Exploring our South Sudanese heritage

In November 2018 I took part in a film making project in an attempt to explore our heritage as South Sudanese young people of the British diaspora. The film was sponsored by the Mellon Foundation via The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) Global South Visiting Professor scheme.

We explored Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, UK, and paid extra attention to some familiar and unfamiliar objects hailing from the different ethnic groups of South Sudan. Visiting professor and anthropologist, Dr Jok Madut Jok, talked us through the different objects at the museum, and also went on to answer some questions we had about culture and cultural practices.

The film making took place over two days, and around 40 minutes of footage had to be cut down to make a film of around 3 to 4 minutes. It was tough but we managed!

I really enjoyed this project because it really showed us how much we have managed to keep and how much we have lost. The photos in particular, of our people in the last 100 years, were incredible. They really give you an insight of how people lived at the time.

For those interested in visiting Pitt Rivers Museum to view their objects from around the world, please visit their website for more information.

See our film below:

My YALI RLC EA Cohort 27 Commencement Speech

One of my highlights of 2018, was being voted as the woman to give the commencement speech at the YALI RLC EA Cohort 27 graduation. It was an incredible honour. I must admit, I doubted in my ability to be voted as the one to give the commencement speech, however, when I did it, I did feel like I had delivered. I am continuously grateful for the belief and trust in me to carry out this task. Please view my speech below:

Dear fellow participants of cohort 27, the YALI Regional Leadership Centre East Africa team and all other distinguished guests.

It’s a great honour for me to be one of two class representatives chosen to speak on behalf of the cohort today, elected through popular vote.

When I told my mother the news, she said that this is the start of my political journey. And though I laughed about it, I remembered that this is exactly what YALI RLC EA is about; Building and shaping leaders, by catalysing their personal and professional transformation.

It’s been an incredible four weeks, with ups and downs, and challenges that forced us to re-examine the beliefs we held about another country or culture, or bad habits that we needed to abandon in order to become more effective leaders in our own personal and professional lives.

We are an incredibly diverse group of young leaders, inundated with talent, filled with different life experiences, bursting with knowledge and aspirations. We come from all walks of life. Some of us had it easy, like myself, but some of us did not. Some of us are urbanites from East Africa and some of us are from the very rural corners of our countries. Some of us want to bring water to the people and some of us want to make women realise their full earning potential. But one thing that is certain is that we are all leaders in our respective communities and we all desire to make a considerable impact at home.

The first week was our arrival on a new journey, where we encountered new faces that we had never seen, or names that we had never heard of before. The two day retreat became the opportunity to turn this around. Some of us conquered our fear of heights, and some of us saw it as another adrenaline filled challenge to tick off our bucket list. The first week really showed us, just how important it was for us to trust one another, in order to complete a task successfully.

The second week was a holistic approach in how we view Africa, the better habits we should adopt and how to design an innovative solution to a problem affecting our society. We were challenged to learn about other countries, and confront some of the bad habits we possess. We unlocked our creative side, and some of us, like myself, did not know we had the capacity to be creative.

In the third week we recapped all we learned, to answer a real life question of our track specific design challenge. We prototyped, prototyped and prototyped. We worked well in our teams for a moment, but then wanted to work independently for the rest of the week. Some of us even had our set solutions, but by the start of the 4th week, we had new solutions. Yesterday, we showcased our masterpieces, that one week ago, we could not have imagined.

Five years ago I reconnected with home, armed with a Great British bachelors degree, but realising that was not necessarily what was needed back home in my native South Sudan. What was needed is what I tried to develop over the years. YALI RLC EA helps contribute to what my country and what our continent needs; transformed young leaders.

Africa is rising, and that is what this great initiative is supporting. 4 years on, over 2500 alumni and 27 cohorts in, there is no shortage of change makers in Africa. We are breaking barriers, we are innovators. We are the Sunrise generation.

I want us all to remember that being here was a privilege we all earned through our commitment to our communities, and making it here today was a promise we all kept. The communities we come from are owed the lessons we have learned and the skills we have gained and sharpened during our time as cohort 27.

I would like to thank all of you amazing fellow participants for your commitment to the program and to the continent. I would like to thank YALI RLC EA partners USAID, MasterCard, Deloitte and Kenyatta University. Last but not least, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to the YALI RLC EA team for equipping us with lessons and knowledge, to help us create the Africa we want.

Let’s make Africa great again.

Thank you.

The Girl and the 500 Cows: The Commodification of Girls in South Sudan

Originally published on Kukosha Media October 2018

The Girl and the 500 Cows: The commodification of girls in South Sudan
By Adhieu Majok

A story of a tall, beautiful girl from Yirol in the former Lakes State of South Sudan, has gone viral within the South Sudanese community on social media. The competition for 17-year-old Aluet Ngong Deng’s hand in marriage is fierce; the highest bid is currently standing at 500 heads of cattle and three motor vehicles. The competing bid stands at 350 cows.

