October 26, 2014 (SSNA) — Fears have been expressed that adoption of a federal system of government will surely divide up the people of South Sudan into hostile sectarian or reactionary groups along ethnic or regional lines, each trying to finish off the other. The question to ask, though, is the fear genuine, unfounded or both. One may tend to answer that the fear at best is both genuine and unfounded.
The fear is genuine as it is the fear of the unknown. People are simply not sure of what is in store for them in a federal system. However, those with genuine fears may easily be persuaded when the facts about federalism are laid bare for an informed decision. On the other hand the fear is unfounded because it is based on illusion and erroneous assumption that some people are targeted for special treatment and that the proponents of federalism have a hidden agenda of their own.
Those with unfounded fears of federalism may be stubborn because they themselves might have a hidden agenda of their own. However, it seems that many South Sudanese have now been persuaded of and seen the merit of federalism. Immediately after independence of South Sudan the governors of the ten states called on the national government to implement fully a decentralized system. The governors called for a more federal system during presentations to the First Governors Forum after independence.
Since September 2014 the national government has agreed to the installation of a federal system of governance in South Sudan. This all suggests that it is not now a matter of if but of when a federal system will be adopted in South Sudan. The unfounded fears are fast disappearing into thin air, giving way to genuine fears that can easily be managed.
Many people may need to know why there is a need for federalism in South Sudan. It must be underlined that the present system is not federalism. After the opponents of federalism had come out with all their guns blazing against federalism there now should be a time for calm and reflection on federalism. South Sudan will not be the first in the world to ponder over federalism or centralization of power and neither will it be the last.
The people of South Sudan are dynamic and will always be searching for a better way forward for development and unity. The present conflict is precisely a search for how best South Sudan should be governed for prosperity for its entire people. This is evidenced by the peace talks in Ethiopia. The problem seems to be that there is lack of culture of dialogue for consensus but violence. In addition there are people who are inherently fearful of change and those include the diehard opponents of federalism who would do anything to maintain the status quo at all cost.
One important question to ask is what do people know about federalism. Perhaps, we may need to look at the United States of America (USA) as a model of federalism with principles such as the separation of powers, an independent judiciary and individual rights.
In the federal system in the USA a state has established tripartite division of governmental power, legislative, executive and judicial. The federal government cannot intervene to protect states against internal violence without a request from the state legislature or the governor, something contrary to what is happening in South Sudan where an elected governor can be unceremoniously removed on an allegation of insecurity in the state.
In the USA there is a commitment to state autonomy. In the federal system in the USA there is no provision for revenue sharing and it does not require the federal government or the states to cooperate or coordinate with each other on tax matters. The USA federal constitution does not require the federal or state governments to balance their budgets. In contrast, in South Sudan the national government dictates a ceiling within which the states should develop their budgets, a limiting factor indeed for the states to develop according to their needs.
With the brief highlights of principles of federalism as in the USA, it is hoped that people would have a glimpse of what federalism may all be about to appreciate the contribution of federalism to development.
Unity of people of South Sudan
South Sudan was created not by a voluntary union of its diverse ethnic groups but by the work of the British in their colonial administration of the old Sudan. According to the British the administration of South Sudan was to be developed along African rather than Arab lines. The British were not therefore committed to administering South Sudan as part of the old Sudan but believing that South Sudan might eventually be linked to the British East African colonies.
South Sudanese were not part of the concept of linking them to the British East African colonies. They had no power to choose voluntarily where to belong. Like most people of diverse ethnic groups in Africa before the British colonial rule, South Sudanese were of various ethnic groups occupying the geographical area the British called Southern Sudan with no common agenda.
South Sudanese were never united in modern sense. They saw themselves as people of different ethnic groups, each with its distinct language and ways of life. South Sudanese only became united in the face of harsh treatment by the Arabs of old Sudan. It was then when South Sudanese realized they were people of one destiny thanks to the Arabs’ arrogance and insensitivity which helped to consolidate southern unity for a protracted struggle for freedom.
After having attained independence it is not clear whether the unity during the period of the protracted struggle for freedom still exists. Independence brought with it challenges and responsibilities for which South Sudanese seemed not to have been prepared. There was nothing to motivate in the form of a common agenda for unity as people of one destiny. Southerners seemed to have resorted to tribalism and nepotism instead of nationalism.
