Federalism is the only viable solution to South Sudan’s problems

By Elhag Paul

September 28, 2012 (SSNA) — Federalism, the democratic system of governance that is hated like a disease in South Sudan by some powerful members of the ruling party has come up like a rose flower blossoming in early spring sunshine.  Indeed it is a lovely flower with sweet fragrance to most South Sudanese democrats.  This fresh smell has been sprayed into the acrid atmosphere of South Sudan by non other than the person who challenged SPLM dictatorship in 1991 derailing the SPLM’s project of New Sudan and changing the course of history.

Dr Lam Akol’s call in the Sudan Tribune on 20th September 2012 “for a federal state in South Sudan to achieve ‘Unity in diversity’ and to promote peaceful coexistence between the different tribal components of the country” is not only timely but a wise call proving the initiative to be a thoughtful act of a citizen who wants the best for the country.  Any person coming up with solutions to address our failed state should be taken very seriously. 

Dr Akol has been the subject of vilification for nearly 2 decades by the SPLM party even when he was their registered member.  The leaders of the SPLM hate him for his supposed intelligence.  The public should not receive Dr Akol’s call for federalism with suspicion for the simple fact that ultimately if South Sudan is to be rescued it has to be governed by a federal system.  The current centralised system of governance in South Sudan is a recipe for disaster and it is one of the reasons why South Sudan is a failed state today.

A country with a diverse population of over sixty tribes can not just be subjected to the whims of only18 percent of its citizen who perversely call themselves a majority.  How can 18 percent of the population be a majority over 82 percent?  This is one of the twisted logic that is invoked time and again to perpetuate abuse by a minority bent on domination and siphoning the resources of the country without any accountability.  To do away with this abuse and corruption it is necessary that the system of governance in the country is changed to a federal one as called for by Dr Akol.

Federal system will bring government closer to the people and it will allow proper scrutiny of government since local federal government agents will be judged by local people who elect them and not appointees as is the case now.  Additionally, federalism will do away with the current uneven distribution of resources and power between the various social groups in the country.  The importance of this point is that as people participate in their government within their own localities (federal states) cooperation between the various localities will begin to build up leading into a healthy relationship and peaceful co-existence.  This is what we want in our country and not domination by one group that generates constant instability. 

Federalism is not new to South Sudanese.  In 1950s prior to the independence of the Sudan in 1956 South Sudanese fearing domination by the Arabs called for a federal system.  Had the government in Khartoum heeded the call then perhaps Sudan today would still have been one country at peace with itself.  But the Arabs refused it because they wanted to dominate and as a result they played a game with it until the South Sudanese got fed up and moved on to separation which now has happened. 

Many tribes in South Sudan feel hard done by the dominant tribe in the SPLM.  This is not new.  There is a pertinent history which is threatening to repeat itself.  The experience of Kokora was painful but the current system is even generating more pain than that of Kokora and it is only a matter of time before things begin to boil over.


In the bush SPLM tried to minimise this kind of pain by accepting that federalism should be the system of governance in South Sudan.  Thus, it sought to placate itself by holding a convention in 1994.  In that convention it was unequivocally resolved that federal system would be the system of governance in the Sudan.  This was in recognition of the diversity of the South Sudan. 

When the CPA was born in 2005 the constitution governing South Sudan stipulated federalism as the system of governance in South Sudan.  The SPLM was comfortable with this arrangement because it still had no absolute power and also fearing division in the South.  So far so good.  After the referendum and secession of South Sudan the SPLM having obtained ultimate power they threw away federalism from the constitution in favour of a centralised government.  As expected this was done to allow certain groups and ethnicities to dominate the government.  The outcome of this arrangement is the total mess South Sudan is in now.  Rampant corruption, massive theft, tribal appointments of incompetent people, tribal police force, tribal prison forces, tribal judiciary, tribal wars, and rebellions capped with a failed state.  Hence the certification of South Sudan by international bodies as a failed state and the measured description of South Sudan government by one of its former advisors Gerard Prunier as a government of “idiots …..rotten to the core.” 

Now a centralised system of government that produces such destruction and rubbish surely can not be good for the country and it needs to be discarded in the interest of peace and unity.  Here is where Dr Akol’s call comes in timely.  We either have a ‘unity in diversity’ or we will self destruct and there is no knowing what the outcome of that will be. 

It will not surprise me if the demonization of Dr Akol is upped now by the footmen of SPLM simply because he has touched a sensitive button albeit a life saving one for all of us.  In light of this it is vital to briefly examine Dr Akol’s performance in SPLM objectively.  Before doing this I would like to state categorically that I am not a member of SPLM-DC.  My interest in this is only to be fair to him as his proposal transcends party and ideological bigotry.

Prior to 1991 Dr Akol was a rising star in the SPLM.  As the face of external relations of the movement he ably represented the movement to the extent that he gave credibility to SPLM’s claimed stake as an alternative government to the rulers in Khartoum.  His performance in talks with the Sudan government in Norway in late 1980s shone throughout the world raising the status of SPLM internationally.  The press briefs he gave were measured and effective.  Unlike the current GoSS diplomats in Nairobi and Washington who embarrass us daily.  Dr Akol carried himself in that portfolio with dignity lifting up the status of the movement.  Even Dr Garang acknowledged his high quality performance.

