What is the House of Nationalities?


Riek Machar Teny's Speech

Dr. Riek Machar Teny

on the concept of the ‘House of Nationalities’

(Opening Speech at the workshop organized by

the Upper Nile Youth Association for Development (UNYAD)

in Panyagor (Upper Nile), on April 1st, 2004

I think l will speak from behind the table because l believe that you can hear me from this distance. I am going to speak to you in English, as a practice or exercise. First of all: greetings to all of you!

Let me start from where the Governor of Upper Nile region has ended because it is important, and therefore there is need to emphasize it. You had wanted to convene this workshop in Lokichokio.

When some of you consulted with me, I objected but said if your Governor wants it done in Lokichogio it’s up to you, but it is important for you to convene your conferences where your governor is.

First of all, by this, you will be supporting the structures that your region is building and secondly you will need the support of the administration to implement some of your resolutions. Because, when you will be discussing, you’ll be discussing the problems of society or region of which he is the leader; the support of the administration is very important.

We are coming from a conference called All Nuer Peace Conference in Old Pangak. It is not only the Nuer but also neighboring tribes which are participating. All the Dinka groups neighbouring the Nuer are there, the Murle, the Burun and the Shilluk and also the Anyuak.

You conference cannot be done without the presence of Governor or his representative as it is the first youth conference on the House of Nationalities, you cannot do it abroad. You cannot do it without the presence of the governor or his deputies or his representatives.

If it were not because we wanted the commissioners to be involved in the groups’ meeting in the Nuer conference today, they would also attend your conference.

Most commissioners in the Upper Nile are in that conference of Old Pangak but now the governor, his two deputies and those who are responsible for the army, the person responsible for the police in the upper Nile are here. This is because we are giving your conference emphasis and importance.

Secondly, we want to correct certain things about the House of Nationalities, when you talk of House of Nationalities, people begin to think of Peter Adwok. Peter was the first to write a small leaflet called House of Nationalities.

What he presented were his own views. Actually, he had attended the initial conference on the House of Nationalities and he, as you know, is a writer, he likes writing.

So he wrote on House of Nationalities and attributed the concept to himself. May be those who read that leaflet and felt that his/her views did not go with what Peter Adwok wrote, started to agitate against the House of Nationalities. In addition, some of the youth also misunderstood what the House of Nationalities really is.

Some of you thought that this was another Youth-organization... Even the acting executive director, in opening your conference, had described you by saying that “you are a different youth organization”. But is it true that you are a different youth organization? No!

See, there is fear of the House of Nationalities. There is a misunderstanding of it. We must correct this misunderstanding before we talk about the concept of the House of Nationalities.

How many of you are members of the New Sudan Youth Association? Lift up your hands high! (ALL PARTICIPANTS RAISED THEIR HANDS). In your county, you are members of the New Sudan Youth Association.

I even think that the president of the New Sudan Youth Association for the Upper Nile Region is here. Is he? Gaol, stand up. (He stood up). So actually you are members of the New Sudan Youth Association.

So what is happening, is that this conference is being held for people who are members of the New Sudan Youth Association. Am I right? (Reply) Yes. If l am right then let me go ahead to correct the following.

Upper Nile Youth Association for Development. This one is an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization). It is not a popular organization. I don’t know if you are political activists.

When we were your age we knew the difference between Political Organizations and NGOs. Political organizations are totally different from NGOs. The New Sudan Youth Association is a popular organization.

It has political connotation because youth of any country must have an organization where they can meet. In times to come, it will be called the Sudan Youth Union, and if you become an independent state in the Southern Sudan it will be called Southern Sudan Youth Union.

In our days when we were youth we used to compete for the control of the membership and leadership of the Sudan Youth Union. Some of us were either members of the Communist Party or of the Southern Front or SANU or of the UMMA or of the DUP.

The umbrella organization - Sudan Youth Union is which every one - party needed to control. During the Nimeiri’s time we had a problem with the communists because they wanted to control the Sudan Youth Union.

So, it is because any party that controls the youth union, has future in political life of the country as the youth are the future. Now something is going to happen. Peace will come in a month or two.

Politics will be very hard. It will not be politics of competing over NGOs’ money. It will be politics of winning the hearts and minds of people. Each party wants its ideas to be bought by the people and be voted to power.

These will be political parties, even we in the SPLM, we will not say the New Sudan Youth Association is ours. We will say this organization is for everybody. The SPLM must create SPLM Youth Branch which will compete for the control of the leadership body of the Sudan Youth Union.

The SPLM must compete and take control because there is going to be a very serious battle after peace because other political parties will come up. They will challenge us, they will first say: is the New Sudan Youth Association really for all, is it not a SPLM’s structure?

