The Religious Framing of the South Sudanese Civil Wars: The Enduring Legacy of Ngundeng’s Prophecy

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This artcile discusses how a religious idea informed the political behaviour of South Sudanese leaders in the context of civil wars and the associated bitter contest for leadership. The prophecy which is invoked in the leadership contest in South Sudan is the prophecy of the 19th century Nuer prophet, Ngundeng Bong believed to predicted the course and outcome of the South Sudanese civil wars. At the centre of the prophecy is the prophetic power claim by one of the major political figures in South Sudan, i.e., Dr. Riek Machar and his leadership contest first with Dr. John Garang and currently with President Salva Kiir. In making sense of Machar’s self-understanding as a messiah, ‘predicted’ as it were by Ngundeng, the paper draws on the concept of political culture. It is argued that without endorsing Machar’s prophetic claim, it is imperative to understand the claim structure and how it is made plausible in the eyes of the believers, including Machar’s pragmatic mix of being a trained political strategist and a politician making use of a spiritual repertoire such as the enduring legacy of the Ngundeng prophecy featuring as a political capital.

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Dereje Feyissa

AssociateProfessorofSocialAnthropologyand
SeniorResearchExpertatthe Life and Peace Institute.

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