June 30, 2014 (SSNA) — Federal states have been in existence for the last two hundred years. Although there was no explicit mention of federation, it was in the Juba Conference 1947 that South Sudanese first voiced their fears of domination and marginalization by Northern Sudanese. In the Conference Southerners basically wanted safeguards that they would not be mistreated by Northerners. It can, therefore, be seen that indirectly Southerners were already calling for a federal system of government that would have guaranteed them equality with their Northern counterparts and also sustainable national unity.
As Southerners were not well informed and sophisticated enough like the Northern conferees, they were easily manipulated to go along with the concept of one united Sudan without concrete guarantees. They took what Northerners said by word of mouth in the Conference as a guarantee. This is because in the Conference Northerners stressed that they had no intention to dominate the South. However, what the Northerners had stressed turned out to be a white lie or deception. It was to take the South two bitter and devastating liberation wars to get rid of Northern domination and marginalization.
Eight years later from the Juba Conference 1947 Southern members of parliament in Sudan put forward a condition for supporting the motion for independence from British colonial rule. They proposed a federal system of government for Sudan to safeguard the interest of the South. The Northern deceptive response was that the proposal for a federal system would be considered after independence of Sudan. After independence and under no obligation Northerners rejected the federal system for Sudan without any convincing explanation. To add salt to injury Northerners instead drafted a constitution fit for an Arab Islamic State. The Southern call for a federal system of government for Sudan was unceremoniously outlawed. Nevertheless, the Southern response was nothing but an armed struggle for freedom.
The point that is being made here is that the call for a federal system of government in South Sudan is not unique. In 1955 the Southern call for a federal system was to make the unity of Sudan attractive as the basis of sustainable national unity. Unfortunately the dominant Black Arabs of Sudan were arrogant, insensitive and extremely stubborn to their Black African cousins in the South. The Arabs were only to regret when Sudan ultimately disintegrated into North and South with colorful and magnificent celebrations in the South as that was where most of the resources the Arabs had exploited were found.
Federalism in South Sudan
Equatoria, of the three regions of South Sudan, was the first in 2011 to pass a resolution in a conference that: A democratic federal system of governance should be adopted for the Republic of South Sudan, therefore the establishment of the new country as the Federal Republic of South Sudan.
The motive for the call of a federal system of government in South Sudan is not very difficult to comprehend. It is to promote justice where none is above the law in contrast to selective justice, it is for sustainable national unity in contrast to ethno-centricism and it is to promote prosperity for all in contrast to absolute poor service delivery. The call for a federal system of government in South Sudan should be seen as a national agenda instead of being narrowly perceived as an Equatorian plot to segregate others. Federalism is for the benefit of all in South Sudan.
The essence of a federal system is its responsiveness to diversities and in defusing simmering tensions that may tear a country apart. The loud call for a federal system of government may co-relate to people’s experience of absolute poor service delivery. Things may therefore be different when a federal system is adopted.
Riek Machar’s call for federalism
Dr Riek Machar was the second most powerful man as the Vice President until July 2013 in the Government of the Republic of South Sudan. In December 2013 Dr Riek Machar declared openly that he was in rebellion against what he described as dictatorial tendencies of the President. In his rebellion Dr Riek Machar wanted support. Knowing very well that the call for a federal system was popular in Equatoria he wasted no time to make the call for federalism the top item on the agenda of the rebellion.
Dr Riek Machar must have calculated that by crafting federalism onto the agenda of his rebellion he would get automatic and total support from Equatoria. This, however, seems to have created a problem as Equatoria is now perceived sympathetic to the rebellion. A critical analysis is therefore needed of the extent to which Dr Riek Machar’s call for federalism is the same as that of Equatoria. This is in order to allay fears that may cause unnecessary panic and also for people not to get confused.
To begin with Dr Riek Machar’s call for federalism is at best deceptive and at worst a betrayal of the genuine Equatoria’s call for federalism. People must recall that as the Vice President Dr Riek Machar at first supported federalism when the majority of members from Equatoria in the National Legislative Assembly in July 2011 endorsed federalism just before the day of independence. However, at the last hour Dr Riek Machar rejected the very federalism for which he is now calling. People must take it with some caution as to why Dr Riek Machar is now turning around to claim to be the champion of federalism while he was comfortable in rejecting it.
The difference between Dr Riek Machar’s call for a federal system and that of Equatoria is crystal clear. The Equatoria’s call for a federal system is genuine while that of Dr Riek Machar is a ploy for support from Equatoria. Dr Riek Machar is unreliable and so it is doubtful that he will ever implement a federal system in South Sudan. Did he not let down the people of Equatoria during the crucial vote for either federalism or decentralization in the eve of independence? It is clear that the difference is that Dr Riek Machar sees federalism as a sure way to the presidency while Equatoria sees federalism as a national agenda that does not need the use of force to impose it on the people of South Sudan. Federalism is a revolutionary agenda for the acceleration of socio-economic development for high standards of living in South Sudan.
In the communiqué that followed the Equatoria Conference 2011 it was affirmed that: “Mindful of the suffering of the people of Equatoria in the past decades, we will no longer accept Equatoria land to be used as a battle ground for any senseless bloodshed”. This confirms that Equatoria has nothing to do with the rebellion. Equatoria is peaceful and development oriented. It will therefore not welcome to its soil such a rebellion that has caused untold destruction and mayhem in the country.
It is hoped that there won’t be any confusion again between federalism called for by Dr Riek Machar and that called for by Equatoria. Equatoria had called for federalism before the rebellion. The vision was that federalism would not be imposed but rather would be accepted or adopted through consensus. This means people will need to be educated and convinced through open discussions and debates. People’s fears about federalism must be allayed and federalism must be thoroughly illustrated with examples from around the world. Putting a redline to discussion on federalism is not helpful because people may be forced to discuss it behind closed doors which may be much more dangerous than discussing it openly for people to gain confidence.
In principle it seems many people in South Sudan have no problem with federalism. One prominent revolutionary and architect of the armed struggle that brought independence said in a function that “federalism is not bad but proposed at the wrong time”. The implication is that South Sudanese support federalism but their fears must first be addressed and the time for adoption should be right. When should the time be right is the question. The issue of rebellion and federalism could be addressed concurrently where the states should be involved as important stakeholders. Muzzling free thinking is not helpful in our search for a lasting solution to the problems of South Sudan.
In conclusion, no one appears to be against federalism but the fear seems to be the unseen devil in details of federalism which, therefore, needs our collective effort to reduce the fear for the common good of all.
The author can be reached at [email protected].