May 27, 2013 (SSNA) — The recent debate on federalism has been fascinating. It has been a battle of ideas and views which is healthy in a society that needs to learn more in increasing understanding. It is not a battle to finish off those with counter ideas and views. Rather it is to bring out the best of what people need to know to make an informed choice. In such debates nothing is personal. Learning is a continuous process and we all need to learn as much as possible in our endeavour for a better way forward in our quest for prosperity and national unity.
The debate is interesting as it focuses on whether South Sudan should adopt a federal system or it is already federal. Strong views have been expressed for a federal system. This in turn has drawn a strong reaction against a federal system seen as divisive. Other views are that south Sudan is already federal and there is no need to federalize existing federalism. Arguably, South Sudan is not federal.
South Sudan is divided into ten states. Does that mean South Sudan is automatically a federation? If that was the case South Sudan would have been known as the Federal Republic of South Sudan. After arm-twisting and probably blackmailing, on the 8th July 2011 members of the then Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly voted for independent South Sudan to continue adopting a decentralized system as in Article 167(1) of the Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan, 2005 against the demand for a strong federal system. This is evidence that there is no federalism in South Sudan. It is therefore not possible and indeed unrealistic to federalise non-existent federalism.
It is possible that the confusion is a misconception of the current decentralized system. This is misleading. One way to clear the confusion is to define what federalism is in contrast to a decentralized system. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary Ninth Edition, federalism refers to a federal system of government in which several states form a unity but remain independent in internal affairs. In contrast, a decentralized system of government is the transfer of powers from a central to a local authority in reorganizing on the basis of greater local autonomy. If each state was given greater local autonomy then each of the ten states could have been like the southern region under the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972.
From the definition of federalism and a decentralized system, there seems to be a gray dividing line. However, in brief federalism offers a state independence in internal affairs while a decentralized system offers greater local autonomy. This clearly shows there seems to be little difference. If this is the case why is there a hot debate on federalism versus decentralization. This could have been partly due to the various interpretations.
Federalism represents an attempt to decentralize responsibilities to state-local levels of government with a view to overcoming regional and local discontent with central policies. From this perspective federalism is not irrelevant to South Sudan. Through federalism national unity is consolidated. The state needs greater local autonomy with independence in internal affairs such as in deployment of police in combating rampant insecurity. The state must also have powers to raise taxes otherwise the system is nothing but centralized. It must generate sufficient revenues for development instead of reliance on the centre for everything.
There is no federalism in South Sudan to be federalized. Decentralisation has not even gone far enough as greater local autonomy to the states. Contrary to decentralization proper, all organized forces are centralized. Taxation for revenues to the states is centralized. The judiciary is centralized. Now, where is the offer of greater local autonomy to the states as the definition of a decentralized system seems to suggest? It may be important to note that there is worldwide interest in federalism linked directly to the promotion of greater democracy and decentralization.
In conclusion, we in the Republic of South Sudan can reach a consensus on federalism through fruitful debates is sharing others’ experiences and our knowledge. However, we may need to liberate ourselves from living in the past in order to look forward with confidence in building a nation each and everyone will call home. The low literacy rate may also be a problem.
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