Nationbuilding in Nascent South Sudan – How to Remember the War

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Ole Frahm, Department of Social Sciences Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany


    Processes of national identity formation in post-colonial Africa have typically followed a similar trajectory: (1) state-led top-down proclamations of inclusive nationalism combined with oppression of alternative, mostly ethnic loyalties; (2) resurgence of ethnic sentiment due to the state’s failure to deliver benefits and deserve adherence; (3) rise of discourses of autochthony and exclusionary politics of belonging. In this context, the process of collective identity formation in newly independent South Sudan is a highly intriguing case study of nation-building. After overwhelmingly opting for independence and thus separate South Sudanese statehood in 2011, the nascent state is already struggling with ethnic rebellions, persistently strong sub-national (tribal) loyalties and widespread complaints over ethnically based nepotism. Public debate on the issue of nation-building is dominated by appeals to overcome tribalism while lacking in any prescriptive ideas on how to achieve a widely accepted national identity. Most citizens do not have good command of English, nominally the country’s official language, whereas Juba Arabic, a colloquial form of Arabic and the country’s de facto lingua franca, is officially shunned. Hence, for the time being, the unifying effect from the civil war period of having a common enemy – the Khartoum government – has not been replaced with either a new negative ‘other’ or a positive vision of a bond that is capable of uniting all citizens of the nascent state. Candidates for a positive identity include Christianity, the army, multiculturalism, and, especially, memory of the independence struggle. While the government appears to favour the latter – Veteran’s Day is a major holiday and the late rebel leader John Garang’s mausoleum has been turned into a shrine – a single authoritative historiography is difficult to achieve because much of the fighting during the second half of the civil war (post-1991) occurred between different Southern factions; and in spite of successful local initiatives, national reconciliation has so far not been undertaken.