However, the 1991 failed Nasir coup of which Dr Akol was a member changed all that.  He became a target of demonization by the SPLM main stream and to a large extent this succeeded.   The majority of South Sudanese pumped up with sustained negative propaganda by the SPLM over the years do not see Dr Akol from untainted glass.  This is unfortunate because many people have been frightened, brainwashed and deprived of the chance to interact with his writings and his person without being biased.  Objective engagement with Dr Akol’s materials is illuminating and I have no doubt that history will have him as the person who changed the course of South Sudan history in the SPLM. 

Although Reik Machar was the leader of that coup, it is known that without Dr Akol he would not have taken the bold step of rebelling against Dr Garang.  And without 1991 Nasir coup, it would have been unthinkable for the wishes of South Sudanese for secession to come to light during that dark oppressive period of one man rule (Dr John Garang). It is this coup with pressure from South Sudanese internally and externally that forced Dr Garang to sign up to the agenda of secession through referendum in Abuja in early 1990s and from there everything else was history.  

This is a momentous contribution to the history of South Sudan that nobody can take that away from Dr Akol.  This contribution no doubt threatens the position of those who want to construct Dr Garang as the ‘Father of the Nation’.  A widely misused and abused phrase in south Sudan without any credible grounds.  Yes, Dr Garang fought Khartoum hard and nobody can take that away from him.  However it is important to note that he fought for a united Sudan.  Dr Garang himself put pen to paper saying ‘our first bullets were fired against the separatists.’  Now how could a person who was a unionist to the core who executed separatists at will be the father of a nation he did not want to see born?  People like Isaiah Abraham who tirelessly pursue the goal of glorifying Dr Garang through mendacity will later find out that their effort is gone to waste like dust or vapour. 

Dr Akol as any other human being has his weaknesses.  Writers like Dr Nyaba in his writing refer to him as arrogant.  This maybe true but surely this is not a reason enough to banish someone.  If Dr Reik Machar, despite his destructive paste and promotion of corruption in GoSS now can be reinstated in South Sudanese society, why not Dr Akol?  If the former ministers of finance Arthur Akuen and Athian Mawen who mismanaged billions in the system can be reinstated and appointed into parliament why not Dr Akol?  If former NCP diehards who fought the SPLM tooth and nail for two decades can be reinstated, why not Dr Akol?  There are many cases of people who have done terrible things in South Sudan and yet they have been reinstated in society and lavishly praised.  But when it comes to Dr Akol, the siren is sounded as if the world is coming to an end.  Let us be fair and treat people equally if we want to build a good society.  Those whose minds have been contaminated by SPLM propaganda need to rescue themselves by being objective.  Individually the decision is ours whether we want to remain with the wool pulled over our eyes by SPLM or become free beings in thoughts and deeds.  

Frantz Fanon (1924 -1961) argues that manipulation of the mind is not only destructive to the individual but is the very destruction of the community itself simply because the behaviour of a manipulated person ensures his own demise and that of his community.  When someone be they your friend or your enemy manipulates and colonises your mind; they have full control of you and will exploit you as they like.  No offense intended but the SPLM has via crude methods managed to colonise minds of its members as well as a large section of our society.  In a sense SPLM has locked into the minds of their supporters the idea that anybody opposing them is pro Arab and therefore should not be tolerated (although the Arabs are long gone) even when the person has good ideas for the country.  What SPLM does not say is that they too are in daily contact with Arabs.   

Having come this far, what is needed clearly is free thinking people in the SPLM who can question things and argue objectively in favour of good ideas.  For example, on this proposal of federalism objective SPLM members should be able to say although Dr Akol raised the issue it is good for South Sudan and they should be able to support it  After all this would not be the first time that SPLM adopts Dr Akol’s proposals.  In Abuja they accepted self determination of South Sudan.

Thus on the issue of federalism, let objectivity for once reign.  Let us concentrate on the message and not the messenger.  If what is being proposed can offer a solution to our failed state and can stop the world calling us ‘idiots ….rotten to the core’ then what is wrong with that?  After all Dr Akol is resurrecting something that once was in our constitution before SPLM vandalised it in July 2011 (Independence day). 

Federalism is the only viable solution to our problems.  It offers solutions to the problem of domination.  It offers solutions to the problem of poor governance.  It offers peaceful co-existence.  It offers solutions to the politics of exclusions.  It offers solutions to political instability.  It offers solutions to totalitarianism and so on.  Moreover this is a system that has been tested in the advanced countries: United States of America, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, and Australia. 

For those who say federalism is not good for South Sudan the burden of proof remains with them.  They need to tell us why it is not good by arguing and making a credible case for such a position.   They need to bear in mind that centralised power as now in Juba dominated by one group has failed and caused the current instability.  If left unaddressed it may lead into disintegration of the country. 

In summing up, now that Dr Akol’s call for federalism in South Sudan has coincided with the review of the constitution, the members of the constitutional review and the members of the parliament should pay a particular attention to this. 

[Truth hurts but it is also liberating]

The Author lives in the Republic of South Sudan. He can be reached at [email protected]

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