Federalism is unsuitable in South Sudan

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 johnaliap2011@hotmail.com


  1. Isaac Dongrin Malith says:

    We don’t support federalism and we will not allow ideology of federal government to destabilise our people in the new land. When we came to Equatoria, the land was full of government and tribal militias. We crashed them one by one. By 1986s the coward’s tribe mates begin surrendering, all the tribes in south Sudan bow before Dr. John Garang to forgive them. If there is any Equatorian out there, I want you to tell me if this is a lie. A lot of Equatorians had given their daughters to us Dinka to establish relationship. Tell me if this is a lie. Because of hunger in Equatoria thousands of your daughters married us for a bag of 50 kg of sorghum which Equatorians calls surugumu. Tell me if this is a lie. It was your masters the Arab that is why you were boosting. Never again Arabs will be in South Sudan. Never again an Equatorian will be a leader in South Sudan. Never again our people will be beaten by clubs by Mundari, Bari and their tibal allies in Equatoria. Equatorians will never be free. You accepted our colonial power after your tribal militias were crashed by our superior armies remembered? Who again will give you second chance to rebuild militias? That is why we are at your homes and villages. You lost big and you will continue to serve us in your homes and villages. You called for masters, here we are. Why are you complaining again? What is it that you want? If you want to behave like Nuer you will leave South Sudan for good.
    Isaac Dongrin Malith
    Kansas City, Missouri USA

    • AW Joseph says:

      Isaac Dongrin Malith
      Your are mad and do not know what you are talking about. Had it not been the intervention of Uganda with Helicopter Gunship in which the SPLA IO did not have the Guns to shoot it down with, the DINKA would have paid the price like what was done to them in BOR, Malakal and many other places.
      Keep opening your filthy big mouth and your Dinka people will pay the price for your arrogance….

    • simba says:

      Isaac Dongrin Malith,

      Dinka are not even masters of themselves, but infact enemies of themselves. How could you then be a master of anyone? Equatorian men dont want your girls. You know why. Remember that before you open your toilet of a mouth.

  2. Elijah Samuel says:

    When the current system of centralized,nepotized and tribalized was put in place where the illiterate people of South Sudan you reffered to educated and consulted about? Obveously federalism will prevent Jiengs from achieving the goals of changing South sudan into absolute Jieng nation, this is the reason why you are against it.
    When the Wheel of history starts to turn, no one can hold it back

  3. AW Joseph says:

    JB Aliap
    Did you have time to ask yourself why all towns and cities in Dinkaland remain backword and undeveloped? Did you have time to know why Equatorians do not want to go and settle in Dinkaland…….?
    ANSWER: Dinka are violent criminals, aggressive, Thieves, Greedy, Selfish, lacks respect, inconsiderate, has no shame, uncivilized……………….etc…etc….
    Its good that you write from Australia. Do you have any idea how many Dinka are in jail or lost their lives because of their criminality?

    • MAJONGDIT says:

      AW Joseph,

      And which single town do you think is developed either in Upper Nile or Equatoria?
      Tell me which Nuerland is developed. You yourself are undeveloped, let alone talking about others. If you ignore facts that glare at you in the face then you need to see a doctor.

      Besides, you are contradicting yourself when you say that Dinkaland is not developed when those of Governor Clement Konga and Riek Machar are complaining of Dinka getting developed when they aren’t.

      Compare the Juba you had given to Arabs for decades with the current Juba the Dinka gave you just in terms of development. Juba has grown and it continues to develop every single day. Who do you think is developing Juba? It is not Equatorians. Which other place have Equatorians developed by themselves alone, or a place Nuer have developed by themselves alone. It is when we are peacefully together in a given place that when we develop.

      • AW Joseph says:

        Well if you think the level of civilization and standard of living in Equatoria is the same as that found in Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazal, why are you Dinka refusing to go back to where you come from…..???
        Since Equatorians do not want to live in your part of the country and wants you Dinka to live in your ancestral land, then what are you doing in Equatoria…???
        We in Equatoria have no problem with the rest of fellow South Sudanese people but you Dinka are a menace like cockroaches and worse than the ARABS…….

        • MAJONGDIT says:

          AW Joseph,

          You have a problem with your brain. You properly fit the description in the Bible that there are those who see without seeing. I thought you are an intellectual. Sorry, you belong to a different category.

          Come listen here, there is no country you will find in this world where you find people settle 100% by their ethnicities. There can be no way there can be an Equatoria of only Equatorians. No one will buy that silly unpractical idea.

          You need to know again that not only Dinka stay in Juba. All the other tribes are in Equatoria including the Nuer. You only hate Dinka because the President is a Dinka. The size of the tribe Dinka is another factor they are present everywhere. Dinkas population in their homelands in Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile is about 95%. Those people you see there in Equatoria are either employed there or are doing their own businesses.

          You need to put in your small brain that even Equatorians are not 100% staying in Equatoria. They are so many here in Rumbek, Yirol, Tonj, Wau, Bor, Aweil etc.

          AW Joseph, what you are seriously advocating for, kokoro, will never be the best for all of us including you. Let’s preach peace, harmony and unity of our people. Just that! Thank you.

          • AW Joseph says:

            Yes we want peace, we want to live in harmony among our people. The rest of the South Sudanese tribes are not saints. They do have their short comings.
            However, what we are talking about is the persistent DINKA anti-social behaviours, violence, ill manners, stealing and robbery as reported by the newspapers this week that the presidential guards had been going around Juba residential suburbs something the ARABS did not do in the fifty years we lived with them.
            If you DINKA are ready to change your animalistic behaviours and embrace the culture of civilization and good human behaviours then we will have no problem with you. But if you DINKA do not want to change then you can go back to where you come from…???

