A Case for Federalism in the Republic of South Sudan

BY: J. Omunu, SOUTH SUDAN, JUN/15/2014, SSN;

Let me dive in straight to the topic. Many would agree with me that the Republic of South Sudan is a one-party state with the political power vested in the central government. President Kiir has no constitutional restrictions in his exercise of power over political activities at all levels of governments. He can appoint and fire elected MPs, Governors, University Chancellors, members of Judiciary Branch with impunity etc.

Thus, the fate and prospects of South Sudanese political and socio-economic stability is now hanging on the establishment of a balanced federal system of government in South Sudan.

In this brief discussion, I argue that the problem confronting our new country is a highly centralized system of government disguised as “decentralized democratic system” under a retarded one-party system: the SPLM.

In this system of government, political power is centrally concentrated in the hand of one strong Big-Man: President Salva Kiir who is holding power over all public policies affecting the citizens.

In theory, federalism is all about the distribution of wealth, power and authority between central and states levels of governments, such that each level of government is self-governing in its assigned geographical area.

Many economists will argue that a federal state encourages development in areas where citizens are determined to work hard for the common benefit of all.

Strictly speaking, the centralization of power by the SPLM ruling elites since 2005 has produced contradictory end results. I would argue the current political system largely reflects the South Sudan’s messy and failed system of governance.

Surprisingly, after attaining its independence from the “old Sudan,” the SPLM ruling elites mostly from the Dinka forcefully argued for centralized and unitary government much like that of Sudan.

You may recall in the “old Sudan,” concentration of power at the center was considered a necessary prerequisite to maintaining the country’s territorial integrity and unity.

However, the supposed benefits of “decentralization” in South Sudan have proved illusionary if not absolute failure.

On the other hand, the post-independence Sudan has been rocked by tribal conflicts, military coups, and civil wars due to concentration of power in Khartoum, and specifically at hands of few Jallaba elites.

Therefore, although an argument for establishing decentralized government or one-party state that many would hope will help unify the various ethnic groups, the Sudan’s experience has been disappointing.

The experiment clearly shows that centralization/decentralization system does not cement the country’s unity or helps equitable distribution of power and resources that suits the various ethnic groups’ interests within the Sudan.

Like the northern ruling elites in the Sudan, members of a particular tribe in the newly independent South Sudan, see no problem with that same failed centralized political arrangement because they consider themselves not only different but more equal than others, to borrow words from Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Make no mistake about it, the ongoing senseless war and killings are but an illustration of the cases where members of a dominant tribe continue to dominate political and economic power at the expense of members of other groups.

Needless to say that the competition for political and economic control resulted in the massacre of innocent Nuer ethnic groups in Juba who had nothing to do with the power struggle within the SPLM, followed by subsequent revenge killings of innocent Dinka in Bor and Akobo.

Such are the results of skewed public policies designed to benefit a few and particular ethnic group at the expense of others. It is therefore difficult to validate the claim that the current “decentralized” government can unite the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious nation of South Sudan.

As noted above, the newest country in Africa is not only experiencing internal divisions and inter-tribal war but economic stagnation as well.

In brief, South Sudan is now a dictatorship by all accounts. The poor governance practiced in the country can be attributed to the bad South Sudan Transitional Constitution-2011, which clearly concentrated excessive powers in the hands of one strong-man (President Kiir).

This is the genesis of the problems and constitutional failures to address the conflicting interests of 64 ethnic groups in post-independence South Sudan.

Contrary to that Federalism allows equitable distribution of power and resources, and it allows individual groups to preserve their cultural heritage.

As we speak, it is only the incumbent President Kiir and his cronies or pro-status quo folks are the ones criticizing Federalism on the false premise that such a system of government reinforces tribalism. Their argument holds no water – simply because Federalism has never been tried before in South Sudan.

Bear in mind, South Sudan is a very huge country, which makes it more difficult for the central government in Juba to deliver basic services and serve local communities in remote areas of the country efficiently.

For example, the Murle people and many other small tribes have been forgotten by the central government in Juba. Their repeated calls for justice and a genuine political reform in the country have gone unanswered and ignored by those bourgeoisie sitting in their air-conditioned offices in Juba.

