If I Am Not Bongo, I Am No One!

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 If I am not Bongo, I am no one!

Tribal identities are a challenge to many societies because the politics of identity drive people apart. South Sudan has sixty plus ethnic groups. From that diversity, we must find unity. Our motto should be, “One nation for many.” In our homeland, the character should count more than the region, background, and tribe.

One should not have to be from a particular tribe or region to be accepted. What ought to count is an individual’s ability to contribute to our society and the decency they bring to their dealings with others.

We must embrace one another for who we are and recognize that pluralism is what can move South Sudan forward. When I joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and Movement in 1986, I had little understanding of the diversity of our land. I knew of my own tribe, Dinka, and I knew that there were Nuer and Arabs living near my village. 

Beyond that, I knew nothing of other regions and groups. Now, I know more about the variety and richness of our country, and I celebrate that variety. I hope that you do as well. Of course, our country has gone through some difficult and troubling times. It is easy to understand how frustration, impatience, and ignorance can fuel hatred and allow those who wish to do so to lead us towards negativity and conflict.

Sadly, it is easy for hate and bigotry to take strong root in among us. But, I believe there is still room to create togetherness, to a fashion fabric of mutual respect that will keep our society wrapped in tolerance and pluralism. In order to weave that fabric, we must remember that the smallest of groups deserve the same respect as the largest.

In our nation, there are smallest tribes and among the tribes is the Bongo of the Tonj state in Bahr el Ghazal region. With only about 16, 000 members left in their tribe, the Bongo are few in number, but equally valuable as part of our nation’s cultural wealth as any other tribe. That is why I choose to identify with the Bongo people and proclaim, “If I am not Bongo, I am no one!” By saying this I affirm that if I do not acknowledge the least of my fellows, then I reject my identity as a citizen of South Sudan. Are we not all members of that one tribe?

Deng M. Atem

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