Delaying federalism is to invite regionalism in RSS

BY: Justin Ambago Ramba, SOUTH SUDAN, MAY/12/2013, SSN;

As the SPLM politics in South Sudan starts to get terribly tribal, the three states of Greater Equatoria have since then held three conferences. Undeniably these high level regional conferences went on to raise concerns among some quarters and especially so among South Sudanese hailing from the other two regions of the Greater Bahr el Ghazal and the Greater Upper Nile.

Nonetheless, the “Three Equatoria Conferences”, so far held in Juba have squarely centered on finding solutions to issues of: combating corruption, promotion of good governance, food security through agriculture, accountability and the like. And it isn’t in anyway fair for people to take negative positions against these conferences the way some people have already done so in the press.

Rushing to label these regional conferences as yet another “Kokora” in the making is totally outrageous, and those who continue to harbor such negative feelings can only be described as a people who have become mentally imprisoned in their own past. It’s time that people make every effort to reconcile their past, while knowing that “Kokora” which is another term for the ‘re-division’ of the Southern Region into three during Jaafar Nimeri’s rule of the united old Sudan is likely to haunt this nascent country for more years to come.

Why not call things by their names and anyone who doesn’t like it can comfortably go and drink from the Nile. In a nutshell the central idea of the “Kokora” or Re-division or Decentralization of what was a unitary region of the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan, was in fact a political move spearheaded by politicians from Equatoria province aimed to rid the many small tribes of South Sudan from what was then rightly perceived as the political hegemony by one big tribe.

Tribal politics is not new to South Sudan and as such it shouldn’t surprise anyone when tribal sentiments are expressed here and there. After all South Sudan is a part of Africa, isn’t it? Yet that is not the point. It’s not about tribal politics being practiced in the country, but rather it’s the sad fact that tribalistic politicians who are clearly seen all over the place boasting of their tribal numerical advantage are still unable to see that what they are actually involved with is a tribal driven politics.

And over the years it has perfectly become a common practice for South Sudanese politicians, academicians, and civil servants alike to stand up and criticize tribalism and every bad thing that is associated with it. Isn’t it a great thing to celebrate in the midst of what is a chaos by design?

Yet any celebration unfortunately is likely to be short lived as the real problem arises when it comes for politicians to translate these supposedly patriotic positions into actions. It is here that the true nature of these well-spoken people makes way for the actual monsters that hide behind their artificial patriotism. It is common to see people, who until a short while ago would have been considered as die-hard opponents of tribalism based on their rhetoric, suddenly becoming the ring leaders who not only champion it but are ready to go at length to involve whole communities in inter-tribal wars.

Of course it won’t be right to lump everything on the colonialists or the Arab imperialism, nor is anyone safe enough to navigate this long route before they come to realize how these two tribes show a great sentiment to the numerical size of their respective tribes to the extent that any other roles assigned to outsiders are only considered when it serves their interest.

Ethnic politics is flourishing perfectly well under the SPLM’s one party state and it is no longer a secret that politics as based on the numerical sizes of tribes have already hatched its first two polarizing political camps not only in the country, but also within the ruling SPLM party itself. One group has identified itself with the incumbent president Salva Kiir Mayardit while the other rallies behind Vice President Riek Machar Teny.

There could still be other surprises to be expected but not at this early stages of events for it is not unlikely for a third camp to have its eyes on the presidency come the 2015 elections. However till now the talk remains confined to the SPLMs “BIG FIVE”.

Regionalism as a political structure of governance was first introduced officially in the Sudan by President Jaafar Nimeri following the Addis Ababa Agreement. As a result of that arrangement Southern Sudan’s three provinces were brought together into what became the semi-autonomous region. At the same time the other six Northern provinces also became six regions with certain degrees of autonomy as well.

While most of the discussion is likely to revolve around regionalism and federalism it will be good if we find out what each of these stands to mean to the political laity – the non-scholars of political science! In short regionalism was that sort of government structure of lesser status than federalism, although both represent a varying degree of political devolution of power.

