July 17, 2014 (SSNA) — The debate on federalism for South Sudan has produced some mixed feelings and reactions. Some people are totally opposed to it, claiming that the system of governance in South Sudan is already federalism. They argue that the present decentralization or devolution of powers is already a federal system of government in South Sudan. For others federalism is perceived as dangerous to national unity. Furthermore some people are very suspicious that the proponents of federalism have a hidden agenda. In their paranoia the opponents of federalism relentlessly assume that once federalism is adopted they will be thrown out of the states of proponents of federalism.
For obvious reasons the vocal proponents of federalism are people of Equatoria. The opponents of federalism reason that when people of Equatoria call for federalism it is kokora. The opponents are very fearful that once federalism is adopted they will be unceremoniously evicted from Equatoria. The paranoia of the opponents of federalism even caused restriction of open debate. There was intimidation for any mention of a federal system of government. The opponents of federalism wanted the mouths of proponents shut. This was despite the government’s clarification on censor on federalism debate through a letter by the Minister of Information and Broadcasting to newspaper editors. However, newspapers were still being confiscated.
For example, the letter of the Minister of Information and Broadcasting dated 2nd July 2014 in part outlined that, “It is the policy of the Government to encourage the people of South Sudan to participate in debates on topics or agendas which are of National interest among others, the debate on federalism”. Despite all this The Citizen was still confiscated on the 6th July well after the Minister’s letter. This seems to show clearly that deeper below the surface the debate on federalism was indeed hated. One can only speculate as to why there was such a poor coordination between government institutions in observing government policy.
The debate on federalism turned ugly when a soldier became undisciplined and shot dead a civilian in Maridi County in Western Equatoria State. Apparently the soldier was opposed to federalism and as with opponents of federalism, must have assumed they were the target for eviction from Equatoria. It is a pity that both illiterate and literate opponents of federalism have no any other positive perception except the paranoia of terribly missing all that is good of land of Equatoria. They do not give themselves a minute to think of anything positive that federalism can offer. This type obstinacy is a problem because people do not stand back and be a little bit reasonable in looking at the wider picture.
Opponents of federalism live in deep rooted suspicion and will never appreciate an inch of federalism. This becomes worrying when people are being murdered in cold blood such as the murder in Maridi of an innocent civilian simply for advocating federalism. However, there will come a time when enough will be enough that the murderers will be accountable for their heinous crimes. Killing people with impunity for expressing a contrary view is not the way to build national unity when others have the license to kill while the victims have no justice.
Coming back to centralization or devolution of powers and federalism which are considered to differ fundamentally, it is appropriate to look at them separately.
Decentralization or devolution of powers
Decntralisation or devolution can simply be defined as the transfer of part of the powers of the central government to regional or state authorities and it is in response to demands for diversity. In general decentralization or devolution is a response to the problems of centralized systems. It is seen as a solution to problems like economic decline, government inability to fund services and the demands of minorities for greater say in local governance. Decentralization or devolution of powers is linked to concepts of participation in decision-making, democracy, equality and liberty from high authority.
The processes by which entities move to decentralized state vary. They can be initiated from the central government in a top-down approach. Top-down decentralization may be a political gimmick while bottom-up decentralization initiated by individuals or states may be opposed as is the case with federalism we are now debating. At any rate whether it is top-down or bottom-up decentralization or devolution, it may not be constitutionally binding. Such decentralization or devolution may depend on the whims of the central government either to implement or ignore it.
Can anybody say for certain that the decentralization in the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011 is being implemented as expected of a decentralized system? If the decentralization in the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011 were being implemented as expected, there wouldn’t have been a loud demand for a federal system. The level of demand for federalism seems to correlate to the level of regression to centralized system of government in South Sudan.
Federalism is a political concept used to describe a system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units such as the states in South Sudan. In comparing decentralization or devolution with federalism it can be observed that there is a fundamental difference. Decentralisation is devolution of powers by the central authority to lower levels. The central authority may withdraw the devolved powers at will. In contrast, in federalism powers are constitutionally divided. There is a covenant between the central authority and the state in the division of powers in federalism. This is the fundamental difference between decentralization or devolution and federalism.
Unlike in devolution of powers, in a federal system the central authority cannot easily withdraw powers from the state without the ruling of a competent constitutional court. So federalism is more just and fairer than decentralization or devolution because the aggrieved party has a chance to challenge any infringement on their powers through the constitutional court for justice. There is no any other fairer system than that justice must be seen to have been done.
Development under federalism
The high level demand of Equatoria for federalism is precisely to accelerate development but not to evict others as the alarmists would like to claim. It can be asserted with confidence that it is not to throw others out of Equatoria. Equatoria is an integral part of South Sudan. So it is mind boggling for people to fear the adoption of federalism as tantamount to Equatoria being a no go area for others. What is very clear, though, is that people with hegemonic tendencies fear federalism the most because they want to cling tom be rulers at any cost. However, adoption of federalism wouldn’t have been a big issue if it were seen from a developmental angle.
Right now federalism is seen from an ethnic angle and so it is perceived as targeting other people of different ethnic group. In fact the opponents of federalism are thinking they are under attack. This is of course false and baseless. The centralized system is favored simply to maintain the status quo. The people of Equatoria would have none of this and so the demand for federalism would always be there. Federalism is seen as a means to accelerate development.
