Federal system of government in South Sudan not “kokora”

By Jacob K. Lupai

June 2, 2014 (SSNA) — English speakers will find it difficult to know what the word kokora is because it is not an English word and hardly found in any English dictionary. It may therefore be convenient from the outset to define the word kokora for the benefit of readers.

The word kokora is a Bari word of the Karo ethnic group (Bari, Pojulu, Mundari, Nyangwara, Kakwa and Kuku) and Bari is one of the languages spoken in Equatoria, precisely in Central Equatoria State. In English kokora may simply be defined as division or to divide equitably.

From the definition of the word kokora the greedy will have a problem because they are people always inclined to have the lion’s share at the expense of equitable or fair sharing of resources and positions in government.

Federal system of government

After having given the English definition of the word kokora, it is important to highlight a federal system of government. For people who may be deliberately mixing up a federal system with kokora, they are informed that unlike kokora, a federal system is constitutionally seen to allocate power between the national (federal) government and the component units; for example, states or regions, determining which powers are the exclusive prerogative of each level of government and which powers are shared.

For those who equate a federal system with kokora as a violent eviction of others from one state or region is nothing but a ploy to promote and consolidate ethnic hegemony. By all accounts South Sudan is diverse in ethnic groups. It is therefore improper for one single ethnic group to monopolise all powers in a neocolonial mentality of oppression as though other ethnic groups do not exist. People must remember that South Sudan is home to 64 ethnic groups.

The genesis of kokora

Collectively South Sudanese have similar aspirations. They will not accept to be treated as second class citizens, will not accept to be oppressed and will not accept to be marginalized. This may explain why the people of South Sudan collectively struggled in some of the long and protracted liberation wars in Africa that at last brought them independence so that they could enjoy freedom, justice and equality. However, the problem arises when the leadership turns ethnic or tribal, promoting the hegemony of their ethnic group.

The genesis of kokora can be traced back to the first 17-year (1955 – 1972) war of liberation. After the 17-year armed struggle for freedom, South Sudan found itself an autonomous region with limited self-rule. The leader of the armed struggle was an Equatorian, who under nationalistic sentiments surrendered his leadership to a Dinka to head the government of autonomous South Sudan for southern national unity. The leader of the armed struggle instead opted to continue safeguarding the southern self-rule through his presence in the national army. However, as time went on and when people were trying to settle down, the spirit of national struggle turned tribal.

Dinka hegemony was promoted, prompting the semi-literate and unfortunately some literate Dinka to coin a mythology that the Dinka were born to rule. This is not difficult to understand how this mythology came about. The High Executive Council of the autonomous South in 1981 consisted of 50 per cent Dinka. The heads of units in the various ministries were about 53 per cent Dinka. This is all in contrast to the fact that South Sudan is home to 64 ethnic groups. Without any shred of doubt the Dinka had the monopoly of positions in the government of autonomous South. This, nevertheless, does not suggest that there were no Dinka nationalists although they hardly came out openly against such outrageous overrepresentation of the Dinka.

When the people of Equatoria saw the excessive insensitivity to tribal hegemony, they called for the decentralization of the administration of the autonomous South into three regional administrations of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile for a fair sharing of power. Equatorians in their enthusiasm innocently called this kokora. This did not go well especially with the Dinka who felt they were the target because they knew very well what they were doing.

The word kokora generated bitterness, ill-feelings and occasional insults and physical aggression. Nevertheless, kokora went ahead sadly with no due process of reconciliation and forgiveness for what had happened. The Dinka left Equatoria with bitterness as though they were unceremoniously evicted although most left on their own accord. This sums up the genesis of kokora which was grossly misinterpreted that caused unnecessary hangover and animosities.

The second liberation struggle

Immediately after the kokora the second liberation struggle took off. It was considered the continuation of the first liberation struggle. It was not strange that when those who were very angry and utterly bitter with kokora, flocked in droves to join the second liberation struggle. Those who joined the second liberation struggle did not forget their imaginary cruel eviction from Equatoria, one of the most peaceful and progressive regions of South Sudan.

It was obvious that when the liberation struggle progressed into Equatoria people suffered tremendously as they were mistreated. In Equatoria the people were perceived as elements who had advocated kokora. After the end of the second liberation struggle through a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA), there is little evidence that Equatoria has fared any better in sharing the cake of the liberation struggle. The conditions in the pre-kokora era seem to be replicating themselves. Like hunters who have just killed an elephant, Equatoria seems not to have its fair share of the Caracas as measured by its contribution to the liberation effort. People seem to have hardly learned anything as to why kokora had taken place. However, Equatoria should not be underrated. It can provide the leadership that can move this country from war and chaos to peace, stability and prosperity for all.

The call for federal system

It can confidently be asserted that the people of Equatoria are pioneers, forward looking and do not live in the past unlike others who are still living in the kokora era, reminding themselves of their imaginary cruel eviction and so their suspicion of and bitterness with the people Equatoria. The call for a federal system of government is an original concept of Equatoria since 2011. On the 18th February 2013 Equatoria re-affirmed its call for a democratic Federal system of Governance for South Sudan. It is never against anybody in South Sudan. However, the point here is to make a distinction between the Equatoria call for federation and that of the 15th December 2013 rebellion.

There is no doubt that Equatoria is the pioneer of federalism for South Sudan through peaceful means. Unlike the chaotic Upper Nile, peaceful Bahr el Ghazal and Equatoria will greatly benefit from a federal system of government. Federalism accelerates development. For nine good years after the CPA examples of underdevelopment are glaring. One example is that after the long nine years Juba city does not have running water to homes. The only alternative now is a fleet of water tankers that are operated by foreigners.

Roads are extremely poor and insecurity is worrying where people disappear without a trace. Land grabbers are above the law because they use their positions and firearms to threaten and chase away the legitimate landowners. Nine years on people still depend on foreign food imports. With federalism these will all be things of the past. This is because in the federal system the state/region does not need to depend entirely on directives or grants from the centre to effect development. The three arms of government will also be reflected in the state which will also have the power to tax to generate revenue for development.

To highlight once again, federalism is the constitutional sharing of power between the centre and states/regions. It is not kokora to evict people from a state/region as scaremongers would like people to believe. Those who equate federalism with kokora may have their own ulterior motives. The hidden agenda may be the promotion of ethnic hegemony hence the fear of federalism. However, those with the open agenda of nationalism will, with open arms, welcome federalism as a guarantor of national unity in diversity and acceleration of development.


It can be asserted that a federal system of government in South Sudan is not kokora. Equatoria is calling for a federal system because it does not want to be bogged down in development. It is not to evict others to their states/regions. A federal system will not only free Equatoria from the yolk of centralized bureaucracy where billions of dollars are squandered with states left in the cold without adequate sources of revenue for development but a federal system will also free the other regions of Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile. The dura saga and the billions of dollars stolen by alleged 75 thieves are examples of how a centralized system of government could be a liability. A federal system of government is therefore likely to accelerate development which in turn is likely to promote national unity as ethnic hegemony is addressed through equitable sharing of power and wealth.

In conclusion, the smallest ethnic group in South Sudan must be seen to be represented and this is likely to be achieved through the adoption of a federal system of government.

The author can be reached at [email protected].

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