After independence tribalism and nepotism seem to have surfaced with vengeance and this is likely to wreck havoc on unity of the people of South Sudan. The current conflict cannot only be claimed to be a contest for leadership. It has become something on ethnic lines although it is now a search for an appropriate system of governance as shown by the talks in Ethiopia between the protagonists.
Some people would like to be neutral because of the ethnic nature of the conflict. The question, though, is not who is either right or wrong. It is purely a conflict for ethnic hegemony that is threatening to tear apart the unity in diversity of people of South Sudan. The giant ethnic groups want to be rulers by all means and whether this is at the expense of unity of the country or not, is yet to be seen.
Acceptance of reality
Acceptance of the reality will be the second liberation of people of South Sudan. South Sudanese are obsessed with the propaganda that they are one people. The propaganda seems to be borne out of the fear that unity in diversity will deprive others of their self-adored hegemonic tendencies. People are simply preoccupied with a strong belief that they have to be the rulers instead of promoting unity in diversity.
The reality is that there are about or more than 64 ethnic groups in South Sudan. This confirms that there are diversities. In addition the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan confirms those diversities that South Sudan is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-racial entity where such diversities peacefully co-exist.
One observation is that the phrase “where such diversities peacefully co-exist” is arguable. In the current conflict many are seeing it as it is on ethnic lines and, clans’ revenge killings are taking place with impunity. One may wonder whether all this confirms that there is peaceful co-existence in South Sudan. If there was peaceful co-existence with law abiding citizens, insecurity wouldn’t have been so rampant.
One other reality is that a centralized power is not suitable to address the problem of diversities as in South Sudan. Devolution of powers is appropriate. In South Sudan the purported decentralization system is in reality centralized power where, for example, an elected governor can be removed and, the judiciary and taxes are centralized. Acceptance of reality opens a wider avenue for dialogue in exploring a better way forward. It also brings people closer for unity.
Factors dividing people
It can be asserted that it is not diversities that divide people but it is how those diversities are managed that divide people. In brief South Sudanese are multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. The two factors of ethnic and cultural diversities are well pronounced and when they are poorly managed will most likely lead to disunity.
It is indicated above that South Sudan has many ethnic groups and for cultural diversities there are two main cultures, namely pastoralism and sedentary farming. The two cultures clash frequently both formally and informally. The clash can be a source of ill-feelings hence disinclination to unity. Relationship between pastoralists and sedentary farmers needs a special management approach in promoting peaceful co-existence.
Along Professor Taban Loleyong road, Juba-Kajo Keji main shortcut, some pastoralists led loose their animals that destroyed completely food crops in a total area of 4 feddans. The pastoralists carried guns and were a menace, being arrogant and uncooperative.
The destruction of food crops not only causes household food insecurity but armed and arrogant pastoralists are a security threat to local farming communities. In such circumstances how can there be peaceful co-existence for a strong untied South Sudan. The government must wake up in the interest of national unity.
The factor of ethnic dimension in dividing up people cannot be overexaggerated. There are about 64 ethnic groups is South Sudan as already mention above. For only one ethnic group to take upon themselves to dominate in every aspect of state affairs is a sure recipe for disunity as had happened in the old Sudan when the South broke away because of intolerable marginalization.
When South Sudanese struggled for independence as people of one destiny it was not for fun. People were very serious to put an end to marginalization so that it was history. Now to revive the Arab style system of marginalization of fellow citizens is totally unacceptable. Those who are inclined to copy the Arab style of marginalizing others are surely digging a deeper grave for themselves that they would have difficulty in resurrecting because disunity would have been total.
Other factors that are causing disunity is poverty, poor enforcement of the rule of law where victims do not get justice and insecurity perceived to be perpetrated by other fellow citizens.
One is hoping to see the emergence of a Federal Republic of South Sudan where power is granted to the states to handle economic affairs and implement national policies instead of the national government turning around to be another implementer in the states. Handling economic affairs and implementing national policies, and with adequate capacity and resources this can only accelerate tremendously socio-economic development in the country.
Federalism is a measure to handle ethnic conflict because of the adequate power granted to the states. In federalism the state has power to have the three arms of government, namely the executive, legislature and the judiciary which can only be good in enforcing the rule of law where one ethnic group with hegemonic tendencies is unlikely to dominate and be biased as in a centralized system.
