for the Enough Project and did not as of the publication of her Christian Science post referred to here.

  3. Nell,

    Thanks, I stand corrected.

    At least she herself should have updated her Twitter profile to reflect that, which still refers to her Enough Project job:

  4. Dear Magdi,

    Regarding your distaste for the way I portrayed conflict between the Lou and Jikany Nuer, I can assure you that the purpose of my piece was not to gloss over the complexities inherent in Southern Sudan, nor to disillusion readers into thinking that the south is “confusingly resistant to reconciliation and peace” as you suggested. The meeting I described was arguably a good example of how the so-called “liberation elite of Southern Sudan” (in plain English, traditional leaders and local elites from the Lou and Jikany communities) continue to use ethnicity as a mode of political representation as they assert territorial rights, strategically contest administrative boundaries, and negotiate for the spoils of the semi-autonomous southern state. I do not personally find these contestations to be exotic and this was not the purpose of discussing this meeting. The quote from GoSS Vice President Machar was anecdotal and I accept that it did not contribute to understanding of the complex relations between these two communities.
    However, I’d argue that I was quite clear that ongoing disputes over administrative boundaries (for example, Wanding) and the necessity of sharing scarce resources—both material and political—between the Jikany and Lou remain at the heart of the persistent tensions between these communities. I defer to you, Magdi, regarding the issue of how to refer to the Lou and Jikany; a friend working in Akobo County told me that “clan” was a more apt term than “section” or “sub-clan”—what do you think is most accurate? I regret that you mistook my interest in presenting some of the specific details of a single interaction between Lou and Jikany elites for an attempt to present a sensationalist, doomsday portrait of Southern Sudan. This was sincerely not my intention.

    Finally, I apologize for the confusion regarding my past affiliation with the Enough Project. I stopped working for Enough in mid-July, but have continued living in Juba and working as a freelance journalist. However, I failed to close my Twitter account, which I am now attempting to do; thank you for that reminder. There was a mistake in my bio line for a recent piece, which claimed that I still worked for Enough, which is not true, so I wanted to set the record straight here.

    I look forward to reading more insightful commentary and critique on this blog.

    Maggie Fick


Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.