July 30, 2014 (SSNA) — When the demand for federalism first surfaced it was met with outright hostility and rejection. That was because federalism was apparently associated closely with the experience of kokora in the 80s. Federalism was also being associated with the recent rebellion that sparked off on 15 December 2013. This might explain why the demand for federalism was about to become a criminal offence. People who were genuinely calling for a federal system were alleged to be supporters of the rebellion. However, there was no grain of truth in such allegation. Instead there was a support to the government.
Outright hostility and rejection of the demand for federalism reached unexpected level when newspapers were being confiscated and journalists taken for questioning. However, opinions in favour of federalism persisted and were expressed openly in newspapers and in the Internet. Intimidation did not work as the call for respect for freedom of expression was very loud. As expected the hostile stand against federalism fizzled out as the expressed opinion for federalism was coming from many angles.
Notable and of importance was the opinion expressed by concerned Jieng community elders in favour of federalism for South Sudan. It was a giant step forward that couldn’t have been ignored. Things were moving faster against the minority opponents of federalism. The National Community Leaders’ Forum comprising representatives of Equatoria and Jieng from Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile States met and passed resolutions, adding their voices positively on federalism.
In one of their resolutions the National Community Leaders’ Forum calls upon the President to form a High Level National Technical Committee to study Federalism and Governance to inform and enhance the Constitutional making process without prejudice to individual or group discussions. Clearly federalism has become no longer a taboo but an accepted fact to be discussed openly for a consensus.
Jieng giant leap for federalism
In seeking a solution for acceptable administration to the people of South Sudan, the concerned Jieng community elders have proposed that South Sudan should be administered as a federation of 23 states. This is yet a clear endorsement of federalism as a solution to problems of governance and development in South Sudan. The proposed states are the equivalent of the 23 districts in South Sudan in the colonial era. This is nothing but a giant leap for federalism by the concerned and visionary Jieng community elders.
The proponents of federalism must be delighted. This is because some of the fierce critics and opponents of federalism were the Jieng. This must have been an objective change of direction because the Jieng must have come to the conclusion that federalism is the only solution to the mess in which South Sudan finds itself. The implication is that no single ethnic group or region should dream of an empire in this modern world of science. Imposing a system that only favours an ethnic group or region disguised as the preservation of national unity is an old game of politics that has long been thrown into the dustbin of history when federalism has been gaining currency.
It is through a consensus that people may agree to be united. The concerned Jieng community elders have timely recognized this when they are saying, “Many people of South Sudan are demanding for application of federal system as one of the solutions to govern the country peacefully”. This obviously seems to be the beginning of better times ahead for the people of South Sudan. At least there will be no war over federalism. The demand for federalism is gaining adherents among the Jieng and this can only be a positive thing. This is encouraging because equating federalism with kokora may soon be a thing of the past.
When federalism is not equated with kokora the fear of eviction from Equatoria will also disappear. Jieng support for federalism has far reaching implication. One major implication is that when the Jieng support federalism hostility towards the people of Equatoria may reduce drastically. This is in contrast to when the Jieng were opposed to federalism. Clearly the concerned Jieng community elders proposed federalism suggests that the Jieng have moved on and therefore share the same national aspirations for peace, freedom and development as their other fellow citizens in the country instead of dreaming of their hegemony in South Sudan.
Application of federalism in South Sudan
The concerned Jieng community elders are of the opinion that ethnic administration in line with the 23 former colonial districts as states is the solution to tribal rivalry over resources. However, tribal rivalry is not only over resources, but it is also over power as well. The concerned Jieng elders have acknowledged that the demand for federalism is the wish of the majority and that the federal system should be introduced now.
As mentioned above and according to the Jieng elders, South Sudan should be a federation of 23 states based on the 23 former colonial districts. This is instead of adopting the existing 10 states. One would disagree with the proposal for 23 states in South Sudan but the Jieng elders should be highly commended for their collective efforts in trying to work out a solution to the problem of governance and theirs is a national aspiration for the stability of South Sudan.
