South Sudan: Living with Coronavirus

As a member of Chatham House’s Common Futures Platform, I did an article for Chatham House’s online magazine, ‘The World Today.’ The article was written as part of the ‘Living with Coronavirus’ series, in which different writers write about their experiences with Coronavirus.

In my article, I shared what my organisation, Legacy for African Women and Children Initiative, did in response to COVID19 in Warrap State. The full article can be read here.

The Double Standards When Dating Outside of the South Sudanese Community

Australian-South Sudanese model Adut Akech is reportedly in a relationship with Nigerian Afrobeats artist, Runtown. Unsurprisingly, this news has shook the insecurity deep within the core of South Sudanese men (not all). Disapprovals for her dating choice ranged from ‘our 500 cows are gone,’ to ‘she will be dumped.’

I am going to write generally, rather than write on the individual case of Adut Akech. I am doing this because I do not know Adut Akech, nor do I know anything about her alleged relationship. I also admire and respect her for the success she has achieved in the modelling industry. I don’t want to undermine that at all, so I will just be writing about South Sudanese women dating outside of the community, and the double standards around it.

So the topic has been incredibly controversial, and I have made a few comments here and there on Twitter and Facebook but what pushed me to write this piece, is the continuous insistence of some men that Adut or others like her, will be dumped by the outsider that she is dating. This continuous insistence, plus the glorious references and suggestions that South Sudanese men are somehow better and do not dump or break the heart of their girls, cannot be generalised. In addition to that, South Sudanese men are also prone to behaving the way some have accused Nigerians of; using women for money, having baby mamas, having side families and side chicks etc. This is not a generalisation of South Sudanese men, but this does happen within the community.

Some of the arguments against Adut or any other South Sudanese woman in an interracial, intercultural or interethnic relationship, just aren’t strong enough. Saying the woman will be dumped is just not good enough. Relationship breakups and divorces do happen between South Sudanese. So finding a much more plausible reason for why South Sudanese women should remain within the community, should be used if you really want to make a convincing argument.

Let us also get it straight that the concern for South Sudanese women marrying or dating outside of the community, has little to do with our wellbeing, but rather, more to do with the sense of ownership South Sudanese men have over South Sudanese women. This fake concern is veiling the belief that South Sudanese women and their choices, should be managed, and that South Sudanese women, should only be available to South Sudanese men. The level of anger evoked by some of the dating choices of South Sudanese women, really shows a chord has been struck, and reflects a troubling reality within our society. Women and girls in South Sudan can get killed for making a choice, whether it is choosing the man of their dreams or choosing not to get married off. I am just not convinced that all of this outcry is for our protection and wellbeing, but more so for culture and the ego of South Sudanese men.

What is incredibly ironic as well is that South Sudanese men (not all), also have particular standards that some women may not meet for various reasons. Some of these standards include house wife material, a woman who lets a man take the lead, a woman who is not too educated, a woman who is not ‘old,’ a woman who is not too successful etc. I have personally been told not to become too successful or I will not get married. The reality is that as a South Sudanese woman, when you reach a certain educational level or tax bracket, your dating options become more limited. You also tend to look for someone on the same or higher level as yourself. This is not the fault of South Sudanese women, but the insecurities of South Sudanese men (I repeat, not all men).

Lastly, let us not forget the double standards that comes with South Sudanese dating outside of the community. AFL star Majak Daw, is married to a non-South Sudanese. Yet South Sudanese men or women did not take to social media to write comments or think-pieces on his personal choice. I will also give another example that actually amuses me until this day. A South Sudanese man can marry outside of the community, publish photos with his wife, and he and his wife are met with praises and other respectful comments. I have seen South Sudanese women posting similar content with their non-South Sudanese partner. Yet some of the responses could not be any more different. Comments included, ‘not enough South Sudanese men?’ or ‘you could not find a South Sudanese man?’ Basically, South Sudanese men do not get the same level of criticism for marrying outside of the community compared to South Sudanese women and that is a fact.

This phenomenon feeds into the cultural belief that the patrilineal lineage is far more important than the maternal lineage; South Sudanese men can marry outside of the community, and their wives will then be considered a part of their community. Women are not afforded the same, they are seen as traitors because they join an outside community, losing their place in South Sudanese society. This causes all feelings of rejection and anger in South Sudanese men (not all) that some of their ‘best’ ladies or women are taken by outsiders.

I cannot shy away from the fact that there are added benefits to dating within your own community for a number of reasons, which again, cannot be generalised. I have never dated outside of the South Sudanese community and that has been my personal choice, but I know for a fact that some South Sudanese men, are also prone to playing, betraying and breaking the hearts of women. We must accept the reality that men are men wherever we go, and some men are better than others wherever they are. Being within your own community can offer you protection and familiarity, but let us judge choices on a case by case basis.

