Delaying federalism is to invite regionalism in RSS

By: Justin Ambago Ramba

May 12, 2013 (SSNA) — As the SPLM politics in South Sudan starts to get terribly tribal, the three states of Greater Equatoria have since then held three conferences. Undeniably these high level regional conferences  went on  to  raise concerns among some quarters and especially so among South Sudanese hailing from the other two regions of the Greater Bahr el Ghazal and the Greater Upper Nile.

Nonetheless the “Three Equatoria Conferences”, so far held in Juba have squarely centered on finding solutions to issues of: combating corruption, promotion of good governance, food security through agriculture, accountability and the like.  And it isn’t in anyway fair for people to take negative positions against these conferences the way some people have already done so in the press.

Rushing to label these regional conferences as yet another “Kokora” in the making is totally outrageous, and those who continue to harbor such negative feelings can only be described as a people who have become mentally imprisoned in their own past.  It’s time that people make every effort to reconcile their past, while knowing that  “Kokora” which is another term for the ‘re-division’ of the Southern Region into three during Jaafar Nimeri’s rule of the united old Sudan is  likely to haunt this nascent country for more years to come.

Why not call things by their names and anyone who doesn’t like it can comfortably go and drink from the Nile. In a nutshell the central idea of the “Kokora” or Re-division or Decentralization of what was a unitary region of the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan, was in fact a political move spearheaded by politicians from Equatoria province aimed to rid the many small  tribes of South Sudan from what was then rightly perceived as the political hegemony  by one big tribe.

Tribal politics is not new to South Sudan and as such it shouldn’t surprise anyone when tribal sentiments are expressed here and there. After all South Sudan is a part of Africa, isn’t it?  Yet that is not the point. It’s not about tribal politics being practiced in the country, but rather it’s the sad fact that tribalistic politicians who are clearly seen all over the place boasting of their tribal numerical advantage are still unable to see that what they are actually involved with is a tribal driven politics.

And over the years it has perfectly become a common practice for South Sudanese politicians, academicians, and civil servants alike to stand up and criticize tribalism and every bad thing that is   associated with it. Isn’t it a great thing to celebrate in the midst of what is a chaos by design?   

Yet any celebration unfortunately  is likely to be short lived as the real problem arises when it comes for politicians to translate these supposedly patriotic positions into actions. It is here that the true nature of these well-spoken people makes way for the actual monsters that hide behind their artificial patriotism. It is common to see people, who until a short while ago would have been considered as die-hard opponents of tribalism based on their rhetoric, suddenly becoming the ring leaders who not only champion it but are ready to go at length to involve whole communities in inter-tribal wars. 

Of course it won’t be right to lump everything on the colonialists or the Arab imperialism, nor is anyone safe enough to navigate this long route before they come to realize how these two tribes show a great sentiment to the numerical size of their respective tribes to the extent that any other roles assigned to outsiders are only considered when it serves their interest.

Ethnic politics is flourishing perfectly well under the SPLM’s one party state and it is no longer a secret that politics as based on the numerical sizes of tribes have already hatched its first two polarizing political camps not only in the country, but also within the ruling SPLM party itself. One group has   identified itself  with the incumbent president Salva Kiir Mayardit while the other rallies behind Vice President Riek Machar Teny. 

There could still be other surprises to be expected but not at this early stages of events for it is not unlikely for a third camp to have its eyes on the presidency come the 2015 elections. However till now the talk remains confined to the SPLMs “BIG FIVE”.  

Regionalism as a political structure of governance was first introduced officially in the Sudan by President Jaafar Nimeri following the Addis Ababa Agreement. As a result of that arrangement Southern Sudan’s three provinces were brought together into what became the semi-autonomous region.  At the same time the other six Northern provinces also became six regions with certain degrees of autonomy as well.

While most of the discussion is likely to revolve around regionalism and federalism it will be good if we find out what each of these stands to mean to the political laity – the non-scholars of political science! In short regionalism was that sort of government structure of lesser status than federalism, although both represent a varying degree of political devolution of power.   

