False rejection of federal system of government in South Sudan

By Jacob K. Lupai

June 9, 2014 (SSNA) — The debate on federalism will never go away so easily. This is because the proponents and opponents of federalism seem to believe strongly that they have convincing points to make but that the case of either side is misunderstood. The proponents believe that federalism is a solution to the root causes of conflicts in South Sudan. In contrast the opponents have other ideas that federalism will lead to disunity and ultimate disintegration.

It is clear from the debate that opponents based their rejection of federalism on their paranoia of kokora. On the other hand the proponents of federalism based their case on objective realities of the diversities in South Sudan which is considered as “a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-racial entity — Article 1(4) of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011”. Federalism is therefore seen as addressing the core problem arising from poor management of diversities in the effort to promote national cohesion and unity.


It may be boring to some to read about kokora time and again. However, it may be of interest to others to know the link between kokora and the rejection of federalism. It is worth educating people about kokora which is a word native to Central Equatoria State. Kokora is division of something which could be the sharing of power or resources equitably. The implication is that kokora it is the sharing of something for the equitable benefit of beneficiaries.

Kokora can be traced back to the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972 that granted the people of the then Southern Region an autonomous status. Mr. Abel Alier, a Dinka, was to head the High Executive Council of the autonomous Southern Region. During his reign Mr. Alier entrenched himself by placing his tribesmen in strategic and powerful positions. For example, they controlled finance, judiciary, education, administration, prison, police and wildlife service, legal affairs and so forth. The non Dinka especially Equatorians found themselves deprived and so called for kokora (division) of the Southern Region into Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile Region. The people of Equatoria perceived kokora as the equitable sharing of power and resources.

In the middle of 1983 the Central Government, after having heard loudly the voices for kokora, issued a decree dividing the Southern Region into three regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile. It was obvious that the Dinka were the most bitter and vocal against kokora for the loss of their strategic and powerful positions in the Southern Region Government. This may explain why some of the most critical of a federal system of government in South Sudan are the Dinka. This is because they equate kokora with federalism which is their imagined eviction from Equatoria. However, the vast majority of non Dinka and some progressive forward looking Dinka may have no problem at all with the adoption of a federal system of government in South Sudan.  

The present centralized system dubbed decentralization mostly favours none other than the Dinka. For example, according to the South Sudan News Agency (SSNA) website (May 14, 2011) the SPLM Political Bureau Members, excluding those from Northern Sudan and the dead one, were 52 per cent and the GOSS Presidential Advisors were about 43 per cent Dinka respectively. Of the GOSS Ministers about 36 per cent and the GOSS Independent Commissions and Chambers were 57 per cent Dinka also respectively. The GOSS Undersecretaries were 45 per cent Dinka. For the SPLA, Internal security and other security organs about 82 per cent were also Dinka.

From the above statistics it is self-explanatory why the Dinka will fight tooth and nail to retain their dominant positions of hegemony over the other 63 ethnic groups in a centralized system of government where they are in absolute strategic and powerful positions. Is this really the South Sudan we all aspire to identify with when there is no equitable sharing of power and resources? People may need to think hard to come up with an appropriate solution to the problem of one ethnic group dominating in all aspects of the affairs of the country. How can one ethnic group dominating be at the same time promoting national cohesion and unity?


The federal type of government can be found in many countries like the USA, Germany, Switzerland, India, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Mexico to mention but some. In a federation the consequent delegation of competencies to the lower level such as the state creates a sense of responsibility and self-reliance among the population. It is arguable that local solutions tailored to the needs of the population are more cost-effective and fit better than standardized solutions from a far away central government.

After independence the governors of the ten states of South Sudan called on the national government for a more federal system of government. The governors spelt out the need for further decentralization of the system not only politically but also administratively. The governors also ranked decentralized governance high on their list of recommendations. This goes to show that a strong decentralization which can be likened to federalism was popular among the governors of the ten states of South Sudan. This suggests that the opponents of federalism may be living in a world too remote from the objective realities in the states as expressed by the governors.

Federations naturally differ from each other in a variety of ways. Most relevant for our purpose are differences in some of the essentials of institutional design. For example, some federations have presidential systems while others have parliamentary systems of various kinds. Switzerland has a mixed form of government incorporating elements of presidential and parliamentary system. It can therefore be seen that a federal system of government cannot be adopted wholesale from one country to the other. A federal system has to be designed in such a way so as to correspond to the peculiarities of a particular country. When there is a consensus on the adoption of a federal system of government in South Sudan then it is the responsibility of the people to design the one suitable in addressing their needs.

Open agenda

We have seen how the opponents of a federal system will go to any length to stop the adoption of such a system. The opponents claim that the proponents of a federal system have a hidden agenda to evict non Equatorians from Equatoria. This is, of course, baseless and false rejection of a federal system of government in South Sudan. The Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011 is very clear. Article 27(1) 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”.

How could the hidden agenda of the proponent of a federal system come in here when the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011 is very clear about the right to freedom of movement and the liberty to choose residence? This renders the claim that the proponents of a federal system have a hidden agenda null and void. The proponent has a clear agenda and it is the equitable sharing of power and resources to reflect the diversities in the Republic of South Sudan in the effort to forge national unity.

Hidden agenda

From the expressions of the opponents of a federal system it is clear that they have a hidden agenda. The agenda is to dominate with the erroneous belief that numerical superiority is all that counts. The unfounded claim that a federal system will disunite people is intended for the naïve. The governors of the ten states were not naive to call for a federal system. The highly educated intellectuals of Equatoria are not naïve either. The call for a federal system is grounded on objective realities of South Sudan as an entity of diversities. Only the naïve can put up with gross misbehavior and crude domination of the last century. 


I have been attacked by opponents of federalism as somebody who is tribalistic. I have also been described as somebody spreading hate speech against fellow citizens. I wonder whether people really understand what a debate is. In a debate there shouldn’t be anything personal. What is most important in a debate is to put up a convincing argument with supporting evidence be it in a form of statistics or data. On the personal level many non Equatorians including the Dinka are friendly to me and I am also friendly to them.

I had worked among non Equatorians, specifically among the Dinka, first as an agricultural officer in Aweil rice scheme and then as the principal of Rumbek agricultural training centre. I had never encountered hostility or aggression. The Dinka we worked with were readily protective of their non Dinka workmates in their midst. For sure we are of different ethnic backgrounds but the challenge will always be how to build a strong united South Sudan that is full of opportunities for all. Neither rejection nor adoption of federalism can be imposed through aggression. A consensus needs to be reached in the interest of national unity but this can only be done through dialogue.


The rejection of a federal system in South Sudan is only to serve the interest of a section of the population and the section is not more than 25 per cent of the population. It has nothing to do with the imagined disintegration of South Sudan. However, it is most likely that out of the 25 per cent there are proponents of federalism. In the final analysis not all the Dinka will reject federalism although they may be openly reserved. Nonetheless, those who gain the most in a centralized system will be critical of those advocating for federalism.

In conclusion, as a state benefits from a federal system of government so do the people in the state including those who might have been vocal against federalism.

The author can be reached at [email protected].

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