June 22, 2014 (SSNA) — A debate on any topic of interest should be seen as a way of increasing understanding for an informed decision. The debate may clear some ignorance about the topic. This should be viewed as something positively contributing to mutual understanding.
The current debate on federalism should be seen as something useful to increase understanding. Some people are expressing outright ignorance mixed with fear of what federalism is all about. Some are even losing their heads as the debate heats up which seems to have touched raw nerves. Objectivity is fast disappearing, producing sycophants who are trying by all means to please their masters to sustain their high table positions. Intellectualism is being replaced with simplistic arguments where federalism is dismissed outright as non starter.
The sustainability of national unity does not depend on somebody’s subjectivity to prescribe what people should support. Rather it is an objective undertaking and collective responsibility born out of inclusiveness where people can instinctively identify with the nation. Arguably inclusiveness can be achieved through federalism when there is an active participation at the state level in addressing local issues that a centralized system is too remote to address.
As will be seen in the text there may be some hidden reasons why some people ardently reject federalism. However, as the debate carries on there will come a time when the majority will either reject or support federalism. Naturally as people gain knowledge of something it is expected that they will make an informed decision which may go either way, to reject or support federalism.
Something that is imposed on people may hardly be sustainable. People should therefore be contented that neither a federal system nor a centralized one will be imposed. Any system of government that will be adopted will hopefully be according to the will of the majority with the rights of minorities respected and dissenting views taken on board. Federalism will naturally be gaining ground.
Debate on federalism
The debate on federalism has produced proponents on one side and opponents on the other. The proponents of federalism are positive as they conceive federalism sustaining national unity.
In a federal system of government the federal constitution allocates power between the federal (national) government and the component units (states), determining which powers are the exclusive prerogative of each government and which powers are shared. It is to be noted that when powers are shared, the federal constitution defines how conflicts among the governments with regard to these powers are to be resolved. In sustaining national unity the federal constitution regulates the relations among the states and between the federal government and the states.
Adopting a federal system of government should be seen as part of reforms to consolidate national unity in view of communal heterogeneity and complexity as for example in South Sudan. Federalism creates an environment that encourages full participation of people in running effectively their development affairs to improve living standards. Who will object to services closer to home? Only the naïve may do so. This is in contrast to a centralised system where accountability may be wanting and most of the budget is retained at the centre with the peripheries nearly abandoned. This will hardly be the case in a federal system where peripheries are catered for.
Proponents of federalism are champions of equitable power sharing and distribution of resources for the benefit of all. On the other hand opponents are negetive in their imagination and will do anything to reject federalism. They should understand that federalism is like a hedge in between that makes relations greener.
Conception of federalism
The opponents of federalism conceive federalism negatively. This has generated a lot of misconception of federalism. Arguably most of the misconception is based on ignorance, fear and deliberate misinterpretation. Ignorance may be associated with high levels of illiteracy. Somebody somewhere in the debate on federalism has said, because of high illiteracy rate, 72 per cent, in South Sudan, the adoption of federalism must wait until the illiteracy rate is about 11 per cent. What a strange idea indeed.
On average the literacy rate in Equatoria is 32 per cent, in Bahr el Ghazal 22.25 and in Upper Nile it is 29 per cent respectively. It can be seen that the literacy rate in Equatoria is higher than in the other two former regions. However, the literacy rate in Upper Nile is higher than that of Bahr el Ghazal. The higher literacy rate in Equatoria may explain the level of understanding of federalism here that the overwhelming demand is for a federal system of government in South Sudan. Partly due to its high literacy rate Upper Nile may also demand a federal system of government. This makes it unacceptable to hold Equatoria hostage because of the others’ low level of understanding of federalism.
In the debate fear is the only factor for the rejection of federalism. For example, somebody in a very simplistic way cited Munuki Residential Area as excluding non Equatorian residents from attending committee meetings. Is this a major issue that can lead to the rejection of federalism? Of course, this can simply be administratively tackled if a genuine complaint is raised.
The fear of federalism cited is that federalism will divide the people of South Sudan. How will people be divided is a mystery that only the fearful may have the answer. The fear that federalism will divide the people of South Sudan is an insult to the intelligence of the people as though they are simpletons who cannot think critically. The people of South Sudan will not be divided but only if they so desire.
Naturally the people of South Sudan are not one people as some would like to preach as if others are daft. However, one thing is certain. The people of South Sudan are of one destiny and this was their only strength that sustained them through the ages in the long and bitter armed struggle for dignity, freedom and equality. As in the old Sudan, in South Sudan we are still people of one destiny united in our quest for justice and fairness for all. Federalism will never ever divide the people of South Sudan as claimed by the opponents of federalism who tend to be too simplistic in their perception. The people have a bigger goal to achieve, South Sudan that is a paradise for all. Centralisation has obviously brought many problems that solutions are hardly available.
Deliberate misinterpretation of federalism
The opponents of federalism have been relentlessly engaging in deliberate misinterpretation. A crucial discovery can be made at this juncture from this deliberate misinterpretation of federalism. The demand for federalism seems to have uncovered something dangerous to the unity of South Sudan, a neocolonialist agenda of the supposedly informed opponents of federalism. In their fury against federalism the opponents have displayed their true colors and frustrations have got the better of them.
The target is Equatoria which is the lead in the call for a federal system of government in South Sudan. So arguably, the rejection of federalism is not because it is a bad system of government but because it is an abstacle to the neocolonialist agenda. This is a contradiction to the concept and spirit of a liberation struggle to establish a fairer system of governance that delivers and meets people’s aspirations for a decent life. The turmoil we have may be due to such contradiction. So the venom is now spat out. Neocolonialism will not only target Equatoria but it will go beyond when the project in Equatoria is over.
South Sudanese are people of one destiny. They share the same aspirations for dignity, freedom, equality, justice and fairness for all. How true the saying is that one rotten apple spoils a bag of apples. Some opponents of federalism may have genuine concerns. However, it is clear that others may have neocolonialist agenda. These people may hardly have the unity of people of South Sudan in their hearts but only their interest.
In conclusion, poor understanding of federalism can be addressed through an open debate and discussion, and possibly through talk show in the media. However, people’s freedom to express their views should not be muzzled. The Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011 is clear and allows for freedom of expression and media as stipulated in Article 24(1). Opponents of federalism may need to demonstrate that they do not have neocolonialist agenda for their position is unconvincing.
The author can be reached at [email protected].