However when discussing the politics of South Sudan, a country which not too long was a part of the old Sudan, it is absolutely necessary to take into consideration that the greed to cling to power has always modified the way how regionalism and federalism were conceived and applied. There is now the fear that the same might also come to be the case in the nascent state of South Sudan for under the current SPLM rule the same greed remains alive, active and kicking.

It is everybody’s knowledge that the federal system of government exists in the constitutions of both countries of Sudan and South Sudan and yet the governments of the day in these countries are afraid to implement it. In the neighbouring Sudan the National Congress Party (NCP) struggling to reconcile between heaven and earth through its outdated Islamic philosophy remains scared to allow for democracy and true federalism in that country in spite of the so many political turmoil all across its territories.

Unfortunately it is also true that the same scenario is being replicated in the nascent country of RSS by none but the very SPLM that not too long fought Africa’s longest civil war under the banner to provide democracy, federalism and good governance. It truly represents the highest level of irony to see the SPLM party being incapacitated by the political greed at its highest echelon, as it struggles to find the political will it so much needs in order to deliver on any of those promises that once formed its core manifesto throughout the two decades of war.

Historically the South Sudanese representatives were the first to demand for federalism in the 1947 Juba Conference, although the subsequent governments in Khartoum failed to honour their promise towards that demand, and instead resorted to regionalism – when it granted Southern Sudan a regional autonomy within a united Sudan. That was undoubtedly too little and too late and it only increased the people’s quest for greater autonomy, and eventually self-determination.

Regionalism was adopted following the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement and soon it gave birth to regional consciousness and created many regional loyalties and competitions. Worth mentioning here is that this was well received and appreciated by South Sudanese as to them it represented a great political achievement following the seventeen years of the Anya Nya war.

This was also true in as far as most of the Anya Nya fighters were concerned, as at least it was one step towards the great goal of independence. However it didn’t go all well as certain groups saw in that regional autonomy government a rare opportunity for their tribesmen to dominated and rule the Southern region of the old Sudan to the exclusion of others.

However Nimeri was more keen to deter any rivalry over the country’s presidency, than anything else. And under what typically mirrors today’s South Sudan – the Sudan under Nimeri’s rule was a one party state with the Sudanese Socialist Union (SSU) as the sole and only political organisation.

He [Nimeri] thus used the SSU to push the politicians of that day to fully embrace regional politics and as if to relief the pressure from Khartoum many politicians were paid to redirected their political ambitions inwards and to the confines of their respective regions, of course with the exception of the few who belonged to the political classification of “Awlad al Balad”.

In so doing many politicians during Nimeri’s days became practically alienated from any politics that questioned the leadership in the center. Coupled with this was the total ban declared on all the other political parties leaving the SSU to played the role of the national melting pot for politics and ideas, typical of any totalitarian regime. Although all these were later undone following the 6th of April Popular Uprising in 1985, the worry now is how far has the SPLM party under Salva Kiir’s leadership about to re-invent all these nightmare?!

And again resembling the state of affairs in today’s South Sudan , was the widespread corruption that existed within Nimeri’s SSU ruling party and equally so in the rest of the institutions. If SPLM is the prototype of SSU of those days [much slogans, little or no action], no wonder that all kinds of corruption have always flourished well under these kinds of totalitarian regimes. As it happened in those days we are also now witnessing another round of state sponsored tribalism, nepotism and favourtism all across the country.

Had the Sudan implemented true federalism as it is practiced today in USA way back in 1955, we probably would be now talking about some very civilized politics and never about the so-called “Southern Problem” or “The Southern Regional Government” and never of course about any “Kokora” for that matter.

Even today well beyond two years since our people voted for independence, we still live under a leadership that continue to lack the political will when it comes to the issue of true federalism – democracy – multiparty politics – accountability – transparency – human rights – basic freedoms …..etc.

The above propositions are vital for the understanding of how the past has undoubtedly shaped the present. It also shows how important it is to look back and learn lessons from the history. And regardless of whether there are people out there who think that they can continue to behave intolerantly towards any Equatoria conference because they see it as the reincarnation of “Kokora” in the independent republic of South Sudan, nonetheless neither can they succeed in breaking the will of the people nor can they dictate on them what to do!!

