Prophets—those recognised as having been ‘seized’ by a divinity—have played an important role in the history of South Sudan, particularly that of the Nuer people. They were seen as being powerful political actors and, alongside chiefs, important intermediaries for the colonial authorities. However, the influence of the Nuer prophets goes much further than mobilizing or de-mobilizing the Nuer population to or from violence. In the UN Protection of Civilians Site (POCS) in Bentiu, where over one hundred thousand war-displaced now live, the histories of the prophets have become a means through which POCS residents explain both the spiritual causes of war and their current predicament.
Speaking Truth to Power focuses on the life of Kolang Ket—a major prophet in the early twentieth century. His story, as recounted in the Bentiu POCS, includes his seizure by the deity known as MAANI, how he has wielded political authority and his legacy, which extends to the present day. Acknowledging the influence of the prophets is important to those trying to understand the contemporary political reality of South Sudan. This, by extension, can help external actors to assist the South Sudanese population in shaping a more sustainable, locally relevant peace, which goes beyond the fragile elite deals normally agreed by the country’s politicians.
This report is part of the Rift Valley Institute’s South Sudan Customary Authorities project.