This photo from a BBC report on the ongoing fighting in South Sudan made its rounds on the internet today, showing refugees being segregated by ethnicity at a UN compound. As of last month, an estimated 93,000 people had been displaced by the conflict, indicating the scale of the crisis (source: reliefweb).
Others have pointed out that while ethnicity (tribalism) plays an important role in the fighting in South Sudan, the full picture is more complex, as it almost always is. In his book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, Chris Hedges had this to say about perceived ethnic conflicts:
“The ethnic conflicts and insurgencies of our time, whether between Serbs and Muslims or Hutus and Tutsis, are not religious wars. They are not clashes between cultures or civilizations, nor are they the result of ancient ethnic hatreds. They are manufactured wars, born out of the collapse of civil societies, perpetuated by fear, greed, and paranoia, and they are run by gangsters, who rise up from the bottom of their own societies and terrorize all, including those they purport to protect.”
One of the dangers of seeing a conflict solely in terms of “ancient ethnic hatreds” is that they distract attention away from the fact that they must be organized by someone, making them seem inevitable. If that’s just the way things have always been, then it’s easy to conclude that’s how things always will be. Therefore, reconciliation is beyond reach. However, as Mandela said: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”