If it is for all, then they will say it must be elected by all political parties. If we have not prepared, the SPLM Youth we will be in trouble. Because the umbrella organization called New Sudan Youth Association is for the five regions and all parties; the SPLM is the only party controlling the political space now, but very soon we will have competitors.

Our competitors are not the NGOs, it will be the UMMA Party Youth, it will be the DUP Youth, it will be the Communist Party Youth, it will be the SANU Youth. All these parties and others are our competitors.

Of course they will say, if this organization – New Sudan Youth Association - is for the five regions, it must not be left to the control of the SPLM. Right now, somebody will say I come from Equatoria, for example, “I have a right to establish UMMA Party Youth in Equatoria, just like the SPLM Youth in Equatoria”, he for sure will establish it.

We are talking of democracy and multi-party. So I hope I have made it clear that the youth association which the SPLM recognizes today as a political branch, is the New Sudan Youth Association, the rest are NGOs. Have I made myself clear?(Reply) Yes!.

If you people have a problem with the regional structure or leadership of New Sudan Youth Association, you can only change it in a conference of the New Sudan Youth Association of Upper Nile Region.

If the problem is at the national level of the New Sudan Youth Association, you will not change it only in a conference or convention of the New Sudan Youth Association. It is not by a House of Nationalities workshop for youth. The House of Nationalities is not for the youth alone. Am I clear? (Reply) Yes.

If I am clear, then let me come to the “Concept of House of Nationalities”. The women held a conference in Lokichogio. The venue was wrong, it should have been somewhere in the Sudan if they wanted people to hear about “what the House of Nationalities is”. Southern Sudan is composed of tribes.

There are big tribes; there are very small tribes. Some tribes may be composed of one thousand people only, the small tribes are predominantly in Western Bahr el Ghazal. They are within those called the Fertit tribes. They are actually twenty-six in number.

Because of different circumstances, they have been reduced to be very small, but one time they were big. Some - by joining other tribes - lost their languages. Some became small because of the slave trade.

I saw a leaflet in the plane, which said that there are about sixty-two nationalities in the South Sudan. The writer of this leaflet called them Nationalities, the colonial times language is that they are tribes but because African do not want to be called tribes they preferred the word “Nationalities”.

Let us revisit the issues of the conflict in Sudan, our conflict in Sudan is based on two issues. The people who hold power in Khartoum see the Sudan as Arab and Islamic and the regimes pursued the twin policy of arabization and islamization as cornerstone for unity of the Sudan; but Sudan is composed of many Nationalities.

How long will it take you to become Arab? I can acquire the language, alright, like I can speak it now but how long will my genes take to make me an Arab? In that process we will be fighting each other like we have been fighting for a long time, now for over fifty years.

This is because somebody is saying if you are going to be a Sudanese you must be Arab, you must be Muslim. So we resisted, because in their definition you can’t be President in Khartoum if you are not an Arab. You cannot head a department even if you have become a Muslim.

So the basis on what they want to form and unite the Sudan is wrong and is false. It does not reflect the Sudanese composition and character. Our people began to ask themselves, okay if we refuse that, what is the next concept for forming and uniting the Sudan?

The next concept is that “we must accept our diversity”. And that is, “that in the Sudan, there is an Arab and there is an African, and that “the African is also diverse”.

We have Dinka, Shilluk, Nuer, etc we have all these people, they are present in the Sudan. We must accept that diversity because if we don’t accept that, there will be confrontation.

This where the concept of the House of Nationalities came to being: to avoid confrontation. If we are not going to force ourselves to be Arabs or Muslims, then we must accept this concept which accommodates all in one country.

The question is, will it (the concept of House of Nationalities) divide us? Or will it unite us? If you recognize that somebody somewhere in western Bahr el Ghazal or there is a tribe called Shatt.

If you come to know it while you come from Boma. Will that divide you or will it bring you together with a person who is a Kresh in Horfer el Nahas. If it will make you know that there is someone called Suri (Kachipo) in Upper Nile.

Does anybody know who the Shatt are? Shatt are a Luo-speaking tribe; originally they were Jurchol, the Luo. They separated from the Jurchol and went west of Bahr el Ghazal with the Fertit tribes.

Their language is slightly modified because they had an interaction with tribes of Western Bahr el Gazal . As for the Suri, it is only during this war we began to know the Kachipo or Suri. In Upper Nile we used to count only six tribes namely Dinka, Anyuak, Murle, Dinka, Shilluk, Burun.

The Kachipo was ignored. Do we have to wait till Kachipo starts fighting the Anyuak and the Murle and then we begin to ask what is happening? Kachipo are fighting the Anyuak and the Murle! Then we ask who are the Kachipos?

