Politicised Cultural Universalism and Relativism in South Sudan
Medieval and contemporary human histories, are awash with instances whereby, cultural imperatives and narratives, have been politicised, to achieve exclusive comprehensive advantages, in favour of powerful minorities, or majorities, to the determined of others within the same societies. Militarily powerful others, in these epochs, have at times, succeeded in imposing their cultural milestones, as the foundational cultural pillars, on which, political platforms, whereon, all others stand, are built. These kinds of practices tend to undermine those others, and in fact, assimilate their particularities, into the other cultures, to their total demise.
The political human society referred to above must be distinguished from the plutonian definition of the human person as a political animal. It is also a fact that, we cannot undo this historical and political event that led to the creation of the RoSS, in its contemporary socio-cultural and political setup. The best that we can do is to make the most appropriate and beneficial use of this setup to consolidate socio-cultural and political harmony for posterity and us. How do we maximise the benefits from this society that is made of heterogeneous cultures and social norms? Well, it appears as if we need to get involved in the dialectics of cultural universalism and relativism in the RoSS. What does this mean?
It means that, at the intellectual level, the peoples of the RoSS need to identify those common cultural norms and traits across the myriads of tribes and ethnic groups that tend to unify them, and then interrogate these uniform norms and traits to arrive at some socio-cultural universals that they can identify, as common socio-cultural norms. However, these so identified norms should be subject to objective recognition by all the peoples of the RoSS, and must not depend on subjective socio-cultural whims of tribal groups. The so identified norms become the cultural currency in all the ten States of the RoSS. The primary element of these socio-cultural universals is the political variable that can be defined within the framework of socio-cultural norms.
Many political manifestos are actually imbued in cultural values that crystallised into political agenda. The same can be done in the RoSS to the extent that, the RoSS can be politically socialised in socio-cultural and political universals that cement their harmony while safeguarding the unity, independence, sovereignty and integrity of the RoSS. It is therefore hoped that, by nurturing and sustaining some cultural universals in the RoSS, the ubiquitous negative effect of tribalism and nepotism can be curtailed to the extent that, individuals will identify with common norms and values outside the realm of tribal hegemony and beyond the control of illiterate and semi-educated geriatric and dysfunctional tribal leaders, assisted by half-educated youthful political upstarts, who cannot make it politically without tribal launching pads.
However, it must be pointed out that, positive socio-cultural change takes decades if not centuries to come to fruition and there are no quick fixes. This does not mean that people must give up and become fatalistic. That is counterproductive, because, selfless human persons, who did not live to enjoy the fruits of their efforts and thoughts today, initiated all positive changes in our world. The peoples of the RoSS should do the same for their posterities or else, we are not a functional human society.
We have an obligation to develop our society in the RoSS, to become compatible with the century we are living in as well as making our values civil to the extent that, we avoid being socio-cultural museum of Africa, and the world at large, in terms of practices that beget other human persons with incredulity. While it is imperative that, we ought to develop cultural universals in the RoSS, Sudan, it is also profoundly important that, the prevailing degree of cultural relativism must be respected, and sustained, to maximise self-determination, and avoid assimilation tendencies, especially in the current excited political atmosphere, where others are wildly talking of some RoSS’s tribal language, being promoted as the main language in the RoSS.
There is nothing called the main tribal language in the RoSS, that must be imposed on all tribal groups by political, economic or military pressure. All tribal languages in the RoSS are equal, regardless of the number of individuals that speak a respective language or dialect. However, cultural relativism must be exercised within reason, and not to completely exclude others from some common goods and services. We should not use our tribes as weapons against each other. However, at the same time, w must not pretend that we are all culturally homogenous in the RoSS. The more we continue to reify ourselves about this cultural homogeneity, the more we tend to oppress one another by pretending that, since we are the same peoples, we can easily represent each other’s interests with some scrupulous degree of equality and honesty.
Socio-cultural and political empiricals point to contrary results, that indicate inward looking political goals, especially political goals formulated by contemporary oligarchy in the RoSS. Dialectics of cultural universalism and relativism in the RoSS is a function of political will. If the potential and actual leaders and rulers of the RoSS are not motivated and convinced of the political happiness that can accrue to the peoples of the RoSS, from such an exercise, then we shall be doomed to maximisation of socio-cultural relativism, without any chance of respecting the wishes, hopes, needs, rights and privileges of those others, whom we tend to despise and consider lowly human persons within the context of the RoSS’s tribal politics.
This shall be contrary to the language of the spirit and letter of the doctrine of self-determination that gave birth to the RoSS. the RoSS came into existence on the basis that, all of us belong to the RoSS, and yet, within the very RoSS, it appears that, one is a South Sudanese relative to some political standard in terms of bundles of rights and obligations. It appears as if some South Sudanese are expected to carry out their obligations without commensurate rights let alone privileges. The current phase of our political metamorphosis demands political universals imbued in common cultural values that are objectively recognisable by all discerning peoples of the RoSS. Excited talks of independence of the RoSS within the remit of self-determination are vacuous political slogans, without unifying political universals that can define a political group for the enjoyment of self-determination as a socio-cultural and political group right.
By Prof. Wani Tombe