Juba has remained unresponsive to these demands for reform.

Paradoxically, the SPLM/A leadership raised the aspirations of ‘Junubin’ (South Sudanese) followers during the struggle for justice, freedom and equality with the promise of democratic rule, economic development, improved education, health care, basic service delivery and taking towns to the villages.

These promises helped to mobilize volunteer fighters from the various ethnic groups, and later with the 2011-referendum that led to resounding yes of 99.8% votes for independence South Sudan.

However, the unfulfilled expectations have created widespread frustration and armed rebellions against the ruling SPLM party that fails to fulfill its promises.

No wonder the so-called “disgruntled” members within the ruling SPLM party known today as the SPLM-in-Opposition decided to fight and push for change.

Most of all, the weak decentralization system currently in place proved to be the problem, therefore, federalism is more desirable than the latter and it can be the best prescribed solution for the South Sudan’s political and socio-economic crisis if there is a political will in the country.

As one of our South Sudanese respected elder and distinguished professor pointed out:
There are those who fear federalism so much, and want to convince others not to support it. While federalism may not solve all our current problems, it will go a long way to mitigate some of it. It has however to be implemented in tandem with other important reforms of our weak institutions.

Federalism, thus, would likely preserve unity, ethnic harmony, and above all, it is most likely to advance economic and individual freedom.

In conclusion, federalism will protect individual rights against a powerful central government or dictatorship.


20 Comments

  1. Ogalam says:

    Simple and well articulated article. This should now convince those doubting Thomas to cross over from Kiir side and join the patriotic call for Federal system. I think Louis Lobong may have read your article that is why he has broken his silence over this debate and declared his support for federalism.

    If we do want to resolve the current crisis peaceful, then we need to debate some of the core reasons why we are back killing each other now. We can not form Interim government without first identifying and resolve the fundamental problem that led us to be in this situation. That would be a political masturbation and postponing the issues so that we return back to Juba and begin again the fighting. Formation of the Interim arrangement should be the last agenda on the table. Let us all first contribute to the the scope of work for this Interim government. Once we are through with the SOW and then we can begin the selection/nomination process of men and women who can do this job.

    A word of caution to the IGAD, make no mistake of hurrying up for formation of an Interim government without resolving the core issue.

    • Lavina Lual says:

      Good article but most of you have forgotten that the majority fools dinka of Bhar Elgazal as Agoot Majak referred to do not want Federal System because they lack economic resources to run their state as Abyei fate is unknown up to now and Kiir is one of the dinka majority from Bar El Gazal.

      If Federal system is implemented based on the current States meaning there are resources that each state should contribute to the national Federal Govt while using the remnant for development of their states. This implies there will be no resources contributed from Bhar El Gazal whilst Equatoria can use part of their taxes collected for states development and contribution to the National Government.

      Meaning Equatoria can easily flourished like their sisterly neighbors; Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and other developing African countries that have no oil. Likewise Upper Nile States can use their oil resources for their States development.
      Bhar El Gazal have nothing to contribute or use for their states Development and this is where the problem of fools majorities rest.

      Period

  2. Yanga says:

    If you asked any South Sudanese during the struggle if Federalism was good and desirable for them, you would most certainly get 99.8% yes vote. But now that we are independent, the same idea is now shunt by a section of the society – what has suddenly changed? It seems that self-interest is to blame. It is now clear that all the things we fought against were simply because we were not in the driving seat. Now that we are in the driving seat of our own vehicle, those bad things are now good things – what unprincipled people! In conclusion, please give Federalism a try since many people are asking for it. This of course will require self-less leadership.

    • Dark says:

      Yanga don’t forget that south has a new elite, that have invested in juba, they build houses and business and they are not going anywhere brother.

      FROM EDITOR: HOW DID PEOPLE COMING DIRECTLY FROM THE BUSH GET TO BUILD THE HOUSES AND BUSINESSES SUCH AS HOTELS IF NOT BY CORRUPTION, ESPECIALLY WHEN SUCH THIEVES COME FROM A PARTICLE REGION OR TRIBE?

