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Kokora: often misunderstood, grossly misinterpreted and most feared

By Jacob K. Lupai

January 28, 2013 (SSNA) -- The word Kokora is neither English nor a Latin word. It is therefore difficult to find its definition in any English or Latin dictionary. The word Kokora is only found in the language spoken by Karo, the natives of Central Equatoria State. The Karo include the Bari, Pojulu, Nyangwara, Mundari, Kuku and the Kakwa. May also be included among the Karo are the Mundo, Keliko and the Lugwara in Yei River and Morobo County respectively, and the Lokoya in Juba County. Although the Mundo, Keliko, Lugwara and the Lokoya have their own languages, they are also well versed in the Karo language.  

The word Karo is a collective name or noun for the Bari, Pojulu, Nyangwara, Mundari, Kuku and the Kakwa as sub-groups of the whole (Karo). Karo as a collective name has not yet been endorsed or adopted by the sub-groups. However, it will not do any harm to use it when referring collectively to the Bari, Pojulu, Nyangwara, Mundari, Kuku and the Kakwa as a way of showing their affinity.

The Karo can be seen as ethnic groups that are closely related to each other by language and culture. They could have been one single ethnic group but probably migration trends in search of resources and space might have caused the Karo to spread far and wide, dividing up into smaller groups. However, the spread of the Karo to the various areas seems to have not affected their language very much although there appears to be some variations in accent. Nevertheless, the Karo still share the same traditions, for example, in naming new born babies. There is a lot of commonality in folklore. In brief the Karo can be considered as one ethnic group where the word Kokora is only found in their language.

Definition of Kokora

The definition of the word Kokora may help stimulate an intellectual debate for a better understanding. This is because the word Kokora has often been misunderstood, grossly misinterpreted and the most feared as being divisive. I must admit that I have not come across a Karo dictionary that offers the definition of Kokora. However, it is not difficult to define whatthe word Kokora means. In simple terms, in the Karo language, the word Kokora means divide or division. The question to ask is what is to be divided. There must be a context in which division takes place.

In a patriarchal society when a parent passes away the sons inherit the property of their late parent. The property is divided (Kokora) equitably among the sons of the late according to their seniority. Also, when hunters in a team effort killed, for example, a buffalo, the meat is divided (Kokora) among the team members. In both contexts, dividing the property and the meat is for the benefit of the stakeholders. There is no indication that dividing the property and the meat is to the disadvantage of any of the stakeholders. Common sense shows that Kokora offers a fair deal when people are in a positive frame of mind.

Kokora is in daily use but people seem to be unaware. Division of labour for maximum benefit is Kokora of labour. Also, people may not know that taking towns to villages is Kokora of resources so that neither village nor town is deprived of development. When South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly in the referendum in January 2011, they were in fact voting for Kokora. Did that mean the people of South Sudan and Sudan were enemies? The people of South Sudan only hated the oppressive system but not the entire population of Northern Sudan.

South Sudanese did not hate each other when the South was divided (Kokora) into ten States. In fact they fought as people of one destiny until the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) of January 2005. Similarly when Equatoria was divided (Kokora) into three States concrete walls were never erected between Eastern, Central and Western Equatoria State. From the elaboration made it is hoped that a better understanding of Kokora is generated for an intellectual debate that will promote mutual understanding.

Kokora often misunderstood

In a pamphlet titled Decentralization: A Necessity For The Southern Provinces of The Sudan published in 1981, the author said, “Political leadership, with a strong tribal orientation having satisfied themselves that the only way to remain in power is to fan tribal loyalties from their tribe, which they believe must dominate because of sheer numbers are now turning around to point a finger at those who want to correct the situation as power hungry politicians”. The author went on to say, “The basic problem that bedevils any heterogeneous society like ours is how to attain unity. In most cases unity is attained by recognizing and accepting the principle of living in diversity”.

It was evident that the author of the pamphlet was initiating decentralization (Kokora) in the then three southern provinces which were known as the Southern Region after the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972. The agreement gave the three southern provinces of the Sudan self-government. However, in the 10 year period of the self-government problems mounted without a solution in sight. One major problem was the perceived domination of the self-government by one ethnic group. For example, the high executive council of the self-government consisted of 50 per cent of people from the one ethnic group. How that could be in a region of over sixty ethnic groups?

In addition it was alleged that records of intake into administration, police and prisons colleges, and records of promotion would have revealed some painful facts about institutionalized tribalism in the Southern Region. Given the above scenarios any initiative on decentralization (Kokora) would have been an unattractive proposition to those who perceived they were being targeted. As the decentralization of the three southern provinces was initiated mostly by people of Equatoria and the word Kokora was used, a Pandora box of misunderstandings, misinterpretations and fears was opened.

