BY: John Omunu, RSS, MAR/06/2013, SSN;
Khartoum has always been a unitary state with political power vested in the center. We, the oppressed people of Southern Sudan then rejected their centralized system whereby President Omar Bashir and his predecessors were holding the power over all public policies affecting the ordinary men and women down in some unheard of villages in Southern Sudan. Indeed, this form of government largely reflected the corrupted colonial legacy.
After independence, leaders who emerged and had led the country during the independence of Sudan from Britain forcefully argued for unitary government system much like the colonial rule they replaced. Concentration of power at the center was considered a necessary condition to maintain unity of the country. This is by the way the same flawed arguments being propagated in other parts of Africa by many African nationalists. In fact, even decentralization within unitary states has been considered a political menace because it could reinforce tribal faithfulness at the expense of loyalty to the nation, a warning signs that we all see in post-war Republic of South Sudan.
On the other hand, the presumed benefits of unitary or decentralized current government in Juba have proved delusional. The 1955 leaders of liberation including some within the SPLM/A rank and file all had argued for federalism. Dr. John Garang technically came up with the similar vision and he called it the “New Sudan” since The “Old Sudan” was considered “too deformed to be reformed” and those Khartoum leaderships at helm of power paid no attention whatsoever to Junubin grievances and other back in far Western part of Sudan.
Consequently, the country has been marked by bloody internal strife, military coups, and two protracted civil wars. Make no mistake about it; the violent conflicts have generally been between heterogeneous population groups within the same country-the Sudan. Thus, although an argument for establishing strong centralized unitary states was that such institutional arrangements would help unify the various ethnic groups in the then “Old Sudan,” the experiments have been unsatisfactory.
The decades-long experiment with strong centralized/and or some kind of decentralization system in form of 25 or 26 states divided along tribal-lines showed that such controlled institutional arrangements are not suited to harmonize the interests of very heterogeneous groups within any country.
Evidently, poverty has also to be blamed as in the case of a few powerful and well-connected individuals in this government siphoning millions from Juba into their secret foreign bank accounts in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Australia, UK and U.S. In other words, poverty is seen here as the factor cause of rampant corruption and to some extent instability these days in Juba and down to state levels.
Those of us who know little about ethnic politics treat tribal groups as special interests that compete for transfers from the central government in Juba. Currently, members of a particular tribe(s) in South Sudan consider themselves different from those of other groups and have an interest in increasing the welfare of their members relative to that of other tribes, and this is because of the concentration of power in one man who is our current seating beloved President and C-in-C.
Consequently, constricted tribal competition for control of power, oil revenues and the instruments of transfer have had disastrous results in the past seven years including in many African countries as well. The ongoing conflicts in Sudan, DR Congo, Uganda and Somalia are but a few of the cases we can draw some good lessons from.
Indeed, the fight for political power and control results will always usher intra-tribal conflicts, military coups attempts, and violence as was the case with now Sudan. The current unattainable policies in Juba are designed to benefit some groups at the expense of others, translate into poor economic performance and non-existence provision of service delivery at best.
It is therefore difficult to justify the claim that centralization/and or decentralization and unitary state will unite our heterogeneous society or as many would like to prefer use the term “patriotism.”
Dr. Jacob Lupai’s objective analysis of post-independence South Sudan’s dilemma couldn’t come at the right point in time when he argued that Federalism would reduce ethnic tensions and foster economic development and in return is likely to bring together various ethnic groups.
On the contrary, decreed centralization and the current unitary system has so far resulted in weak institutions that are not suited to achieving anything or even mutual understanding among the various South Sudanese communities. Instead, more often than not, the sturdy centralized government in Juba have resulted in outcomes that are very much like those found in stateless societies depicted by Thomas Hobbes.
Opponents of federalism can deny these facts, but at their own peril. The fact remains that majority of Junubin (south Sudanese) still observe strong tribal identification whether by names and tribal boundaries, and this should be considered a largely voluntary choice by the individuals concerned.
Such as when members of a tribe live and organize their activities without interfering with members of other tribes in the country, then the tribal unit is an optimal form of organizing for the purpose of providing some goods and services to its members.
In the U.S., Catholics, Southern Baptists, Right-wing Christians groups, Jews, to mention just a few, do organize all around common purpose.
Accordingly, I see no fault with the recently held Equatoria-2013 Conference in Juba because through such ethnic unit or regional gathering, it’s akin to a private club that serves the interests of its members. This is neither rocket science nor a constitutional subject for a debate. Notwithstanding the benefits to members also arise from the tribal organizations for the purposes of service delivery amongst others.
Bluntly put, I can see Equatoria Conferences providing also positive insurance and civic education and acts as sources of pride.
That said, the primary argument advanced above is that few uninformed individuals with no knowledge or power can see exact the opposite, unfortunately. This is the dangerous dilemma am talking about because if not treated with care, those half-backed internet scholars or self-proclaimed constitutional “experts” who are instigating violence and disharmony among various peaceful ethnic groups in South Sudan, using their relatives in power to outlaw ethnic groups to organize for the provision of public goods, are not only burying their heads in the sand, but are forgetting that there are many advantages in relying upon the “tribe” as a basis for almost anything across the mother continent-Africa e.g. from birth celebration, to the struggle for freedom and justice for all.
Needless to remind ourselves that there are various factors that can unite members of a tribe including the other informal means geared towards solving intra-tribal conflicts.
For those of us who are equating Federalism with something else, are dead wrong to say the least. Federal governments are fairly common and to a large extent function smoothly. Examples of federal governments include Australia, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States of America, Nigeria and South Africa or the unique one in Ethiopia known as “ethnic federalism.”
The key here is that of the association of states or particular regions in which member states or regions retain a large measure of independence from the Federal government. Federal governments adhere to the federal principle: The method of dividing powers so that economic powers devolve down to the poor peasant in Warrap state or Kapoeta South County.
The proposed federalist alternative for South Sudan should therefore be the one where ethnic groups in various regions would establish their own regional governments. Each region would be independent in some sorts particularly in economic development sector which would be clearly stipulated in the federal constitution. These regions would then send their elected representatives to the federal legislature as is the case with the U.S. Congress.
I’m yet to see empirical evidence of the federal system that fails policy experimentation. I have no doubt in mind if implemented correctly, Federalism has always facilitated positive economic growth and regional competition.
Another main primary benefit of establishing federalist institutions in South Sudan is that such is the only system of organizing communal activities that protects groups from oppression by others and also accommodates diversity.
For those opponents of the Federalism in South Sudan, rather than stirring up aggressive reactions, why not use the God’s given brain power to sway the public opinion in one way or the other?
In conclusions, the mentioned benefits reflect the fact that in a federal system power is simply decentralized and neither Juba nor regional Equatoria or Warrap governments possess absolute power in which if left unchecked which it can lead the new country into an abyss. END