Bottom line is, people will make choices that fits their preferences, educational level or tax bracket. In addition, quite a number of us are being exposed to other countries and cultures, particularly those living in the wider Diaspora. We adapt and adopt to contexts that are not South Sudan-centred. We build our entire lives in the Diaspora, and we fall in love either out of choice or lack of options. That is the reality. This has been happening long before and will continue to happen long after. So please, leave Adut alone. Adut is our girl, and took the modelling world by storm. She needs to be protected. All these ‘jokes,’ memes and think-pieces on why she should stay in the community are disrespectful and harmful. She is young, living her best life, and her choices should be respected.

Defamation: hate speech is not a part of my language

Besides so many other things, I am a writer and activist. I have edited news content and contributed to many news platforms over the years. I put all of this on hold since 2016, and just never returned to it, focusing my energy on the things that matter to me.

In December 2013, the war broke out while I was in Juba, South Sudan. This is when I started to participate more and more in citizen journalism. I became concerned by the level of fake news and hate speech that I was witnessing among South Sudanese on Facebook. This led me to document the hate speech, in case it would ever need to be addressed in the future.

Fast forward to July 2014, I was co-headlining a conference, South Sudan Inside-Out: Rebooting the Peace #DefyHateNow, in Berlin on the 8th of July, the eve of South Sudan’s third independence. There, I discussed hate speech on social media and showcased some anonymised examples of it to the audience. I was very passionate about this project because while I was in South Sudan when the war broke out, I realised how damaging and inflammatory hate speech and fake news was to people on the ground. I also realised that there were many biases among foreign journalists when they reported the war in South Sudan. Some of them were in fact, quite insensitive as to how to report the crisis. This resulted in myself, and a few other South Sudanese on Twitter, to really push for better reporting on the conflict. Al Jazeera recognised this, and published this, South Sudan and the media of conflict.

So naturally, I criticised quite a number of these foreign journalists and called them out on their biases on Twitter. One of these journalists is American Jason Patinkin. Jason was quite resistant to corrections and suggestions, and seemed to inch closer and closer to a war with some of us on Twitter.

Because of my previous background of fighting hate speech on social media, Jason approached me to help him with an article for Buzzfeed on South Sudan and hate speech. He was seeking my perspective on the topic. This was my response to his email:


I was clearly concerned… and looking back, I had every right to be.

We proceeded with the interview, and I gave him an overview on hate speech among South Sudanese on social media and gave him a bit of insight on what I did for #DefyHateNow in 2014. The article was published, and to my surprise, it really wasn’t about my perspectives at all. The interview and article was just Jason’s opportunity to tarnish my reputation by tying me to hate speech and the government of South Sudan. All because I have openly criticised his work.

It wasn’t long before well known propaganda-filled South Sudanese news websites (notice it isn’t the professional and well-established news sites such as EyeRadio and Radio Miraya) picked this up, and started tying me to pro-government propaganda and hate speech. This was incredibly surprising to me. How can I possibly be tied to two things that I truly dislike?

Just to clarify two things though, from the Buzzfeed article by Jason.

  1. The Dawn Newspaper. During the interview, I gave an overview of the kind of work I have done before. I mentioned having done work for The Dawn. I worded it wrongly. I have never been on the payroll of The Dawn Newspaper, but I have contributed to The Dawn on numerous occasions. One of my most recent contributions is this article. As for The Dawn being so pro-government, I am not quite sure if that is really the truth. The Dawn newspaper has been blocked from publishing either the entire newspaper or sections of their paper, numerous times. This clearly goes to show that The Dawn has tried to report on ‘government sensitive matters’ on numerous occasions.
  2. Retweeting Ayuel Atem. I retweeted my friend and journalist, Ayuel Atem. I trusted his judgment on the news he was sharing on Twitter (check news article again). Does retweeting it make me a pro-government influencer? Or is it because I am allegedly a ‘pro-government influencer,’ I retweeted the tweet? And if several others also retweeted Ayuel’s tweet, does that mean, using the same logic, that they are also pro-government?

Besides that Buzzfeed article, I was never mentioned in any other kind of report trying to implicate me in hate speech or paint me as a pro-government agent. Including any type of UN report (look it up and I promise you). This whole situation also led me to reach out to Edmund Yakani, the executive director of CEPO. Edmund was shocked about the situation and advised me to visit him in his office in Juba for further discussions.

Either way, it has been several years since this has happened. However, I found it important to still address this. This one article that tries to tie me to pro-government propaganda, resulted in defamatory articles on two South Sudanese news websites. I know that some people may find them, and start making assumptions about me and my work. I just want to clearly state that I have been targeted for standing up for authentic narratives from South Sudanese (by Jason), targeted for some of my opinions and viewpoints, and targeted for being one of South Sudan’s top influencers. I cannot commit myself to hate speech, of which I have seen the impact of, or the promotion of the government of South Sudan, which I have also seen commit major failures in development, and maintenance of peace in my country. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but sharing this does not necessarily mean the person is trying to promote an entity, a stance or a point of view. I am not tied to the government of South Sudan, neither am I a beneficiary of the government, so to suggest I am a pro-government agent or influencer, trying to use my influence to support the government, is a moot point.

Hate speech is not my language.