      • Dark says:

        All of the above brother, what I was trying to say is their way of justifying their rejection federal system, because they think they will lost control. To me people have a genuine demand, especially people of equatorial region, we all should stand together and make it happen, not only that, we should ask for federal state with right of self-determination brother. I do agree with you on all aspects.

      • J.Chin Jacob says:

        Dear ditor,
        Who do you think should be the right person to deserve those business buildings or Centers if I may ask?
        I believe, Equatorians ‘re graded as the best hunters among South Sudanese but I used to hear that dogs which ‘re used to bring down animals with their mights and sacriffice are said to be considered with a suitable ratio of what they ‘ve killed at the end of that particular business so that it can motivates them to kill more animals tomorrow or next time you might think of going for hunting with them again .
        So what is actually over you ya Editor?
        you seems to be out of your control for no guinine reason ya jaban, but what I ‘ve realise on this matter is just because of your usual jealousy and unnecessary hatred towards the liberators (freedom fighters) in South Sudan, in fact when a well known controller can comments lously like how you shamelessly did it, then who else can guides or manage this educative forum to the best and end of its destiny?
        Check yourself and maintain the integrity of this forum for the benefit of South Sudanese because your childish question on your Freedom Fighters had really raised the question of your neutrality and impartiality in judging or editing South Sudanese comments on this trusted forum in which you embarrassingly wanted to diverts to your usual Nyamnyam way of running business.
        Fyi, Juba isn’t inhabitated by the Liberators only but it is now hosting every cowards that ‘ve fleed their own country for their safety elsewhere and other foreign investors.
        Liberators like any other citizens have right to own any property or business if at all there are any.
        Editor, I didn’t know that you Nyamnyam or equatorians ‘ve reached to that extents of denying or bad-lucking your freedom fighters their lawful shares in South Sudan, what can a traitor like you should deserved in South Sudan rather than death punishment or life in exile.
        I hate you coward dog!

        • John Samuel says:

          Dear Chin,
          FYI, better Jalaba than your so called liberators. During the war, jalaba did not slaughter children, women and the mad. Your so called liberators did.
          By the way, who are the liberators? Is it the thieves” , Inu ” the stupid man, Bahr el Ghazal thieves, Dinka mafias? Who are they?
          Please know that the genuine fighters in the war who commanded in the battle front were NOT Dinkas. Best example: Oya Deng, Obutu Mamur, James Oth, Thomas Cirilli, Agustino Jadalla. Tell me the best Dinka fighter in the SPLA during the war if atall you were one of the SPLA during the war.
          Majak Agoot coined the word foolish majority to describe the foolish nature of soldiers from Bahr el Ghazal who were known for desertion, robbery, rape, killing of civilians and now you are not ashamed of opening your smelly mouth that you are liberators! Nonsense greed

  3. Choromke Jas says:

    An excellent essay in defense of federalism. My suspicion is that Kiir is again being wrongly advised by Museveni against “federo” which the latter has vigorously resisted in Uganda. It is in the nature of primitive people that they will not preempt future disaster by making reference to the past. As you rightly said, the Sudanese experiment that brought us here was and is still unworkable. In our case, me made the escape from this system at a very high cost: millions of our people had to die in order to achieve what has now turned out to be a phony independence. Kiir has no ability to analyse the past neither does he have the inclination to preserve the lives our people. His rejection of federation will result in unnecessary death, but still in the end federalism will be achieved. It is better to achieve it now without unnecessary bloodshed; bloodshed will follow if its implementation is blocked. I hope by now Kiir should be aware of having spilled so much blood of our people that he cannot afford to shed more.

  4. Dark says:

    Is just simple Brother, you do have people who consider Federalism as way of Equatorians to get rid of people from their areas, and for them isn’t acceptable, it is what president thinks. South Sudanese in general should keep fighting for it, no matter what, we shouldn’t be fooled and subjugated by false pretensions.

  5. J. Omunu says:

    Dear Choromke Jas & Ogalam,

    There is no doubt federalism would be best suited for South Sudan. However, most SPLM ruling class who run Junub like their own private properties have betrayed the trust that Junubin placed on them. They’re only concern themselves with keeping power and wealth by all means. What you and I see right now is just a change of black skin with the same mode of thinking as in Mundukuru ear. Hypocrites!

