The Proposed Federal Model for South Sudan

By Dr. James Mabor Gatkuoth


July 30, 2014 (SSNA) — South Sudan is a socio-cultural mosaic which is not chaotic but bears the true picture of ‘unity in diversity’. This diversity is not conflict-producing unless made so. Those component units of the country do yearn for equal social and economic advancement. They want to enjoy some degree of shared self-rule with constitutionally defined powers and responsibilities. It is envisaged that a workable arrangement (federal) be established to serve as a broader national framework for the South Sudan’s nation building. The political parties proposed federalism in Article 47 of the transitional constitutional during its review on 28th April 2011 i.e. three months before independence; although this was overturned by the SPLM- dominated Legislative Assembly. Most of the current South Sudan states are agitating for federalism and devolution of power. The states view the administrative arrangement of today to have consolidated power and decision-making abilities at the centre- as unitary, and so opt for a federal alternative as a more practical and realistic response to the existing centre-states’ conflict. This seems to be the appropriate of transition to some form of federal dispensation. Federalism has been the wish of South Sudan people. The leaders of the country are bound to respect the wishes of the people and respond to how best they want to be ruled and not according to the leaders’ whims.

As can be deduced from the experience of ten old and modern federal systems of government (US, Canada, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, India, Brazil, Nigeria, and Ethiopia ), we got exposed to their peculiar reflections in history and societal structures, the levels of socio-economic development and degree of political maturity of the different actors in those countries. Some of their diverse political and constitutional traditions, practices and historical experiences can be synthesized into a cooperative working relationship between the national and local authorities in South Sudan. In their federalism the sovereignty power sharing is in relation to political and economic authority.

South Sudan Federal Model

But the federalism individuals and groups talk about is left to speculation without giving the parameters. The federalism we espouse is based on the unity and integrity of the South Sudanese people. Its power and authority are decentralized and shared between a central (federal) and state government. The functions, jurisdiction and powers of both levels should be spelled out in the federal constitution. This federalism is just for administrative convenience and therefore does not give a state inherent or notional right to secede or demand self-determination. The elaborate structure of powers given to both the states and the federation (centre) shall strengthen unity and mitigate and frustrate possible disintegrative pressures. The centre-states’ competition made the issue of ‘greater’ (Equatoria, Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile) states to emerge and join together to enhance their bargaining strength for sharing economic resources and decision-making powers. During their respective conferences, Greater Equatoria and Greater Bahr El Ghazal (except Greater Upper Nile which did not share the need for these ‘greater’ conferences but endorsed the federal idea) resolved that federalism was the ideal system for the South in view of its current less attractive and unacceptable trend of rule and resource allocation.

Rationale and its perimeters

One of the controversial aspects of centre-states’ relations has been the allocation of economic resources by the centre to the states. This has led to complaints by the states that they are starved of funds and therefore cannot perform efficiently because the resources provided are inadequate. The states’ growing unhappiness in this regard needs the review (transformation) of the whole gamut of centre-state relations. The scope of devolution should be enlarged to enable states raise their tax revenue in their favour to 75%. The grants-in-aid, out of the consolidated fund of the federal government, to the resource potential states be raised and transmitted regularly. This grant is for the federal government to offset development imbalances in the states. It should compose of central government entitlements (40%) from states’ generated revenue/resources (minerals, oil etc). A resource allocation commission should be established at the federal level to compose of states representatives to ensure that they benefit from the Consolidated Fund of the federal government. The South Sudan federal system should not disadvantage those states without enough resources to stir their development.

The devolution of powers between the (federation) centre and the states shall be laid down in separate lists which should explicitly indicate the “exclusive and concurrent powers”. This should not be construed as defining the extent of state power but the relative limits of power between different levels of government within the state. The states’ powers include public order, police, education, local govt., roads& transport, agriculture; land and land revenue, forests; fisheries, industry and trade(limited) state public service commission and courts (except the supreme court). The states can also make laws along with the centre (provided the two do not clash), on subjects included in a “concurrent list”. This list includes: criminal laws and their administration, economic and social planning; commercial and industrial monopolies, shipping and navigation on the inland waterways, drugs, ports (limited), courts and civil procedures. The federal government to hold, by virtue of its competence, onto matters of national interest such as foreign affairs and foreign trade, defense, currency, federal police, emergencies (catastrophes), civil aviation, airports, supreme court, international treaties, telecommunications international companies that extend beyond the limits of a state but have the technical capacity to provide national and international connections etc. The federal constitution that provides the general guidelines and principles of governance shall incorporate them.

The South had experienced in our recent past an explosion in executive scandals and corruption at the central government level which could be prevented or otherwise minimized by decentralization. However, decentralization should not be construed to be a device for disciplining corrupt elements but it draws them nearer to the public eyes. Our system at the center was completely run, but poorly, by an incapable leader that led to a weak span of control flawed by rampant insecurity. Hence, federalism, as a form of decentralization is envisaged to create a relatively stable political and legal conducive environment for sustainable development. Under such system the civil society organizations shall be able to freely facilitate and mobilize their groups to participate in economic, social and political activities of the country.

Under a federal system, we can ensure, to a reasonable extent, the realization of some of the core characteristics of good governance. The leaders at the state level would be bound to respond to the wishes and account to the people for their effectiveness and efficiency in delivering the required services at the grass-root. In consequence, the people shall participate in making the government have a transparent strategic vision.

The other details pertain to the structure at both the federal and state levels. There should be a bicameral parliament in both the federal and state levels but reduced membership at the state level. The composition and competences shall be drawn on the basis of devolved powers and responsibilities.


Once the South established the federal system, it shall have responded to the political and social realities of the country. We shall note clearly the influence of economic and technological developments in our federal –state relations. The states must appear as equal partners in the system, retaining sovereignty in many areas of governmental action. The concern is that such ideal system of federalism should be beneficial to all. It is our hope and wishes that through stewardship and faithfulness the federal balance shall evolve and tame tribalism-the South Sudan current predicament.

For comments or remarks the writer can be reached through this email: – [email protected]

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