Federalism in South Sudan is the only way-out of the current political quagmire

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


  1. John, you make a very good analysis on the importance of federalism to a nation-state. I hope those who have ears take this information and make use of it for the benefit of all in their country, if the welfare of their citizens is a priority for them.


  2. Aj says:

    As i always say, that’s the only we gonna run the nation other than that, fighting will be the order of the day amongst ethnic group.


  3. Dr JAC Ramba says:

    Mr. J. Omunu

    You indeed said it all. Federalism empowers both our diversity and unity.
    Well done.

  4. Aj, Dr. Justin Ambago C Ramba and John Omunu:

    I do not agree with you all on FEDERALISM SYSTEM in the South Sudan government in the new country from Sudan old government. The South Sudan was decentralized in the year 1983 during kokora policy in the Regional Government into three regions Equatoria Region, Upper Nile Region and Bahr El Ghazal Region. There was nothing ever done to the people thereafter! People have not enjoyed the benefit. Enemies were the beneficiaries who were benefit for the redivison in the South Sudan

    • Kong Puok Tongluot- Finland says:

      Hi, Aj
      I do agree with you, our brothers in Equatoia they have a new hidden – kokkora – through decentralization category. What i know they would enjoy their social lives with Jelabs. Decentralism ideology for developed Country, we are still on bottom.

      • Aj says:

        Kong Puok Tonggluot- Finland,
        You got it wrong. Equatorians don’t have any thing hidden or kokora; they just want equal representation like anyone else. read my post again.

    • Aj says:

      you are dead wrong. Kokora was not recognized as a means of government act. Shame on you, you are derailing the whole meaning. Come back and start from basic learning.

  5. Cow-Arts says:

    It’s quite a marvel to witness a crowd yapping about another self-determination and regionalism. Truth is, you do not get regionalism or (in extreme cases as some writers ineptly espouse) by begging, bleating, or coin Dinkocracy-esque. What you do instead is to work for it! Being a pseudo-Ugandan or Congolese-wanna be is not a clever ploy either. Remember Joseph Lagu-led Anyanya one (whatever independence it brought!)? Or Wani Konga’s Equatoria Defence Force (managed to kill a bunch of Dinkas, but hey how did the narrative ended?!)?

  6. Lumali Peter says:

    Mr. Cow-Arts ,and Mr Chief Abiko Akuranyang,
    you should have sense as humans.
    I think you too do not understand how the federalism system works. Federalism can work this way, that each level of government has some degree of autonomy from the other levels; that is, each level can carry out some policies that may not be preferred by the other. This means that the national and state government have distinct powers and responsibilities.

    The national government, for example, is responsible for national defense and foreign policy. States and local governments have primary responsibility for conducting elections and promoting public safety. In the other areas, such as transportation, the different levels of government share responsibilities in what are typically called the concurrent powers such systems like Local governments -cities, towns, school districts, and counties, those are not autonomous units of government and therefore have a different place within the federal system than the national and state governments.

    Local governments are creatures of the state government. That is, state governments create local governments and control the types of activities they can engage in, by specifying in the state charter either what they can do or not only what they cannot do – that is, they are allowed to do anything not specifically prohibited in the charter. This lack of autonomy does not imply that local governments are unimportant. Indeed they play the central role in providing public education, polices and fire departments, and land used polices, They raise money through property taxes, user fees, and in some cases local sales taxes. But overall, local governments do not directly share power within our federal system with the state and national governments because of their lack of autonomy.

    Mr Cow Arts and Mr Chief Abiko Akuranyang, you know since we have a bad disease, so called tribalism, not only tribalism even families member’s. Federalism in this way you too will survive it.

  7. I was interested to read the views of others in regard to the topic highlighted by the writer. Yes, our friends and the audiences who happened to comment on the topic were right but one thing I was interested to look at is the argument or critical analysis of advantages and disadvantages of federalism.

    South Sudanese must know that federalism arrangement has many disadvantages and I am opposed to such an arrangement especially if the nation that calls for federalism arrangement is located in Africa. Issue of resources allocation and sharing may perhaps be among the critical and hot concerns to many of us here. Federalism dictate that the state has to give only some portion of its resources to federal government and take the whole resources to build its own state without sharing the resources with other states.

    The war we fought for many years was not fought regionally, neither ethnically. We had fought together as marginalized and oppressed community regardless of our regions. And this fact dictates the choice of many people that federalism should be installed as a system.

    Yes, I agreed that Equatorians states have the basic rights to have conferences even three times a year but when they are heading for the mobilization of the system of government, they must make sure that some tangible issues are critically assessed and debate before they are released for public consumption.

    I myself, Peter Reat Gatkuoth, could only support the States to advocate that State governments should be made big in terms of funding as states are the ones that need an urgent development. All regional budgets should be increased to 60% and leave the central government with only 40%. If this debate is pass, then state governments will be big in term of numbers of ministers and the central government would be less in term of numbers of ministers. This will help a lot and it will also encourage people to go to their states, provide that all jobs will be allocated to states.

    This is just a comment and it encourages the writer to rewrite the advantages and disadvantages of federalism since he is most knowledgeable otherwise.

    • Mairii says:

      Peter Reat Gatkuoth, what you are talking about is what is referred to as federalism; lean central government with more power to the states.

  8. Eastern says:

    you and your likes will be forced to accept this. Once there are dissenting voices, know that there is an idea behind it. The time will certainly come for your likes to concede that the pseudo-Ugandan, pseudo-Kenyan, pseudo-blah, blah are fed up with Dinka hegemony. These ‘minority’ South Sudanese are not used to the lifestyle of continuous harassment and fallacious reminder of not being South Sudanese. These ‘minorities’ will have to seek their identity within their own territory. Other non-Dinka South Sudanese, especially those in the three Equatoria were rudely shocked to find their ancestral land deep in their various villages grabbed on account of being vacant land/property.
    Cow-Arts and company, is Equatoria terra nullius?

  9. Job-done says:

    You are clearly talking out of your backside. What kind of Dinka hegemony are you talking about? Curiously, you have said quite strongly the Dinka will be ‘forced’ to accept regionalism. Isn’t it rich that Equatorians will for the first time ‘force’ something to produce tangible results? Well, good with that.
    Last time I checked your commitment levels, it never captured Yei for you; nor did it capture Kapoeta, Torit, Maridi…..! What it did instead was you guys became ‘civilized’ evident by your Arabi-Juba. While the Dinka and the Nuer may quite rightly have their limitations, the little cowards should put their inferiority complex intact.

  10. All of you who support Federalism, should join me on Facebook in group : ” South Sudan Visionaries for Federalism “.

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