By: John Bith Aliap, Australia, JUL/22/2014, SSN;
The Rep. of South Sudan is filled to the brim with different tribal groups. Each and every group want its tribal interest met by the government. This has often caused conflicts and violence.
In recent weeks or months, both rebels led by the sacked vice president Riek Machar and the Equatorians’ politicians have equally called for federalism, although it remains largely unknown to the Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, Taposa, Anyuak, Didinga, Bari, Moru, Acholi, Murle, Lotuko, Madi, Mundari, Jur Beli, Bongo, Kuku, Kakwa ….. villagers.
Is it not unwise for these politicians to copy and paste the system which is so foreign to their locals?
What are we doing with federalism now in a country where decades of war and upheaval have had an inevitable impact on education?
As I write this article, almost three-quarters of South Sudanese are unable to read or write. Can these people understand federalism? The answer is definitely no! They can’t understand federalism.
Talks of federalism are only conducted in Juba and not in the villages. Why would these politicians want federalism introduced? Do they need it only to advance their selfish individual interests?
Riek Machar – who has been salivating for presidency is now using federalism to woo the innocent Equatorians into his ugly war of interest while the Equatorians’ politicians are using federalism as a mean to evict the non-Equatorians out of Equatoria.
If this happens, where’s the nation? Will the nation not fall apart?
Unity of South Sudanese regardless of their cultural heritage is far more important than federalism. Fans of federalism have been crying loud that they need federalism to keep the Kiir-led central government at bay only to meet their Waterloo.
But who said that the federal system is the solution to South Sudanese’ problems? There’s no medicine that can solve all medical problems.
What trained doctors do is to intellectually identify a particular disease in a particular patient and then determine how to treat or cure it.
There is all evidence that South Sudan’s main disease is tribalism. We must change that first before we call for federalism.
Federalism is a structural arrangement. It doesn’t contain any substance! It is not a guarantee against all ills which are now facing the country.
If I was to fight for anything, I would not fight for just a structure!
There are democratic countries that are not governed under federalism. There are dictatorships that are governed under federal arrangements. There are poor countries that are under federal arrangements. There are rich countries that are not under federalism.
Fighting for federalism is like fighting for a bottle. Bottles can be full of water or urine! It depends on what is poured into it.
If one wants to support federalism, he/she should not say it will solve all ills in South Sudan. Those who think about federalism as an angel need to look for a different reason!
Federalism sounds ideologically attractive, but is it really practical?
If a federal system can provide clean water for people throughout the federated locations, construct tarmac roads, provide medical services to the citizens, create moral leaders, provide food to all the needy, ensure educational system that advances technology and sciences, boost agriculture, raise the standard of living, construct toilets along major roads, have a system that settles wars between one federal State and another, change tribal philosophies of life and adherence to limited horizons of reality, a mechanism of harmonizing all the federal States and eliminate oppression of minority groups, I would have no problem with it, but there is no manifesto expounding its functionality.
Have Riek Machar and the Equatorians’ politicians adequately educated and prepared all the citizens in South Sudan for federalism?
I think the majority of South Sudanese would want the above values first before we embark on political ideologies. Let these ideologies be democratic or federal.
I wait for a great politician who places priority on peoples’ needs rather than individual interests.
If federalism can produce leaders imbued with such qualities, I’ll rejoice because the ordinary South Sudanese will have been elevated to a status human dignity.
I still have a problem with how to control a federal leader who may concentrate all the power to himself/herself if he/she is armed to the teeth?
But what does the literature say about federalism? Does it say that federalism can solve ethnic conflicts as South Sudanese’ politicians would want us to believe?
In his ground breaking work on federalism, Rufus Davis argues in his book, “The Principle of Federalism”, published in 1978 by the University of California that there was no causal relationship between federalism and anything else.
The truth of the matter is that experience has been the teacher that federal system can always fail, it doesn’t promote economic growth, it doesn’t promote a greater civil liberty, it’s too expensive to maintain, it’s not highly adaptive.
In my view however, if Davis is right, then federalism could be associated with a rise in the frequency and intensity of ethnic problems.
The preponderance of scholarly works on federalism in Africa and elsewhere support Davis’ view that federalism is not consistently related to the settlement of ethnic conflicts.
Yet, South Sudanese’ politicians continue to view it as a solution to their ethnic differences. Why would these politicians advocate for a system which doesn’t seem to consistently solve ethnic conflicts?
The simplest way to determine the impact of federalism on ethnic conflict resolution is to examine what happened to such problems in federal systems in other parts of Africa.
Federalism can undoubtedly cause intensification of ethnic conflicts. The followings are the commonly identified cases of failed federalism in Africa and I would like to begin with our old united Sudan which gave birth to the present Rep. of South Sudan.
In an infamous 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement, a kind of federalism was introduced between the two Sudans – north & south. Although it may have diminished the North-South ethnic conflicts for a short period of time, it did in fact produce another ethnic conflict between the two camps, and this time with far-reaching consequences – forcing the young nation – the Rep. of South Sudan to break away.
Let’s also look at federalism in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s federalism normally refers to the arrangements during two periods: the decade of formal federation between Eritrea and Ethiopia (1952-1962) and the period since the adoption of the Charter in 1991.
The formal federation did not solve the Eritrean problem and the form federalism took had promoted the resistance of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the most prominent organization which claims to be representing the Oromo people.
Leaders of this organization often characterize Ethiopia’s federalism as camouflage for the rule of Tigreans. Although many Ethiopians at that time thought about federalism as a conflict management mechanism, it has not brought ethnic conflicts to an end in Ethiopia to this day.
Don’t give up yet about the demise of federalism. In Nigeria, the introduction of federalism has brought more deaths across the country than peace. The notion of “federal character” in Nigeria’s constitution as a mean of overcoming aspects of ethnic problems appears to have done more to exacerbate ethnic conflicts than solving.
Federalism in Nigeria has served only to provide a structure for the exacerbation of ethnic and regional conflicts. The creation of new states in 1966 in Nigeria based on federal arrangement had resulted to the killing of Igbo people in the North and the Biafran secession which caused untold human suffering.
And if you’re a fan of world’s history, you would agree with me that federalism opened a flood gate in the two socialist countries – the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. It prepared ideal conditions for conflicts that later on led to their disintegration into smaller countries.
The introduction of federalism in these countries promoted a common language, assisted in the creation of sub-nationalist intelligentsia, established and financed sub-national political elites and moreover, it supplied resources which these sub-national political elites could use for their legitimacy.
It put into place virtually all the building blocks that were necessary for the rise of ethnic-based movements.
Are you not yet convinced about the evils of federalism? This brief summary of the above cases is sufficient enough to show you a very consistent relationship between federalism and intensification of ethnic conflicts, confirming Davis’ view that federalism increases ethnic conflicts.
In conclusion, federalism is unsuitable in South Sudan. We have seen in numerous occasions that federalism is associated with intensification of ethnic conflicts.
The meaning attached to the word “federalism” in South Sudan is so different. It could be used by different groups to refer to many different things including “Kokora”.
If we look at the “elephant” instead of its tail or ears or trunk or leg, our understanding of what we observe may be increased.
In other words, if the people of South Sudan look at federalism as a uniting factor rather than a dividing one as it’s currently understood, then more sense can be made of the roles it plays in S. Sudanese’ politics.
John Bith Aliap holds two bachelor degrees in Social Work and Social Planning. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org