Aluet is from the Dinka tribe, a tribe for whom cattle carry significant economic and cultural importance In Dinka culture, a man is required to pay dowry to a woman’s family before he can take her on as his wife. The man is expected to pay a certain number of cows to the woman’s family. It’s also completely normal for him to ‘compete’ for a woman against her other suitors. The determining criteria for the successful suitor is a combination of the man’s personal background, his ability to take care of his potential bride financially, and how many cows he has offered for the marriage.

Historically, dowry has been utilised in Dinka culture for social exchange; it is seen as a token of appreciation to the parents for raising a girl until womanhood. The dowry contributions don’t only come from the groom himself; his friends and relatives contribute their own share. As it stands in South Sudan, a cow may cost US $200 to $400 (depending on inflation), an expensive endeavour for men of marrying age.

But due to high inflation, poverty, and cyclical conflicts within South Sudan, dowry demands have soared. Girls and women are seen as a source of wealth for families. One or two generations ago, dowries were far more modest. But today, in the Bahr el Ghazal region where child marriage is rampant, standard dowry demands may reach up to 200 cows – between $40,000 and $80,000.

Though Aluet has been the talk amongst South Sudanese on Facebook, the news has been met with mixed views; some women have declared that they would support their husband in taking on Aluet as wife number two, while others have criticised the high dowry offers. Criticism of Aluet’s case has been met with justifications of cultural precedence, and warnings of Western influence.

Links between dowry and conflict

Aluet’s case presents a damaging continuity within South Sudan; high dowry demands. High dowry prices fuel communal conflicts and cattle raids are common in the very rural areas of the country. Despite the fact that cattle are central to the lives of so many within the country, it’s often the primary source of conflict. The dowry demands of today, prices out many South Sudanese men who are earning an honest living. Young Dinka women would traditionally be married off to other young men, not much older men, who already have several other wives. According to the World Bank’s publication, The Other Half of Gender: Men’s Issues in Development, “In much of Sub-Saharan Africa, brideprice is commonplace, and thus marriage and family formation are directly tied to having income or property.” Patriarchal societies place men as the head of their households, but if a man cannot marry, his masculinity is challenged, and he is seen as inferior to his married agemates.
Dowry, has been abused; it has commoditised women, and been utilised as a wealth generator for many South Sudanese families. high dowry demands are one of the driving forces behind girl-child marriage and inter-communal conflicts. Furthermore, the offering of such high dowries, reflects the scale of corruption taking place in South Sudan.

It is widely said (on social media) that Aluet is 17 years old. According to the South Sudan Child Act of 2008, anyone under the age of 18, is a child. The leading competitors for Aluet’s hand in marriage are all over age 40. It’s without surprise, that this case is classed as child marriage by some critics of the marriage.

The story of Aluet presents the myriad of issues gripping South Sudan; high dowry, child marriage, and corruption. Though Aluet’s story is making the headlines today, there are still many marriages taking place, placing the number of cows offered as the primary interest, and not the happiness or the wellbeing of the bride. As a South Sudanese woman, I want to reiterate that I am a being, and not an asset to be eagerly trade off as a commodity.

Sieta Adhieu Majok is a British-Dutch South Sudanese microbiologist, writer, campaigner and political analyst. Adhieu is passionate about peacebuilding and women.

Mental health in South Sudan: a ticking time bomb

Last August I penned an editorial for the South Sudan Medical Journal, focusing on the urgency of mental health. In addition, I was also on Radio Miraya last month, and I discussed my journal article and the issue of mental health.

Mental health is a very neglected area of medicine, not just in South Sudan, but also in many countries in the West.

I have personally experienced depression, lost close relatives to suicide, and have friends and relatives who have had their own mental health battles.

Mental health afflictions are so common yet there’s a major stigma surrounding mental health. Mental health is often not discussed or taken seriously as a real medical condition. The more we discuss the issue, and the more there is invested in mental health resources, the more we lessen the stigma surrounding this health condition. It all starts with you and me – we have to be open to others and their experiences and we have to keep the conversation going.

The article is available for reading here.

SSMJ article

My new blog

So I created a new blog. I have had http://modernemeid.blogspot.com for so many years now, but I decided to create a blog where I write a lot more about social and political issues, especially surrounding South Sudan.

My Blogspot site will remain, but it will be a bit more personal/personalised and for strange ideas and opinions (which I still tend to have). So this blog which is still having some work done, is my ‘professional’ blog… kind of an online portfolio.

I will be sharing advice, my educational and leadership journey. I will be highlighting what I think is important with regards to South Sudan, and all other very serious stuff.

I hope to have this blog up and running very soon, and writing on a regular basis, rather than checking in every few months feeling guilty about not writing, and then promising to write, but not writing again for a few months.

I have had such a rich experience in my line of work and passion over the last number of years, I want to share it. I want to open up my thoughts about this personal transformation, and I want to inspire others to follow their own path, and find the best ways to communicate their line of thinking, and implementing their dreams for themselves and others. It’s a big task, but reflecting back on how far I have come, I am so sure I can do it.