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.

The Male Fragility Exposed by Nyalong’s Marriage

A story has been going viral on social media (particularly on Facebook) about the extravagant marriage of Nyalong Ngong Deng from Yirol.

I wrote about it in more detail in my very first article for Kukosha Media. I highlighted the issues around high dowry demands or offers; how that drives child marriage, cattle raiding and communal conflicts. The Western media also jumped on the news bandwagon, but they inaccurately reported that Nyalong’s ‘auction’ was taking place on Facebook, when in reality, it was just widely shared and discussed on the social media platform.

Of course I had been making a bit of noise about the marriage of Nyalong on both Twitter and Facebook. But what was striking was the male tears pouring out on social media against mine, and other women’s disapproval of the marriage. Critics of the marriage were called Westernised, educated, bitter, jealous, unmarried, over 30, short, ugly, bleached, unnatural, and the mother of all insults, slay queens. Besides the hurling of insults and other types of cyber bullying, there was also the age-old ‘it is our culture’ argument.

Walls of texts and essays about why Nyalong is getting married for 500 cows, and educated women are not, and why her marriage is acceptable, despite her being underage, had furnished my Facebook wall since the news broke in late October. I was inundated with abuse both in my inbox and publicly on social media, either directly or indirectly through statuses disparaging educated women and activists, who apparently are activists for self-gratification, and not the fact that real lives are affected by practices such as child marriage and dowry inflation.

Then there were the male allies, the ‘pick me’s’ women who said that Nyalong must become their husband’s second wife and that they will support the fight for her.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion even if their opinion promotes archaic ideas. But no one is entitled to be abused for their opinion, which is something the critics of Nyalong’s marriage, particularly the women, have been subjected to.

This entire situation made me realise that even as a Dinka woman, some Dinka men genuinely believe that I should have no say over my culture. Some Dinka men also believe that any criticism I have towards some of our cultural practices, stems from my upbringing in Europe and my British education. The irony with this, is that there are men and women, who have not even been exposed to the West or Western education, who disagree with the concept of hundreds of cows being given as dowry, cars given as a form of dowry, and child marriage and lack of freedom of choice for the girl to choose her husband.

See also, the fallacy around the idea that I should be unable to say anything about a culture that I am from, and about a practice (dowry) that is required in order for me to get married. This practice, affects me and my husband to be.

Some Dinka men have really decided that they are the custodians of Dinka culture, therefore they must fight every kind opposition, even fellow Dinka women who continue to be disadvantaged by some of the cultural practices. There is a real sense of cultural ownership by the men, and I don’t even blame them for thinking so, because many practices that we carry out are quite patriarchal and usually in benefit of men.

There was also another layer of irony around the men who were fighting tooth and nail for Nyalong’s marriage, and that is the fact that they cannot afford the 350 or so cows that was ultimately paid for Nyalong.

The debate about Nyalong’s marriage is not just about women being treated as a commodity for her male relatives to sell for-profit, it’s the fact that many young men, who are earning an honest living, are struggling to get married due to this dowry inflation.

The criticism of the marriage of Nyalong, especially on my end, was not an attempt at building a campaign to discard a social practice that has benefited and strengthened ties between families for centuries, but that there are fundamental issues with Nyalong’s marriage, and many other similar marriages in South Sudan. These are issues of lack of freedom of choice in choosing a life partner, being married at an age at which you cannot consent (under 18), and the high dowry demands or offers (in a poverty-stricken country). I discuss these issues in more detail in my Kukosa Media article.

I suppose the hard line response of some men against the critics of the marriage, stems from the fact that they are either the products or beneficiaries of such marriages, i.e. they married a child or their mother was a child bride.

The self-appointed custodians of Dinka culture must realise, that the culture does not belong only to the men. They must also realise, that the abuse of existing cultural practices, is damaging. The impact of dowry and child marriage, and its effects on the socio-economical conditions of South Sudanese, are highly visible. The impact is a big pink elephant in the room, that just cannot be covered with a sheet called ‘it’s our culture.’

It is high time that we address the negative impact of some of our cultural practices, and not just constitutionally through the laws of the land, but also at the grassroots through our customary laws, elders and chiefs.

Nonetheless, the male tears that have poured since the news broke out, were plentiful to make a nice cup of tea with. And on that note, I want to close this topic (until next time).