  6. Marii says:

    Mr Dark, you seemed to be paranoid about Equatoria chasing people from their places, the question that a sound mind would ask is; why are Equatorians not living in the other states? If you can answer this simple question, then you understand the problem in South Sudan. I am sure Equatorians have interest in other states as the people from the other states have interest in Equatoria. But since 2005, a lot of Equatorians have lost businesses in the other states with predominant police from these states failing to protect Equatorians, this situation prompted Equatorians to abandon these places. In fact the opponents of Federalism claim there is federalism in South Sudan at the moment because their states are solely controlled by them while they plant themselves in all levels of government institutions in other states and they want the status quo to remain.

    • Dark says:

      Not paranoid, but appreciation for what they are standing for, I think, we suppose to stand together for federalism, I don’t
      support those reject federalism, Equatorians are peace loving people and we got to respect them for that, they have an answer for south problem.

  7. Malual Maker says:

    Yes, Federalism is most solution for our problems, but should it to be based on three Major former region created by redistribution of South Sudan in 1983 or current ten States. let us not to dwelt much on word Federalism without how is to be established.
    If Federalism is taking as chance for ever one to get Government seat, all resource will go for hiring huge army of civil servant and hungry foolish politicians and development will suffer.
    The problem today is not the system but those who are in charge of it.

  8. Dark says:

    Yes, brother you are right on, but don’t forget that we have lost trust on our leaders, and we become people who hope to be united, but can’t make it thru, because we think, that a such tribe is conspiring against us, let try federalism with right
    to secede and control over your resources, why fear that, we can unite our people at gun point brother, we got to be flexible. Greater Equatorial is step ahead of us, and they on the right track.

  9. Madior Ajak says:

    South Sudan need parliamentary system……

  10. Moorgueec says:

    Because Yau Yau achieved what he did not rebel for, everyone is on shifting objectives
    strategy . I think the current call for federalism by rebels is a mobilization strategy directed especially for Equatorians who had earlier called for this system. The idea of
    federalism had another meaning in equatoria, the equatorians need federalism to give them time to build strong secessionist institutions and then opt for independent state. Equatorians in real sense do not feel comfortable sharing the country with both nuer and Dinka. The situation of that nature would become complicated in upper nile region as nuer and Dinka don’t accept themselves.
    Federalism may work well if every tribe or group of tribes which understand themselves are/is given its own state.

    FROM EDITOR: YOU CAN’T BLAME EQUATORIANS, MR. MOORGUEEC, ESPECIALLY WHEN THE CURRENT TRIBALLY DOMINATED REGIME HAS BUILT EXCLUSIVE AND EXTRACTIVE INSTITUTIONS THAT HAVE GREATLY MARGINALIZED THE EQUATORIANS.
    SOUTH SUDAN NOW IS LIKE THEN FORMER YUGOSLAVIA, IF WE BREAK UP WE WILL HAVE BETTER STATES LIKE BOSNIA, SERBIA AND CROATIA. THESE COUNTRIES EVEN QUALIFIED FOR THE WORLD CUP IN BRAZIL!!!!!!

    • Eli says:

      Editor;
      Excellent reply to Moorgueec, and I think Moorgueec hit the nail on the top.
      EQUATORIANS, LET’S GET OUT OF THIS STUPIDITY.

  11. Lo Lado says:

    Equatorians are peaceful people, an examplary people they can understand not like our brothers who cliam them self libritors, a libritors can not be thives and life everythink for them.

  12. Kizito Panther says:

    Wait a minute! Bahr el ghazalians Dinka will benefit more from their nephews and former masters, the Arabs economically and socially. For example, they will economically benefit from their works on Arabs schemes, houses, washing toilets and taking care of the Arabs children and socially, they will benefit from cultural homogeneity such as arab and islamic culture blended in Dinka songs and riddles and dances which they have internalized very much from their previous masters, the arabs. They will also benefit by their women being married more by Arabs who will turn give their dinka in laws camels and dates, salts and sugar and soap for dowries.

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