What the concept of the House Nationalities is saying is that “let us recognize our diversity, let us appreciate ourselves, let us appreciate our cultures, let us appreciate our languages”!

And, by the way, for each person killed, there is a problem which we must solve. Our people are prone to conflict, they always fight. We have to provide a forum for them to discuss their problems peacefully. The other systems that have ruled the Sudan have neglected them.

Recently, here in Panyagor there was a conference between the Dinka themselves from Duk to the Bor South. This was to solve the problems between these three counties here, I also know that there is going to be a conference between the Dinka and the Murle here.

There is also the conference in Pangak for all the tribes of the Upper Nile although the main problems in discussion are of the Nuer amongst themselves. We have to provide a forum for our people to resolve their problems through dialogue so that they do not just kill themselves.

Where there is a problem they talk. Now, the county-secretary can not be with us because the two Dinka sections in this area fought last night. Is it the failure of their chiefs or our failure that they have to fight instead of talking? Are we not bringing the chiefs together to talk?

Problems of last year and the expected problems of next year could be discussed to avoid these incidents. The paper I read in the plane is trying to address these problems at various levels – at the national level, the level of the region, and the level of the county.

Now let me talk about mistakes or misunderstandings made in other places, when they were discussing the House of Nationalities, which you in Upper Nile must avoid. The youth of Bahr el Ghazal when they wanted to have a conference/workshop on the House of Nationalities, they differed amongst themselves.

There was resistance from the New Sudan Youth Association and there was a misunderstanding between the NGO which was used to propagate or convene the meeting or the workshop for the New Sudan Youth Association or for the youth in general - actually there are some people who are not members of the New Sudan Youth Association but are youth.

Because of that misunderstanding, others got arrested. This did not help the House of Nationalities. The Youth of Bahr al Ghazal were denied the opportunity to discuss the concept of the House of Nationalities. I understand also that the Youth of Equatoria Region created a “permanent secretariat for the House of Nationalities.

To do what? You are not coming here to create a New Organisation! You are only being availed a forum to discuss new ideas. This is the whole thing.

In the paper I read in the plane, Jur Mananger is listed as a tribe but it is not a tribe. It was once a tribe but they now speak Dinka, their culture is Dinka, and some of them who went to the Nuerland are Nuer. If you ask someone from Jurmananger who they are, he or she will say that he or she is a Dinka.

Actually, their ancestral mother was called Anger who was from the Luo. As you know, our society can be patrilineal or matrilineal. As a clan you can be called by your mother or by your father.

The Jurmanger are Dinka. In the Nuer tribe you will find a section of Gajak called Cieng Nyajangni, it is a section that lives between the Gagwuang and Gajak They are called after their mother. It is our role, those who did research, to correct the mistakes in this paper.

If the idea of House of Nationalities can help form a diversified united Sudan, that is what we want, because it recognizes our diversity - which is not bad - it is the strength of our people.

When I read through this leaflet, I noticed that the Bari speaking tribes are written separately and not in one place; however I know they do not like to be referred as Bari tribe.

They speak Bari all of them but there is a slight difference. If you start counting from the Mundari, they speak Bari, the Nyangwara speak Bari, the Fujulu speak Bari, the Kakwa speak Bari, the Kuku speak Bari, but if you tell a Nyangwara you’re a Bari he will give a knock on the face but the language is the same.

So these are our diversities and it doesn’t mean when we talk about them that we are not creating a united country. Actually you are creating a united country in diversity.

As for we the major tribes, if we start to complain that the House of Nationalities may be favoring smaller tribes, then we will not create a united country. So our problem is that with this diversity how do we create modern state-structures levels of counties, regions and nation.

The House of Nationalities is not being addressed to the youth alone, it is being addressed to women, it addresses the whole tribes and also the political parties like us in the SPLM.

We are being challenged to get new ideas that can unite this country, whether it is going to be one Sudan or one southern Sudan. We are being challenged to get new ideas that can acceptable to most if not all of us. Because it is with new ideas that the SPLM can continue it’s rule.

We are experimenting with you, you are guinea pigs, so that we can assess the reaction of the people to these ideas contained in the concept of House of Nationalities.

Women also need to discuss these ideas before it reaches the SPLM as a political movement. Is it an idea that we can sell. Can it become the basis for a viable political programme?

We want to have it discussed by you because you are the political barometers by which we can judge the community. It is time for great ideas.

I hope I have made myself clear!

Before I declare the workshop opened, I wish to introduce my daughter, Meer Teny, she is here. She came from London to attend this seminar or workshop, she is studying Law and will graduate this May. (Meer got up to acknowledge the introduction).

Thank you.

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