The real reasons behind all this fuss about Equatoria coming together as a region is rooted in the fact that some people driven by their own agendas would better have an Equatoria that is divided not only into three states, but preferably even into its so many small tribes so that those who pride themselves of their tribal numerical sizes can have an easy ride in what is now clearly “The Politics of Numbers”.

This can be referred to as the “Preferential KOKORA”. In other wards they would oppose KOKORA on regional basis as it is likely to weaken what they can achieve using their numerically sizable tribes, while on the other hand they would support what could amount to the same “Kokora” but on tribal basis thus alienating the so-called numerically small tribes from the top positions in the state.

Should there be a question like, “Why is Equatoria reviving regional politics in the post-independence RSS”? Here is the answer to this question which is quite obvious. For in the face of the massive tribal built up to politics in the immediate post-independence South Sudan where qualifications have long been sacrificed for tribal origins – with the numerical sizes determining a tribes position in the cake sharing process, it is only common sense for the many small tribes that hail from Equatoria to come together and form a block that can be reckoned with.

Today Equatoria is again leading the call for federalism in South Sudan. And here we mean real federalism – the USA type and not some kind of adulterated quasi-quasi things! The show currently being displayed by the so-called numerically big tribes is in fact to talk federalism and act centralism. This if anything – it is hypocrisy of the highest level.

It won’t be long before South Sudan ends up with three political camps instead of political parties: the Equatorians and other non Dinka (Dor) political camp, the Dinka (Jeing) political camp and the Nuer (Naath) political camp. However all of these are already operating as legitimate functional units of the one party (SPLM) since only few people in South Sudan are interested in creating other political parties outside the SPLM. Is it not good that sometimes it is nice to see ourselves in the mirror?!!

On the other hand it is to be considered as absurd for any member of the ruling SPLM party to criticize the adoption regionalism because it is already an open secret that even the current SPLM leadership hierarchy stands for regional representation – especially the top three officials: President Salva Kiir (Bahr el Ghazal), Vice President Dr. Riek Machar (UPPER Nile) and the Speaker of the National Assembly James Wani Igga (Equatoria). There is really nothing bad about this regional representation, if only it could have been extended the whole way to include all the national institutions.

While it is undeniable that the Greater Upper Nile is now in a very bad shape and although it is a home to many tribes as well, it is only unfortunate that the Dinka vs. Nuer type of politics with its spill over is not allowing for the region’s unity. First they will have to talk David Yau Yau into peace before any true regional unity can be achieved – not just in Jonglei state, but all across the Greater Upper Nile.

The bottom line is that the people of Equatoria are well aware that they will not be able to survive the politics of tribal numeracy as the way it stands now, hence their insistence to stand up as a unit. Secondly these are people who will never relinquish their core ways of life to imitate the others who are deeply ingrained in tribal bloodletting, killings and cattle theft. Politics will always remain a dynamic entity with no permanent friends and no permanent enemies or rivals. What is permanent in politics is one’s interest.

So where does all these leave South Sudan? For our country to push forward we need to have the proper structures in place. We are indeed a diverse people yet we share the common destiny of being citizens of the one country – South Sudan. When we fought the enemy for over five decades before we won our independence, we also had the opportunity to observe how and where things went wrong – whether that was on our side or the enemy’s side. But after having learnt all these lessons, we can only be fools to repeat any of those mistakes. Regrettably this already seems to be the case!

Our country still has a chance to become a good place for all of us if we can only rid ourselves of greed. What we badly need now is to shun away from any “One Man Rule”, and we need to make it clear that totalitarianism has no place in the independent South Sudan. Let’s go wholeheartedly to embrace multiparty democracy and a true USA type of federalism if we really want to build our country and above all to avoid going back to an all-out civil war of our own making.

Author: Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba. He can be reached at:


  1. Dau-network says:

    Hi Ramba.
    Don’t just be beating the bush, bring up strong men like Dr Sebit or Joseph Bakosoro and the big tribes you mean will support him instead Dr Adolf Hitler.
    Equatorians, don’t just cry, you are holding the keys of South Sudan while big tribes have failed! Don’t call yourself small tribes while Zande is number 2 to dinka not nuer as you belittled yourselves .

