There are about thirty thousand of us in the United States and possibly another twenty thousand in other English speaking countries. We are the children of South Sudan who have come looking for a better life.
About half of us came by way of camps in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda. Most of those people were directly involved in the Second Civil War. The other half fled north from our homeland, often traveling through Khartoum and then on to Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. Together, we make up the South Sudanese Diaspora.
When the vote for independence was taken in January 2011—followed by the declaration in July—the vast majority of us hoped to return to our homeland bringing with us the skills and ideas that we had learned during the Diaspora.
Sadly, that was not to be. Quite simply and horribly, our country was drawn into the civil conflict. Tribe against tribe and region against region, South Sudan has lost its way.
We who came to America and elsewhere did not come with a sense of division. We were all committed to working together, to learning together, and to help our homeland together. The years of conflict at home have taken their toll on this sense of common purpose. For example, in Phoenix, Arizona, where once Murle, Nuer, Dinka, Arabs, and members of tribes from Equatoria all gathered in our community center to play dominoes, cards, chess and to talk about politics and life at home, today there are almost no activities or discussions, especially none that involve people from different tribes or regions. In place of brotherly affection and a sense of common cause, we find suspicion and hostility. We’ve even had to cancel our Independence Day celebration.
As if it weren’t difficult enough for our young people to get good educations and for our adults to avoid problems with the law, now few of us are ready to help others. As a translator for the courts and other programs, I find myself being one of the few members of our community who can even make contact with others. How far that is from the warmth and friendship that existed just a few years ago.
The worst part of this growing conflict within our South Sudanese community is that it stops us, the members of the Diaspora, from having a positive influence back home. We should be pressuring our friends and family back in Juba and the rest of our country to make peace and to find common ground. Many of us are sending money back to our families only to see that money going to help buy guns—as if our nation needs more guns. While the children of South Sudan need educations and role models and the villages need wells and better sanitation, the government and the tribal leaders are concentrating on buying weapons and vehicles to carry soldier to kill one another and to attack villages in which people want only to live in peace.
Relationships that have been built over hundreds of years are being destroyed. Why? From my perspective, the problem is greed, greed for power and greed for wealth. Our country has many wonderful resources. We can grow more than enough food to feed ourselves—yes, and yet so many of our people are starving. We have gold, diamonds, petroleum, and probably other minerals that could provide economic growth for all our people. With so much at stake, it is easy for leaders to become greedy. And, we must recognize that the leaders of other countries, including the ones in which we now live, want to get control of those resources or at least keep them out of the hands of other countries.
As a member of the Diaspora, we have some great advantages. Even if we are underpaid, we make far more than our countrymen in South Sudan. We have access to many benefits, such as clean water, education, and safety. We also have a say in our local governments at least that is true for those of us with dual citizenships. By our use of those gifts, we can be role models for our homeland. And, by our communication with South Sudan, we can help to push for reconciliation and cooperation across tribe and region.
by Deng Mayik Atem