By Zechariah Manyok Biar
May 19, 2013 – Some days ago, the administrator of the social media discussion site known as “South Sudanese All Over The World” decided that he would be blocking those who insult others for no good reasons during discussions on the site. This is because, as he argued, insults promote disunity and the site is meant to promote peace among South Sudanese. Most of those who commented under the post agreed with the administrator. Most of them said they had long been waiting for such a decision.
To me, a decision like this should not go unnoticed. Real peace comes from minor decisions like this one. Calling communities names like nyagat, jenge, door, nyamnyam, jallaba, bheer, dhong, among others does not create peaceful coexistence among our people even though we know these terms are based on misperceptions of their real meanings. Insult games have their different social roles in our communities. They should not be mixed up with politics.
We know that in most of our communities, some kind of insult championship exists. You normally find two people meeting and starting their greetings with insults like: “Your eyes look like those of Kuchaguet’s cat.” The other one will reply: “Your ears look like those of a cat standing on dough.” They would then laugh and embrace each other. An insult in this context is normal. That is why there are people who are known as insult champions in some communities.
Professor Louise M. Bourgualt in her book “Mass Media in Sub-Saharan Africa” terms the above way of thinking as “Agonistically Toned Thought.” Prof. Bourgualt believes that the world of oral tradition is seen as both full of villains who need vilification and heroes who demand exhortation. You can observe this kind of practice in our media, especially comments.
There are many parts of Africa where this oral communication is used instead of what should be literary-based logical communication. For example, Prof. Bourgualt quoted what was written in a newspaper in Zambia in 1991 in which the opposition party was described as “bunch of mandrake dealers, ex-coup plotters, power hungry elements, dictators, tribalists, fake lay preachers, corrupt and disgruntle misfits.”
When you read this description, you wonder how a person who wrote it would think the whole political party would fit into such a description. But reality does not matter under agonistically toned thought. It is fiction that matters.
For example, some of you who read comments under articles would remember that one of my friends, who is my junior officer where I work, called me a drug addict four months ago because he believed I had blamed his tribe. He called me like this knowing that in the Ministry I do not take tea, let alone smoking a normal cigarette. When it comes to drinking, I do not drink Red Bull, let alone drinking beer. If I do not enjoy minor caffeine, then how can I enjoy high stimulants like drugs? He knew all the employees in the Ministry, who are mostly engineers who know how to read and write, could ask him these questions. But he did not care because he was using oral-based communication in which fiction is preferred over reality.
In literary-based logical communication, falsehood is the problem. But in oral-based communication, evidence is the problem. People become angry in insult championship when you use evidence-based insults because it is not fun. Evidence-based insults are reserved for situations where insults are meant for fighting. This is why you see people getting angry in our country when you use evidence to describe a situation.
The question we should ask ourselves is: are we going to run a country on oral-based thinking in which evidence offends or should we graduate from there and take falsehood for what it is? Should we also practice insult championship in politics or should we pay attention to what matters in our efforts to realize genuine change?
The answer that the administrator of South Sudanese All Over The World has given is that we should graduate from agonistically toned thought to literary-based logical thought if we have to have meaningful unity among our different communities. This is important because we are diverse and what is normal in one’s community might not be normal in other communities. So, we should practice what is closer to how governments are run, not how tribes are run.
Zechariah Manyok Biar can be reached at [email protected]