Dr John Apuruot Akec, the Vice Chancellor of Juba University, in his article Decentralisation or devolution and federalism are faces of the same coin, which appeared in the opinion column of The Citizen and quoting my article in Juba Monitor of June 12, 2014, said I miss the point about the yardstick by which the strength of a federalist system of governance is measured. Dr Akec added I should have acknowledged that for every 10 South Sudanese, 4 are Dinka and that in the 10 states of South Sudan, 7 states have Dinka population.
Another interesting point Dr Akec raised is that 85 per cent of South Sudan government revenue is currently spent in Central Equatoria State and that Central Equatoria State continues to lead the whole country in most development indicators. I may say I have no quarrel with the assertion made but to make my own observation.
I agree with Dr Akec that in the 10 states of South Sudan, 7 states have Dinka population. However, my observation is that in some of the 7 states, for example in Jonglei, Upper Nile, Unity and in Western Bahr el Ghazal, the Dinka are a tiny minority and could hardly be a dominant force to reckon with. Nevertheless, they are the overwhelming majority only in Lakes, Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal. So the Dinka are mostly concentrated in only 3 states of South Sudan. Giving an impression of Dinka dominance in 7 out of 10 states for numerical superiority should not be used to justify domination which is any way irrelevant in terms of quality.
The claim that 85 per cent of South Sudan government revenue is currently spent in Central Equatoria State for its development is disputable. Dr Akec has not specified clearly budget line items from the revenue corresponding to development activities carried out in Central Equatoria State that amounted to 85 per cent of the revenue. The bulk of the alleged 85 per cent spent in Central Equatoria State if any may actually be for salaries and. the security and law enforcement sector.
A very insignificant percentage of the alleged 85 per cent revenue may go for some minor development but not for the sake of development of Central Equatoria State as it is home to citizens from the other states. When asked whether the national government was really spending 85 per cent of its budget for the development of Central Equatoria State, the respondent said that was laughable. He said if that were the case why then should people of Equatoria demand federalism. The respondent concluded by saying it was a white lie and that high rising buildings in Juba is the result of individual efforts but not of any government budgetary intervention.
Dr Akec may need to visit the residential areas in and around Juba including the city centre, to travel on Juba-Yei main road and to establish what development projects in Central Equatoria State are being financed by the central government. This is in order for him to be realistic about claiming that 85 per cent of the government revenue is spent on development of Central Equatoria State. This is to avoid making misleading assumption. The development in Central Equatoria State is because the people here are industrious. They make the use of Constitutional Development Fund (CDF) to build schools and health centers, and improve existing hospitals and roads for access to agricultural production areas. When others do not use the CDF and their budgets as intended it is not the problem of Central Equatoria State. The government of Central Equatoria State is also keen on development as shown by Central Equatoria State leading in most economic indicators.
National unity of South Sudan
It is always quoted that there are 64 ethnic groups in South Sudan. However, my little research seems to show that there are more than 64 ethnic groups. This suggests that more research needs to be carried out. People should also share information about ethnicity in South Sudan so that they are knowledgeable about their history.
Each and every South Sudanese yearns for unity because it is strength. When united people can move mountains but divided people are weaklings. The problem is how to promote national unity. There may be many theories. One theory is that development can bring national unity. The question is how? Well equitable power and wealth sharing can go a long way to promote national unity. With the diversities in South Sudan the only known system of government that will accelerate development hence promotion of national unity is a federal system.
We have seen how people are in despair when service delivery is poor and when development is accelerating at chameleon speed. A federal system will accelerate development at the speed of a rabbit. The economy of State of California is the 8th largest in the world if the states of the United States were compared with other countries. What is the secret of such a gigantic stride in development of a state within a country? The answer may not be that so simple. However, like some states in South Sudan, California is endowed with abundant resources and besides, it does not need to depend on decisions and funds from the federal government in Washington, DC for its development strategies and plans.
California’s success story in development makes federalism very attractive as powers are constitutionally divided that the federal government has no business to interfere with California’s development plan. For the states of South Sudan with their abundant and untapped resources, a federal system will tremendously accelerate development in the states with the added effect of promoting sustainable national unity as confidence increases with development. South Sudanese must be informed that the struggle to maintain the status quo is a liability to national unity.
The One Nation, One People sloganeering is misleading and a mockery. How on earth can one people have no mercy on each other? How can people hate each other and slaughter each other and yet call themselves one people? The correct slogan should have been One Nation, One Destiny.
It is the oneness in destiny that can pull people together. This precisely explains how people of South Sudan with their different ethnic groups had fought jointly against Arab domination and marginalization because their destiny was one. Being of one destiny and regardless of whether one was a Zande or a Murle, Southerners had fought and died together in trenches defending their destiny.
It must be understood, though, that it is not only domination and marginalization that may pull people together as of one destiny. Challenges of development and nation building for a better future for all should also pull people together for strength in order to eradicate poverty. It is poverty that may be tearing people apart.
In conclusion, federalism is the most appropriate and peaceful means of accelerating development for a higher standard of living while a centralized system serves nothing but only hegemonic tendencies of others to terrorise, oppress and rule.
The author can be reached at [email protected].