Tribocracy: The New Political Philosophy for the New Country

For her to avoid the pitfalls of her fellow African countries and be successful, the new nation of South Sudan must fully embrace and constitutionally legalize tribalism as a system of political representation at the state and in the national governments.

By PaanLuel Wel, Washington DC, USA

July 23, 2011 (SSNA) — As South Sudanese are enthusiastically clamoring for the first ever cabinet of the newly independent republic of South Sudan to be unveiled in a week or so, Sudan Tribune, a South Sudanese online newspaper based in France, reported that “the first President of the newly born Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, has announced that his next government will be formed based on qualifications of candidates and not on tribal representation.”

This latest salvo from President Kiir, who would go into history as the founding father of the new republic, is in addition to stringent of conditions that he had already outlined after independence in relation to the formation of the next government. The next cabinet, of which President Kiir and VP Dr. Machar have comfortably secured their respective places, will be “lean and broad-based in order to effectively deliver services to the people of the region” or so President Kiir reasons.

In this article, I am going to argue to the contrary: the best form of qualification for a political office in a tribal country such as South Sudan is tribal representation, not educational qualifications. Logically, the next cabinet appointment should, accordingly, be based on equitable tribal representation of all greater regions of South Sudan, not just educational or whatever qualifications President Kiir had in mind. The fact that President Kiir stated “qualification” is vague at best and misleading at worst make it susceptible to political manipulations of which the next cabinet may actually end up with one tribe taking the lion share of the prized ministries, if not all, in the name of “they are all qualified.”

To assert that the evils of tribalism will be the ruination of the Republic of South Sudan would be to affirm the obvious. The horrendous spectacles of bad leaderships and poor governance; unbridled cases of corruption and nepotisms; unabated accounts of inter-tribal conflicts and chronic addiction to political rebellions; general malaise in socio-economic development and political immaturity in Africa in general and in present day South Sudan in particular are just but mere symptoms of the underlying principal illness: tribalism.

In the 1960’s when most African countries were shaking off the heavy yoke of colonialism and embarking on self-rule as South Sudan is doing it today, the then young inspiring leaders of African countries were greatly troubled by the illness of tribalism. However, many amongst them had hoped that, with democracy as system of governance, education and the promise of economic prosperity in hand, they would combat and defeat tribalism in its infancy, once and for all.

However, those promising tools and weapons they had pegged their hopes on to fight and eliminate tribalism—democracy, education and socio-economic development—never saw the light of the day. The poisonous thorns of tribalism choked them off and kill them in the womb as sheer ideas. The rest is history as we can all see today in each and every country in the Sub-Saharan Africa. That no single nation has succeeded to realize her inspirations and harvest the fruits of her independence is the plainest testimony to the resilience and embeddedness of tribalism in our society.

Yet, listening to President Kiir talking about evading tribal representation in the forthcoming cabinet appointment, one is left wondering if he is not inadvertently walking into the same booby-trap that befell and doomed young independence African countries in the 1960’s. Instead of trying in vain to avoid tribalism, we should rather unflinchingly embrace it, adopt it and officializing it as our core political philosophy of government. The legalization of tribalism would herald the age of political fairness, tribal equality, societal harmony, long lasting peace and sustainable development.

The officialization of tribalism is what I would refer to as tribocracy. Tribocracy is therefore a political system of governance in which equality in political representation in the national government and/or at the state level is achieved through the principle of tribal representation. As each and every tribe got a small proportion of the national seats, the benefits accruable from those high portfolios would trickle down to every tribe.

Thus, numerous cases of corruptions, nepotism, poor leadership and general mismanagements and abuses of political offices would be individualized instead of being tribalized as is the case currently in South Sudan where everything and anything bad about the government has been Dinkanized, Gogrialized and Warrapized. Each and every public official who misbehave, engage in unethical practices or sleep on the job would, first and foremost, be held accountable and prosecutable by his own tribal members who would never have a pretext to engage in the usual political gamesmanship and game-blaming of other tribes as escape-goats.

In contrast to tribocracy—the legalized version of tribalism, illegal tribalism, if you would allow me to call it so, is the main enemy that is threatening to tear South Sudan apart. It is the denial, or unequal sharing, of political offices by and/or amongst various ethnic groups that make up our country. And because political offices such as the coveted cabinet seats do translate into goodies, illegal tribalism has been, and will continue to be, the socio-economic and political undoing of South Sudan as it has been across Sub-Saharan Africa.