Kokora was misunderstood as the kicking out of non-Equatorians to their ancestral lands. Arguably Kokora should have been understood as decentralization and a development tool to bring services closer to the people. Kokora had nothing to do with uprooting people. On the contrary it should have been seen as a fair way of distributing resources and services to the people. In short Kokora should be seen as an equivalent of decentralization, nothing more or less. The author of the pamphlet who was not a member of the Karo did not mention Kokora. How Kokora entered into people’s vocabulary is not clear. I am sometimes amused when people even do not know how to pronounce Kokora.  

Kokora grossly misinterpreted

Kokora has been grossly misinterpreted as the hatred of non-Equatorians in Equatoria. Any mention of Kokora is often viewed with contempt and suspicion, and any argument for Kokora will produce a harsh criticism from those who are not only ignorant but frightened. The slightest of reference to Kokora is enough to trigger an immediate barrage of condemnation. This is partly because of the gross misinterpretation of Kokora. The word Kokora has been misused.    

As Kokora was initiated by the people of Equatoria as the decentralization of the three southern provinces, the non-Equatorians who strenuously opposed the decentralization of the provinces had a grudge to settle. The gross misinterpretation is on as people are still reacting harshly at what is perceived as a hint of Kokora. The relative peace and security in Equatoria, and the civility of the people are so attractive that Kokora is grossly misinterpreted as kicking people out of beautiful and attractive Equatoria.

Kokora most feared

It is common knowledge that insecurity in the other greater regions is rampant. In contrast Greater Equatoria has been a peaceful region and this has been attracting inward migration where people feel secure living among the civilized people of Equatoria. However, the problem is that most of those of pastoralist background always misbehave, for example, in shamelessly grabbing people’s lands with no respect for the law. There are always legal ways of acquiring a piece of land but land grabbers want a shortcut because of a culture that seems to condone unruly behaviour.

The people of Equatoria are predominantly sedentary farmers and are very conscious not to infringe on others land. In contrast pastoralists are often in perpetual wars with each other over grazing land because the concept of a boundary may hardly exist. Insecurity among pastoralists may therefore be more rampant than among sedentary farmers. In Equatoria non-Equatorians may hardly worry about insecurity. This may explain why Kokora is most feared and misinterpreted as the forced removal of non-Equatorians from guaranteed peace and security in Equatoria. If there is insecurity in Equatoria it is mostly caused by non-Equatorians. A law is needed to regulate relationship between pastoralists and sedentary farmers for both may not be good neighbours, thereby aggravating insecurity.

Addressing fear of Kokora

People should not be unduly fearful of or worried about Kokora. It is a perception problem that can easily be addressed. It is a matter of understanding clearly what Kokora is in order to develop a positive frame of mind. Kokora is decentralization and it is difficult to see how decentralization can be most feared. Decentralization does not mean throwing people out of their property or residence to relocate to their ancestral lands. Decentralization is the bringing of government and services closer to the people regardless of their ethnic background.

The most feared of Kokora is nothing but paranoia for some past bad experience. At any rate those who continue to fear Kokora are living in the past. Since Kokora took place in 1983 a lot have happened. South Sudan is no longer three regions but has been divided (Kokora) into 10 self-governing states. The next step is for the states to be elevated to a federal status to boost development for a high standard of living.

The question one may be tempted to ask is, why isn’t there a fear of South Sudan having been divided (Kokora) into 10 States instead of the perpetual fear of South Sudan divided (Kokora) into three regions some thirty years ago? The exaggerated fear of Kokora could be because people simply do not want to understand what Kokora means or people do not want to have a second thought.

Conclusion

Kokora is feared most because of the paranoia that it divides people. This is, however, unfounded because according to the definition of Kokora it is basically an equitable way of distributing power and wealth among stakeholders. The bad experience of Kokora in 1983 when it was implemented should not be taken that Kokora is divisive. It was then a politically charged atmosphere that animosities were unnecessarily created.

The people of South Sudan will never be divided the way Kokora is feared. Even prophets such as Moses, Jesus and Mohamed, peace be upon them, walking along the shores of the Nile couldn’t have divided the people of South Sudan. This is not an overstatement or an ambitious assertion. The evidence is there for all to see. The National Congress Party (NCP) of the radical Islamic fundamentalists used all the known tricks they could master to divide the people of South Sudan but failed miserably. Over 98 per cent of the people were solidly united because they strongly felt they were of one destiny. People voted for independence.

In conclusion, the people of South Sudan should not waste their energy worrying unnecessarily about Kokora but instead should be worrying about indiscipline and institutional weaknesses in the various components of the system that is the real danger to unity. Decentralization which is Kokora in the Karo language is universally accepted as an appropriate factor of good governance. Revolutionaries should give credit to the Karo of Central Equatoria State and indeed Greater Equatoria for being farsighted and the real architects of unity of South Sudan.

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