    • Dr. JAC Ramba says:

      To the so called Dau-Network

      Sorry I don’t know how to address you for I quite don’t understand whether the Dau-Network is your actual name or is it the name of your company. Anyhow my friend, I am not aware of any other tribe in RSS besides the Dinka and the Nuer who refer to themselves as big tribes. The Azande are humble people and they don’t go around boasting about their numerical size although they could have easily done so since they constitute one of Africa’s largest tribes occupying an area of land that extends all the way from the RSS to Central African Republic and as far as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

      Even so my friend if we are to go it on tribal politics then an Azande’s chance to win a presidential election undoubtedly depends on making alliance first in the Greater Equatoria, then out wards to the rest of the RSS.

      But to ask me or people of Equatoria to nominate either Dr. Sebit or Hon. Bakosoro for the presidency is indeed weird. I don’t know who that Dr. Sebit of yours is, but I know Hon. Bakosoro to have long gone back to the SPLM and this time he can only be nominated by the party’s political bureau – the same people who rejected him in 2010.

      Or better still the two so-called big tribes can nominate either of them and of course vote for him to show your civility and goodwill to the Equatorians and the world at large.

  2. Why don’t we save time by calling “Kokora” as Kokora in Bari language and “Federalism” as Federalism in English language? Translation is never exact sometimes because each language has its own milieu for understanding the perceptions of the conceptions and the connotations involved.
    If Kokora is perceived as negative it will be very hard to convert and baptise it into positivism through the federative waters. Even if Kokora is made into a fabric robe that can tie the different parts of South Sudan together, still those who tasted its rattles will fear it as a dangerous and poisonous snake. Remember that members of our elder generation who enjoyed or deplored the Kokora are still alive and kicking.
    Thus, let “Kokora” rest in peace without resurrection and let’s nurture the spirit of Federalism without calling it Neo-Kokora. Let’s remember this Guinean proverb: “A child can play with her mother’s breast, but not her father’s testicles.”
    Kokora could be South Sudan’s testicles while Federalism the breast of our nation-in-the making. So let’s be careful how and where we should play as far as making South Sudan a better place to live is concerned, based on subtle weaving of the fabrics of our different micro and macro nationalities (i.e., unity in diversity). To Hell with Kokora and to Heaven with Federalism!

    • Dr. JAC Ramba says:

      To: My friend Dr. Okuk

      Dear Dr. Okuk, thanks for your take and I quite agree with you that Kokora is now history although of course it can still be remembered as why today we have ten states in South Sudan instead of the traditional three provinces. In other wards the structures brought in and to some extent based on the philosophy of the “KOKORA” still all seem to be in use and are even being enjoyed by its bitterest opponents. I mean it’s all got to do with one’s frame of mind! I also agree with you that now is a time to move forward and that’s by adopting Federalism. However I am keen to warn every concerned citizen that the delay in adopting Federalism is working negatively to reverse the country full swing to the days of regionalism.

  3. Dr.Duol Tut says:

    Dr Okuk, you nailed it on the head. Where is the source of data which show tribal numerical strength? FYI the last census did not have indicators for ethnicity and the Colonial records and not reliable after more than 50yrs. Anyone with recent information should help me. Otherwise numbers will be a game of mind not reality

  4. aj says:

    I really enjoy reading your logical argument on the federalism. For those who are denied that, federalism is a way to settle many issues that are dead wrong.

    I do believe many of the members in this fora reside in western nation such as German, Uk, USA and many others. Federal system is being used in these nations mentioned above. The idea is to decentralized responsibilities to closed people possible. This what Garang call taking towns to people not what is now.

    By applying federal system, it will make it hard for thieves to steal money because each budget will be counted by state, county, Bomas and payam. All those working in National govt will get their salaries in their departments, State will act alone and county will as well perform duties within its boundaries.

    Right now, Juba is crossing every directions making it hard to hold those who;re corrupt very difficult and point finger to each other. Also, did we not fight North to have our nation develop? why are we all moving to JUBA and leaving towns and villages un-occupied?

