A federal system is reform for sustainable development and prosperity

By Jacob K. Lupai


March 22, 2012 (SSNA) — People may differ in their perception or interpretation of a federal system. However, what is a federal system? In the context of this piece a federal system is defined as a system of government in which several states form a unity but remain independent in internal affairs. Less confident people with narrow perspective and understanding will mostly view a federal system as divisive and disunites people. Is there truth in that view? There may be mixed answers generated. It can be confirmed that there may be some truth but generally a federal system is neither divisive nor disunites people. There are various federal systems in the world but there are hardly any violent divisions among people because of the federal system adopted. On the contrary people are united in a federal system. The United States of America (USA) is an example of a country with a federal system of government that nothing has been openly seen showing division of people disunited because of the federal system. A South Sudanese who visited the USA was very impressed with the federal system there that the impression was expressed publicly in very positive tones. Ethiopia in Africa is a federal democratic state. Nothing has been heard that the people of Ethiopia are divided and disunited because of the federal system of government adopted. The main problem is negative thinking about a federal system. In their negative frame of mind people may imagine a federal system is division of people. Arguably it is absolutely not. A federal system is a reform for sustainable development and prosperity.

Federal system not division of people

As expressed in the definition of a federal system above, a federal system of government is one that divides the powers of government between the central government, and state and local governments. It should be clearly understood that this is not division of people but division of administrative duties or responsibilities. Under a federal system each level of government has sovereignty in some areas and shares powers in other areas. For example, both federal and state governments have the powers to tax but only the federal government can declare war. It is acknowledged that worldwide support for a federal system is greater today than ever before as a reform and in our concept taking towns to the people in spreading development. A growing conviction is that a federal system enables a nation to have the best of both worlds, those of shared rule and self-rule. In a federal system the decentralization of power gives a nation the flexibility to accommodate economic and cultural differences. Economic and cultural differences correlate significantly with geography, and state laws in a federal system can be adapted to local conditions in a way that is difficult to achieve through a central government. Also in a federal system tolerance for diversity has the further advantage of preventing central government from being forced to take sides on matters of purely state concern. This is consistent with the understanding of modern management science that problems should be dealt with so far as possible where they arise. A federal system of government is inherently more democratic than a unitary system because there are more levels of government for public opinion to affect. The federal division of powers reduces the risk of authoritarianism and this is clearly evident in the USA where each state has its own constitution and laws some of which differ from state to state. One of the great advantages of a federal system of government as in the USA is that it gives the states and citizens the opportunity to be responsible for their own internal affairs, destiny and development. It can therefore be seen that a federal system of government is not the division of people but rather it gives people the responsibility to run their own affairs in diversity. This means unity of a country in diversity.

Federal system in South Sudan

South Sudanese were the first federalists in Sudan long before Sudan’s independence from Britain on 1 January 1956. The main objective was to protect the interest of the South. In Sudan there were nine provinces but three were in the South. The three southern provinces were administered separately answerable to the central government. Thereafter the three southern provinces were administered as the Southern Region. However, the Southern Region was controversially decentralized into three regions. The three southern regions were then divided up into ten states. Clearly a federal system of government was in progress in South Sudan. As highlighted above worldwide support for a federal system is greater today than before. However, despite the greater support for a federal system of government, some in South Sudan instead want a unitary or a centralized system without devolution of powers. Centralisation has been shown to be an impediment to development. Arguably a complete federal system is appropriate for South Sudan because of its diversities. The assertion that a federal system in South Sudan will cause disunity of people, is expensive and will hardly promote development is scientifically unfounded and worse too simplistic. There is no disunity of people in countries with a federal system of government. A federal system like that in the USA is working well to the satisfaction of the people. Also in Ethiopia, our next door neighbor, the federal system is working well with no evidence people are disunited because of the federal system. If anything development in Ethiopia is taking off rapidly. The federal government, for example in the USA, is charged with three main areas of defense, foreign affairs and currency control with the states fully in-charge of the affairs of citizens and development issues. Now then how is a federal system expensive when there is no duplication with the states? In security a federal system is the solution unlike the current blurred division of powers between the central government and the states in South Sudan where the same central government units are replicated in the states. In actual decentralization in a federal system the main role of the central government is to empower the states to efficiently deliver services including security to the people. The argument that a federal system will cause disunity of people, is expensive and retards development is grossly misleading. It is only a fear of a federal system and nothing else. The fear of a federal system in South Sudan may be of different agenda altogether.

Fear of federal system in South Sudan

A federal system is something taken for granted as a solution to political and development problems. There is also devolution of powers to address problems that a federal constitution does. In the United Kingdom, for example, powers are devolved to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Devolution of powers was justified on the basis that it would make government more responsive to the wishes of the people. Devolution differs from a federal system in that the devolved powers of the central authority may be temporary and ultimately reside in the central government thus the country remains unitary. In a federal system the central government transfers its decision-making powers to the state for greater local control and accountability by the people for decisions to the future of the state. A fear that a federal system is divisive and disunites people in the context of South Sudan is actually the fear of people being chased away from a state and losing everything. This fear is, however, unfounded or over exaggerated. As the supreme law of the land, the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan, 2011, Article 27(1) clearly stipulates that, “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of movement and the liberty to choose his or her residence except for reasons of public health and safety as shall be regulated by law”. The only hidden agenda of the fear may be the fear of the perceived loss of privileges after a federal system of government is adopted. Also those from states with rampant insecurity may fear the unknown. The fear of a federal system disuniting people is also the fear associated with the lack of confidence in facing the future. We are not experimental and reformist. We are only used to the status quo as though the world is monolithic or is at standstill. Positive thinking is helpful.


A federal system is the way forward in development and in maintaining security in a country as vast as South Sudan. A centralized system is a miserable failure everywhere as evidenced by the collapse of the Soviet Union. That is why there is also the talk of power to the people or simply people’s empowerment. There is also the concept of taking towns to the people which was the original concept on which the southern armed struggle was based. These days, however, the fear of a federal system has made the concept of taking towns to the people a far cry as people stick to the status quo.

In conclusion, unless reforms take place in the form of a federal system of government it is difficult to see how development will take off rapidly to fulfill the people’s aspirations for a high standard of living and security in South Sudan. After seven years of self-government electricity availability is still an acute problem. People also have no clue as to when they will have piped clean drinking water to their homes. A visit to the electricity power station will show that one or two generators out of several may be operational at any one time in a metropolis like Juba. Fuel shortage is also a perennial problem. Where is the planning for the last seven years for electricity and water supply? Heaps of garbage on road sides makes an appalling sight. On security about two weeks ago people witnessed a massacre of innocent women and children in Komiru by people in uniform. Worse there was a dismal response to contain the perpetuation of violence for three long days that was taking innocent lives and destroying property. A federal system is therefore appropriate in South Sudan to bring the decision-making process closer to the people for immediate remedies to problems including insecurity. The concept of taking towns to the people must be translated into tangible outcomes. This can only be through a federal system because for the last seven years how many towns have been taken to the people?

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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