This is because politicians operating under tribalism, as oppose to within tribocractic system of government, would always manipulate and abuse glaring shortcomings in democracy for their political endgames. Election in many African countries, Uganda for example, has been used to legitimize and perpetuate impunity, corruptions, bad leadership, and greediness for power, and despairingly, to undermine any prospect of economic transformation. Without the prospect of democratization taking place due to the prevalence of tribalism, the entire Sub-Saharan African countries, for the last decades, have been left wallowing in abject poverty, illiteracy and political mediocrisy. South Sudan too has no chance of riding itself of tribalism by counting on democratization.

And so is the educationalization of the citizenry. Tribalism breeds intoxicating environment in which no plausible policies would emerge to encourage and promote education in the first place. Unless with the help of a divine intervention, no adequate and well-functioning learning would occur so long as the government is corrupt, inefficient and mismanaged. And if that is not bad news enough, rest assured that most African countries with the highest literacy rate—Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Kenya etc—do register a staggering numbers of corrupt cases each year in their countries. Even in South Sudan, the few who are thought to be the most educated are the worst kinds of corrupt and divisive people relative to the laypeople on the street. Education may not offer much after all, if recent Sub-Saharan African history is anything to go by.

When you have no democracy in the country, couple with an embarrassing rate of illiteracy, the chances of economic development and political stability are next to nil. Consequently, it is urgent and imperative that South Sudan should never trudge the same path to self-destruction as did her counterparts in the Sub-Saharan Africa. Pure liberal democracy, under the present conditions in South Sudan, is a mirage. Even in the Western world, it was along arduous, never-straight, process. To expect South Sudan to democratize just within a week, months, and even few years after independence is a comical exercise in sheer self-delusion.

The way out of the political quandary is to adopt and institutionalize tribalism. The constitutional implementation of tribalism, previously referred to as tribocracy, would mean the end to most of our current tribulations prompt by the evils of tribalism. I am cognizance of the fact that some readers here might suppose that I am merely contradicting myself by, on the one hand, decrying tribalism, and then immediately, on the other hand, calling for its official approval as a system of government in South Sudan. Quite to the contrary, I am not.

The truth of the matter is that tribalism is mostly condemnable, by South Sudanese standard of course, insofar as it is being exclusively practice by the other tribes but not always when it is being carried out by the sons and daughters of your own tribe. In other words, corruptions and mismanagement under tribocracy will never be considered as tribalism since there would be a revelation and a tendency to hold each and every public official as an individual but not his/her tribal ambassador send by the tribe to plunder and take home the spoils. Leaders will not have the luxurious freedom to stole public money for their personal use and then run to the community for protection—in the name of “they are against us”—when caught red-handed. It would be, for corrupt government officials, everyone for him/herself and God for them all.

Therefore, President Kiir must base his appointment on tribal representation, not on educational or loyalty or liberation struggle qualifications or whatever he meant by that word. After all, Tribocracy has always guided almost all previous President Kiir governments and political appointees. A brief preview of the first cabinet in 2005, second cabinet in 2010 and even the current caretaking cabinet of South Sudan in 2011, were all partially based on tribal representation. Where people have been complaining are areas wherein tribocracy was never fully implemented like the alleged cases of Dinka occupying most important ministries of the government or the alleged marginalization of Greater Equatoria region and other minor tribes, Anyuak for instance.

Had all the ministries and the presidency been shared equitably according to the philosophy of tribocracy, President Kiir would have won the award of the most-beloved-people-president-of-the-year. But because he chose to practice tribocracy half-wayly, he ended up being labeled, rightly or wrongly, as a Dinka tribalist whose members of his ethnic groups are free-handedly plundering South Sudan national resources.

After all, the Dinka people have a saying: “kou ayekon ne kou” meaning a thorn is remove using a thorn, while the Waswahili people advise: “dawa ya moto ni moto” to mean that the remedy for fire is fire. If tribalism is our predicament, it may as well be the case that the solution to tribalism is tribalism itself, though be it in different connotation.

Thus, contrary to his public declaration that his next cabinet would be based on qualifications of the potential candidates rather than on tribal representation, I would conversely argue that President Kiir must base the political appointment of his next cabinet on tribal representation, not fuzzy qualifications.

You can reach PaanLuel Wël at [email protected], Facebook, Twitter or through his blog at: 

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