    Why can’t we developed a place where you are born, help those who cannot make it to Juba enjoy freedom.? Those who oppose federalism are creating another unthinkable situation that could result into another bloodshed. Politicians need to watch out because land issues will be first troubling everyone.

  5. Dau-network says:

    To Dr Jac Ramba.
    First at all, you are still jumping up and down not to the point. Joseph Bakosoro won an election in 2010 without support from SPLM, then why not now?
    While western equatoria population is 3.6 millions plus 70% of dinka will support him against Dr Hitler.
    Second to that, l don’t know Dr Sebit Ireneaus deeply but his mental agility thorough his last article, “south Sudan have leaders but no leadership,” one of the best orientations and contributive article in South Sudan. JOHN KUDSAY’s song” good -man and bad -man are known when they open their mouths for talking”.
    I came to know Joseph Bakosoro when he was a Christian activist in Uganda. I thought you would have appreciated me for struggling to bring up any best person from equatoria even though if I have no clue for him and you trust him for development.
    To be sincerely, any better equatorian is welcomed.
    Dr Jac Ramba.
    You had asked me where l been hidding in other article for term limit case, my friend the first struggle through guns was me but this struggling by tough is left for some regions to accomplished !!!

  6. dmajak says:

    hey Aj, you are in business of supporting your tribe called federalism, but that tribe will die soon like Kokora which was killed by Dinka.

    • aj says:

      Have you actually consulted or checked the dictionary for the meaning of “federalism?” I have no logical respect with people like your kind. Take your bushman behaviour off if you want to resonate with others.

      The formation of ten states from nothing, what formula did you think was used to create these states? How did counties, Bomas and payams came to exist, if I may ask you to tell the forum?

      The birth of south sudan came as a result of need of decentralization where people take responsibilities of their state’s matter. The government that resides with people because it’s people government and made and decided by people. You got it! Why are you so upset to go and develop your own back yard first like what the English saying, “charity begins at home.” Now you calling the modern government system a tribe. You pity me and sorry if you don’t understand because you need to understand yourself and your surrounding so you can know who is around you that way, you will understand that no man is an island.

      Let me ask you simple question. What system of governance will you propose apart from Federal? I hope you are not thinking of unity. Remembered we went to the bush and fought Sudan government due to Unitary government system.

      So, the idea that federal system is dividing Southern Sudanese is a cooked fear that you dinkas try to turn a blind eye and yet your uncle kiir could not even deliver a single development to your own State, county, Boma and payama. No road to link your state, county, boma and payam. I bet federalism would have benefited a lot of people in south if the government implemented it. Each State could have had full benefits of its resources and give a certain percentage to the federal government in Juba. Lost of money end up in individual pockets in Juba could have been avoided.

      So, you either take it or you don’t, and then the road to hell will be opened wide. Remember that, this government is surviving because of Equatorians who maintain peace not rebelling like you dinkas and Nuer and if we are going to be forced into what we don’t appreciate, you will pack and go.

      Garang was told the best way to govern south sudan is by “taking towns to people,” not taking people to towns, as you dinkas and nuer flooded Juba as if its a promised land. And your mouth will also make you pay big time. Watch out!


  7. Danide says:

    Dr. JAC Ramba!
    Please, u should not just bark around for a course that is deplored by more than two thirds of the population of this country! You must remember that kokora was initiated by the Equatorian politicians of that time and then implemented by Nimeri by dissolving an elected government of Moalana Abel Alier, otherwise it was not going to succeed. Now this time u and your likes are initiating another type of federalism (a kokora in disguise), why are you so naive to understand that with the history still fresh in minds, it will be resisted at all costs?

    Unless u wake up Nimeri to do what he did to Abel Alier and his government or your dreams will fail miserably. A call for federalism by equatorians will not be assumed to be a honest call given their story during the liberation days. To be very frank, i don’t see nationalism in the current generation of Equatoria.

    I know I am being extreme in saying that but this is a well researched opinion given my time with equatorian friends in high school in Uganda before the CPA time and again in the university in Sudan during the interim period. If you hear somebody swearing not to go for a national service should a war breaks out between your country and the neighbouring country, can you describe that person as nationalistic? my fellow countrymen, you have got to change that mentality otherwise people will always doubt your opinions!

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