However when discussing the politics of South Sudan, a country which not too long was a part of the old Sudan, it is absolutely  necessary to take into consideration  that  the greed to cling to power has always modified the way how regionalism and federalism were conceived and applied. There is now the fear that the same might also come to be the case in the nascent state of South Sudan for under the current SPLM rule the same greed remains alive, active and kicking.

It is everybody’s knowledge that the federal system of government exists in the constitutions of both countries of Sudan and South Sudan and yet the governments of the day in these countries are afraid to implement it. In the neighbouring Sudan the National Congress Party (NCP) struggling to reconcile between heaven and earth through its outdated Islamic philosophy remains scared to allow for democracy and true federalism in that country in spite of the so many political turmoil all across its territories.

Unfortunately it is also true that the same scenario is being replicated in the nascent country of RSS by none but the very SPLM that not too long fought Africa’s longest civil war under the banner to provide democracy, federalism and good governance. It truly represents the highest level of irony to see the SPLM party being incapacitated by the political greed at its highest echelon, as it struggles to find   the political will it so much needs in order to deliver on any of those promises that once formed its core manifesto throughout the two decades of war.

Historically the South Sudanese representatives were the first to demand for federalism in the 1947 Juba Conference, although the subsequent governments in Khartoum failed to honour their promise towards that demand, and instead resorted to regionalism – when it granted Southern Sudan a regional autonomy within a united Sudan. That was undoubtedly too little and too late and it only increased the people’s quest for greater autonomy, and eventually self-determination.

Regionalism was adopted following the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement and soon it gave birth to regional consciousness and created many regional loyalties and competitions. Worth mentioning here is that this was well received and appreciated by South Sudanese as to them it represented a great political achievement following the seventeen years of the Anya Nya war.

This was also true in as far as most of the Anya Nya fighters were concerned, as at least it was one step towards the great goal of independence. However it didn’t go all well as certain groups saw in that regional autonomy government a rare opportunity for their tribesmen to dominated and rule the Southern region of the old Sudan to the exclusion of others.  

However Nimeri was more keen to deter any rivalry over the country’s presidency,  than anything else.  And under what typically mirrors today’s South Sudan – the Sudan under Nimeri’s rule was a one party state with the Sudanese Socialist Union (SSU) as the sole and only political organisation.

He [Nimeri] thus used the SSU to push the politicians of that day to fully embrace regional politics and as if to relief the pressure from Khartoum many politicians were paid to redirected their political ambitions inwards and to the confines of their respective regions, of course with the exception of the few who belonged to the political classification of “Awlad al Balad”.

In so doing many politicians during Nimeri’s days became practically alienated from any politics that questioned the leadership in the center.  Coupled with this was the total ban declared on all the other political parties leaving the SSU to played  the role of the national melting pot for politics and ideas, typical of any totalitarian regime. Although all these were later undone following the 6th of  April Popular Uprising in 1985, the worry now is how far has the SPLM party under Salva Kiir’s leadership about to re-invent all these nightmare?!

And again resembling  the state of affairs in today’s South Sudan , was the widespread corruption that existed within Nimeri’s SSU ruling party and equally so in the rest of the  institutions. If SPLM is the prototype of SSU of those days [much slogans,  little or no action] , no wonder that all kinds of corruption have always flourished well under these kinds of totalitarian regimes. As it happened in those days we are also now witnessing another round of state sponsored tribalism, nepotism and favourtism all across the country.  

Had the Sudan implemented true federalism as it is practiced today in USA way back in 1955, we probably would  be  now talking about some very civilized politics and never about  the so-called “Southern Problem” or “The Southern Regional Government”  and never  of course about any “Kokora”  for that matter.

Even today well beyond two years since our people voted for independence, we still live under a leadership that continue to lack the political will when it comes to the issue of true federalism – democracy – multiparty politics – accountability – transparency – human rights – basic freedoms …..etc.