    • Joseph Gur says:

      Hi, Aw Joseph, you do not understands what John Aliap mentioned above ,about the Federalism in South Sudan, Its could be a result to abuse Dinka tribes as I saw up there just put your views instead being aggressive to whole Dinka. A shame on you too. We are not whatever you think you assumes to be, and never be A thieves why? we are the hosts of that Country.
      Cheers. Joseph Gur.

  4. cos says:

    Mr Jonn Bith,its unfortunately that,your reasoning is premature.
    First and foremost what is federalism and what government do we have that is not understood by the grass root people.
    Your been in Australia is contributing non thing to the leadership of south sudan,shut up.

  5. Omot Butrus says:

    How could you say that federalism is imposed on us while you have forgotten that southerners were first who call for it during independency of Sudan 1956. I am quite certain that if we to conduct referendum 90% of our people will vote federalism because the current political governance has placed all the budget of the state to central government in Juba, states has only 20% of the total budget. It will be a sample of unity because it will grand a possibility of rotation of leadership among different ethnic groups. Finally Mr. John you have not voice out your real position about suitable political governance of our new born nation, the conflict that we just witnessed is a result of centralized system of governance. Since federalism is demand before the independent of Sudan we can not move away from but we find a suitable mechanism to enable us learn to make what other consider weak points to point of unity.

  6. Itikwili says:

    You don’t have to read or write the western letters to get an understanding of what federalism means. we do not have to equate knowledge of governance with reading and writing. how else could my grandmother be dragged to vote democracy when she does not read and write the western letters. it is like saying the prerogative to vote should be limited to those who read and write, what an argument! The country is in the search for an optimal system of governance, it does not need writing or reading!

  7. Okuc says:


    The collapse of Soviet Union in 1989 and disintergation of Yugslavia in 1991-2 were not because those countries were federal states as you alleged in your article. those countries were authoritarian regimes rule by iron fist like what kirr is trying to impose in South sudan.
    Go back to your resources and learn more about how those countries were governed by communist parties before the ,
    fall of Berlin Wall in 1989, rather than write about a topic you do not under well.
    Federal system is the best system of governance in South sudan rather than centrialized because no usurpation of power by one ethnic group like the current government in South sudan.

  8. Ma'digo says:

    Kokora Oya !

    Federal Kokara of Equatoria!

  9. Peter Ladu says:

    Malith you will not get away with this insults. You will pay for what you mentioned here. Equatorians never give-up their daughters for what you said. What we do know Dr. John Garang allowed you Dinka to go to Equatoria to rape women,take land and commit all forms of atrocities we know. If Equatorian women forced by you Dinka under gun points to be abuse sexually during the war with Sudan turned to be as you said, you will pay for twisting history.
    Ladu lo Bari

  10. monychol says:

    What these ignorant women thugs are claiming to be federalism is not federalism at all.It is an ethnic balkhanisation of the country into ethnic enclaves.Then those enclaves will confederate among them. selves and confederate at the level of the country.This is how the Soviets Union and Yugoslavia were.So where are they now? The US and Canada are federal system buut they are not segregated base on ethnicities so do Australia and many otherr countries.What those braindead women from Equatoria are talking about is a strange and bizzare creature that does not exist actual: a chimera.If they whine, insinuate and complains with shear idiocy, since they are unreasonable, put them under the guns and bullet.There is no land in South Sudan that belongs to tribe and clans.The SPLM political claims during the struggle that the land belongs to communities was a strategy to dethrone the Arabs so did the claims that the SPLM was fighting for United Sudan.You Equatorians are claiming for something that nobody will sympathizes with you worldwide.If you continues, the government of South Sudan shall be justified to shoot the helll out of you.I gurantee and you will not be judged right.I think the government should start taking drastic action by shooting dead any criminal thug who expouse such an idiocy be them politicians or laymen.It is about time to give them Maridi lesson.

  11. Lare Justice says:

    Without Uganda manpower, Dinka would be history in our new nation. Dinka people are cowards who can’t fight any single tribe in South Sudan. Death to Salva Kiir Kuethpiny and the Gogrial theives.

  12. Loguca says:

    The reason for people of South Sudan to call for federalism is the result of poor governance and tribalism by the President himself. He have caused hatred among the tribes of South Sudan, as a result I we can never live together side by side. We as Equatorians are ready to fight, but waiting for Kirr to start, and South Sudan will burn in flames once and for all. To hell with Dinka regime. We are waiting to see where Dinkas will go after Kirr is dealt with soon or later. Even after Kirr, South Sudan will never be the same, because Dinkas started it.

  13. Joseph says:

    Dear Mr. Justice,

    You can’t claim to be brave on the internet. I would like to see you in the battlefield. Battlefield is where you would prove your hyposeses if Dinkas are brave or cowards. I hope you understand what i mean. You have been hiding in the west for ages and claim to be brave. Are you kiding yourself buddy?

  14. Ma'digo says:

    Stop talking Dinka Joseph, just start the fight and see if the the so called coward Equatorians won,t be descenting in Juba from around the world. One way plane ticket cost around $500-700. MARK MY WORDS!

    Long live Federal Kokora Equatoria!

  15. Diktor Agarab says:

    Only the lazy and cowardly Dinka will be opposed to federalism because they thrive under dinka-illism and corruption. If federalism were instituted today in South Sudan, all these novo Dinka millionaires and business people will become beggars in a day because they don’t know how to run a business other than still money from the government to finance their “business”. Dinkas are parasites that need to be excised and deported en mass to their states where they can go live with their cows and behave like them.

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