Looking at the highlighted 23 former colonial districts in the proposal, there seems to be a little bit of confusion. Equatoria, Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile each had 7, 7 and 9 districts respectively. This of course makes a total of 23 districts which are the 23 proposed future states of South Sudan. However, unlike its 7 districts, Equatoria has only 6 proposed states and unlike its 7 districts, Bahr el Ghazal has 9 states. For Upper Nile, unlike its 9 districts it has 8 proposed states. There is something strange here.
It is not clear why the 7 districts of Bahr el Ghazal have been blown up into 9 states while the 6 states for Equatoria do not correspond to its former 7 districts proposed to be the states. Something somewhere is not right. Confusion continues as Upper Nile which had 9 districts is only allotted 8 states. This clearly does not show that the 23 states are the duplicate of the 23 former colonial districts in South Sudan. Some explanation may be needed.
There may not be any need to return to the former 3 regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile to form a federation. However, there is nothing wrong with adopting the 10 states as a federation for a start. The adoption of the former colonial districts as states should be at the latter date and at the discretion of each of the 10 states. Federation of 23 states should not be done in a rush in view of economic austerity measures. This means that higher economic growth should first be recorded before creating new states. For example, it should be Central Equatoria State to decide in future either to break up into Yei River State and another state the name to be decided on later or not.
Development of natural and mineral resources, prospecting for more oil production to increase revenue and development of hydro-electric power should be undertaken for higher economic growth before creating new states. The proposal for 23 states is a noble one. However, in practice it is not only a mammoth task but an economic nightmare. I hope the architects of such a noble proposal do not want people to depend on foreign aid to finance the additional 13 states. One way of creating a state is that a former colonial district in any of the 10 states must justify itself to be a viable state through its own resources. We do not want to see states that are nothing but liabilities.
South Sudan may need to learn about the different federations. For example, some federations are called asymmetric because some states in the federation have more autonomy than others. However, the histories of countries vary. One federal system of a country can be different from that of another country. The Republic of India is federal, comprising individual states. The central (federal) government of India has authority over the states and even has the authority to change the boundaries of the states.
It can be seen that the Indian federal system has strong centralizing tendencies where the federal government remains intact but the physical existence of states can be modified. In contrast, the federal system in the United States of American (USA) is characterized as indestructible union of indestructible states. This means the states in America are intact and the federal government does not make any alteration in the states as is the case in India.
The often asked question is what type of a federal system South Sudan should adopt. Well, people may need to understand that there is no particular federal system unique to South Sudan that can be copied. People will have to agree on the type of a federal system that will address what is seen as the problem of governance in South Sudan. The main problem is equitable power and wealth sharing, and equitable development. To address the problem, a federation should first be defined for people to be clear of what a federation entails.
Many people will tend to agree that a federation is characterized by a union of partially self-governing states united by a central (federal) government as in India or in the USA. It is so simple, isn’t it? However, the devil is in the details. The federal model in India may be unattractive because South Sudan has been virtually under a centralized system that is abhorrent hence the loud demand for a federal system.
In contrast, the USA federal model may be of too much independence to the states when, for example, one state allows capital punishment while the other doesn’t. For South Sudan a balance has to be struck. People may need to look at the Switzerland or German federal model which may be of interest to study. However, cut and paste may not work but adaptation to the felt needs in South Sudan may not be a bad idea.
The concerned Jieng community elders have made a giant leap for federal system to be adopted in South Sudan. This is an encouraging move that should be appreciated by any fair-minded individual. Unlike those who only care for their stomachs, and kith and kins, the Jieng elders have shown that leading from the front is necessary at times for a better South Sudan.
One reservation, though, is about the proposal for 23 states in the federation. The proposal is an economic nightmare particularly in the short term. However, it may be appropriate in the long term when economic growth is picking up at a higher rate but it should also be the prerogative of each state in consultation with the central government either to break up into more states or not. For now let’s stick to 10 states federation as the most convenient for a start.
In conclusion, adoption of a federal system of government is the only way forward in building a strong united and prosperous South Sudan where no single ethnic group, no single region and no single individual will be supreme in grossly mismanaging the affairs of the nation. Federalism as the utilization of diversities to the maximum will likely accelerate development and this, hopefully, will turn South Sudan into a paradise on earth for all as living standards improve tremendously.
The author can be reached at [email protected]