The above propositions are vital for the understanding of  how the past has undoubtedly shaped the present.  It also shows how  important it is  to look back and learn lessons from the history. And regardless of whether there are people out there who think that they can continue to behave intolerantly  towards  any Equatoria conference because they see it as the reincarnation of “Kokora” in the independent republic of South Sudan, nonetheless neither can they succeed in  breaking  the will of the people nor can they dictate on them what to do!!  

The real reasons behind all this fuss about Equatoria coming together as a region  is rooted in the fact that some people driven by their own agendas would better have  an Equatoria that is divided not only into three states, but preferably even into its so many small tribes so that those who pride themselves of their tribal numerical sizes can have an easy ride in what is now clearly “The Politics of Numbers”.

This can be referred to as the “Preferential KOKORA”. In other wards they would oppose KOKORA on regional basis as it is likely to weaken what they can achieve using their  numerically sizable tribes, while on the other hand they would support what could amount to the same "Kokora" but  on tribal basis thus alienating the so-called numerically small tribes from the top positions in the state.

Should there be a question like, “Why is Equatoria reviving regional politics in the post-independence RSS”?  Here is the answer to this question which is quite obvious. For in the face of the massive tribal built up to politics in the immediate post-independence South Sudan where qualifications have long been sacrificed for tribal origins – with the numerical sizes determining a tribes position in the cake sharing process, it is only common sense for the many small tribes that hail from Equatoria to come together and form a block that can be reckoned with.

Today Equatoria is again leading the call for federalism in South Sudan. And here we mean real federalism – the USA type and not some kind of adulterated quasi-quasi things! The show currently being displayed by the so-called numerically big tribes is in fact to talk federalism and act centralism. This if anything – it is hypocrisy of the highest level.

It won’t be long before South Sudan ends up with three political camps instead of political parties: the Equatorians and other non Dinka (Dor) political camp, the Dinka (Jeing) political camp and the Nuer (Naath) political camp. However all of these are already operating as legitimate functional units of the one party (SPLM) since only few people in South Sudan are interested in creating other political parties outside the SPLM. Is it not good that sometimes it is nice to see ourselves in the mirror?!!

On the other hand it is to be considered as absurd for any member of the ruling SPLM party to criticize the adoption regionalism because it is already an open secret that even the current SPLM leadership hierarchy stands for regional representation – especially the top three officials: President Salva Kiir (Bahr el Ghazal), Vice President Dr. Riek Machar (UPPER Nile) and the Speaker of the National Assembly James Wani Igga (Equatoria).  There is really nothing bad about this regional representation, if only it could have been extended the whole way to include all the national institutions.

While it is undeniable that the Greater Upper Nile is now in a very bad shape and although it is a home to many tribes as well, it is only unfortunate that the Dinka vs. Nuer type of politics with its spill over is not allowing for the region’s unity. First they will have to talk David Yau Yau into peace before any true regional unity can be achieved – not just in Jonglei state, but all across the Greater Upper Nile.

The bottom line is that the people of Equatoria are well aware that they will not be able to survive the politics of tribal numeracy as the way it stands now, hence their insistence to stand up as a unit.  Secondly these are people who will never relinquish their core ways of life to imitate the others who are deeply ingrained in tribal bloodletting, killings and cattle theft. Politics will always remain a dynamic entity with no permanent friends and no permanent enemies or rivals. What is permanent in politics is one’s interest.

So where does all these leave South Sudan?  For our country to push forward we need to have the proper structures in place. We are indeed a diverse people yet we share the common destiny of being citizens of the one country – South Sudan. When we fought the enemy for over five decades before we won our independence, we also had the opportunity to observe how and where things went wrong –  whether that was on our side or the enemy’s side. But after having learnt all these lessons, we can only be fools to repeat any of those mistakes. Regrettably this already seems to be the case!

Our country still has a chance to become a good place for all of us if we can only rid ourselves of greed. What we badly need now is to shun away from any “One Man Rule”, and we need to make it clear that totalitarianism has no place in the independent South Sudan. Let’s go wholeheartedly to embrace multiparty democracy and a true USA type of federalism if we really want to build our country and above all to avoid going back to an all-out civil war of our own making.

Author: Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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