In federalism each state will have its police, prisons, wildlife and fire brigade that serve the needs of the citizens of the state including those from the other states without fear or favor. In contrast centralized law enforcement agencies are likely to be dominated by only one ethnic group and this can be disturbing to other ethnic groups because of the perceived favoritism being openly displayed.
Federalism provides for fair representation of ethnic minorities of the public service systems of the states and regions. This is in contrast to the domination of such public service systems by one ethnic group.
After the bloody war for the would be independent Republic of Biafra in Nigeria, the Nigerian government reorganized the country by creating 12 states in the place of the previous four regions to foster stability and reduce ethnic tension to realize unity. This was intended to undermine monopolization of power as well as to increase the political influence and safety of minority ethnic groups. This was to hold Nigeria together as a united country.
One may wonder why a federal system cannot be of service to South Sudan with its ethnic and cultural diversities as Nigeria. I am not suggesting copy and paste the Nigerian constitution. Surely the states in South Sudan will welcome the power to have the control over their own affairs and also to see that the central government does not interfere in state affairs, for example, in removing an elected governor on flimsy accusation and interfering with the appointments of ministers and commissioners.
One finds it strange that a system that is likely to accelerate development in the states is being resisted in contrast to the billions of dollars being squandered at the centre as in the case of the dura saga and 4 billion stolen without any recovery. How much that would have contributed to paved roads, clean drinking water, improved health and education services, availability of electricity and increased agricultural production for food security in the states for high standards of living of the people.
A federal system of government will not divide the people of South Sudan because there will be freedom of movement, residence and employment in any part of the Republic of South Sudan for all law abiding citizens. As a matter of fact federalism unites as in Switzerland where the Italian, French and the German ethnic groups peacefully co-exist as citizens of the Swiss federation.
Since after independence on the 9th July 2011 South Sudanese seem to have moved on because the conflict that started on the 15th December2013 has become an eye opener. Some may be wondering why to become independent in the first place only to slaughter each other. Others may be hopeful that after a storm there will be calm after the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement’s (SPLM) internal contradictions have plunged the country into turmoil and unnecessary violent confrontation that should have been replaced with internal dialogue for a peaceful resolution of outstanding issues.
The main problem here is that people seem not to understand the difference between the government and the SPLM, the dominant party in government. When one disagrees with the SPLM as a matter of policy it is likely to be interpreted that one may be against the government and vice versa.
The government represents the country in its entirety while the SPLM represents nobody except its membership just like any other political party representing its membership of different ideology to the SPLM. On the other hand when an SPLM member dares to criticize the SPLM for whatever reason the member may be construed to have left and abandoned the SPLM as a party.
A party that has confidence will not be defensive but welcoming of criticism that carries everybody forward. Only a party deficient in abstract understanding of issues may be inclined to have robots or parrots as yes-man-sir members. This is nothing but the stifling of innovativeness in transforming a party into a modern strong party capable of being flexible enough to face challenges different from the pre-independence era of the liberation struggle.
When the government does not perform as expected it is not the fault of the SPLM but the fault of the SPLM individual members given assignments in government. This may seem contradictory. However, the only fault of the SPLM one can think of is its absolute weakness in applying the SPLM Code of Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures, Draft February 2013 which is very clear on members performing poorly in assignments.
The SPLM is too weak to discipline its members in government who are underperforming and very corrupt. It may need to learn from the Chinese Communist Party how it is disciplining its corrupt members.
In conclusion, a federal system will unite South Sudanese as people of one destiny who are struggling vigorously to eradicate poverty, ethno-centricism, nepotism, corruption, injustice and inequality for a strong vibrant and highly developed South Sudan that will be a paradise for its entire population regardless of their ethnicity, language, culture, religion, educational background and political affiliation.
Jacob K. Lupai is the author of the book, South Sudan: issues in perspective, launched on Friday 24 October 2014 in Aaron International Hotel in Juba, South Sudan. The Special Guest of Honor was HE Manasse Lomole Waya, the Acting Governor and Deputy Governor of Central Equatoria State. The Book Reviewer was Professor Scopas Dima Jibi, the Minister of Cabinet and Parliamentary Affairs, and the Master of Ceremony was Hon Suba Samuel, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting. The audience included Advisors to the Government of Central Equatloria State, Cabinet Ministers and members of the public.