South Sudanese unique-society versus Western style democracy: A dark tunnel ahead

BY: AGOK TAKPINY, Australia, DEC/03/2013, SSN;

Hello my fellow South Sudanese, I greet you all in the name of South Sudan. One of my nieces (Acinkoc) had this to say on her Facebook a while ago:

“If you don’t focus so much on what Europeans did to Africa in yesteryears, and focus your energy on improving your current life, your descendants will still be crying about “how bad” Europeans treated their ancestors (and that’s you today) you owe abundant life to your future generations, let them not inherit your tears & bitterness.”

After reading this powerful statement, I begun to ask myself a question, what can we (us today) do in order for future generations not to inherit our tears & bitterness?

Some may say, well we fought and earned our own country from the successive rogue regimes in Khartoum. Notwithstanding the hard and heroic work done by men and women under Dr John Garang in enormous difficulties in order for us and the future generations to have a country that we call home, the bigger task which is to maintain a stable Country is right in our hands.

Which is why the answer to the question above beg me to go back to the history to find what the Europeans did to African.

We all know that European left Africa 50 or so years ago, but why does the legacy of what they did still very much affecting African today? The answer to the sub-questions above in my opinion is that Europeans had created a system that ensures the lasting instability in Africa. This system is the current form of Western style democracy.

In the discussion that follows, you will notice that Western style democracy and our unique society are incompatible.

The aim of this piece of paper is to initiate the conversation about the type of democracy that suits our unique society (I defined unique society as a society that is fragmented, acutely illiterate, a society that does not know what are their rights and limitations, a society that prides itself as tribe more than as a country).

I will be using this phrase (unique-society) quiet frequently herein as it’s the focal point in the whole idea.

We all know the history of Africa, some more than others. Nevertheless, no one has articulated it as much as the internet site (exploringafrica.matrix.msu.edu). Everything we know or need to know about African stagnation is in that site. However, what is not included in that internet site is how South Sudan can avoid falling into the same pit that ‘swallowed’ many African countries before us.

So how can South Sudan mitigate the risk of plunging into the same pit like many other African countries who got independence before us and instead create and maintain a system of government that seeks to work collectively for the betterment of her citizens?

I will sketch the type of governing system that we should have and how we would be doing it, should we decide to adapt it.

The time is right for South Sudanese to scrap the draft of the ‘permanent’ constitution that is currently being developed. South Sudanese need to sit down and create a governing system that is anti-tribalism, a governing system that every South Sudanese men and women understand and be proud of.

For this, I propose the formation of the Guardian Council to elect the president.

The Guardian Council

South Sudan is comprised of a unique society (a society that has no sense of nationalism). Majority of people identify themselves as Dinkas, Nuers, Bari, Shiluk, etc. with these attributes, it is hard to argue that the people of South Sudan can rationally decide and vote for a leader whose policies bear substances.

People of South Sudan will always vote for a president who is their tribesman. And according to the definition of democracy, the majority rules.

With this in mind, if you are a keen observer of Kenyan politics, you would have notice that Raila Odinga is far more experienced and tough talker than the current president, yet he cannot get the top job simply because the Kikuyu who make up about 22% of Kenya’s population always vote for their tribesmen.

In our case, the Dinka who make up 32% of South Sudan’s population would rule forever. This may sound good to some of my Dinka tribesmen, however, it can be a catalyst for unrest especially if other tribes feel they are being dominated.

With the idea of the Guardian Council, every tribe stand an equal chance to rule the people of South Sudan.

Furthermore, as we all know, politics is about spotting the opportunity and capitalising on it. Thus the fragmentation of South Sudanese society is something that politicians are keen to exploit. This means a leader will always care more for his tribe as there is an incentive for him to buffer his position against other “tribes”.

Therefore, to eliminate this fallacy tactic by the politicians, a system that disincentives it must be adapted. A president should be elected by the body that we would call ‘The Guardian Council’.

So what is the Guardian Council?
The Guardian Council would be made up of ten (10) members (one from each state). Each member of the Guardian Council must have a University degree or more (preferably from business or legal disciplines). Each member must have a clean record in regard to tribalism, corruption, and nepotism. The Council of States would then be charge to elect the Guardian Council.

The current Council of States would be reduce to (40) members (4 from each state) and the general assembly would be charge to elect them. Moreover, each member of the general assembly (MPs) must have a diploma or higher. In addition, each member of the general public who will be charged to elect the members of the general assembly must have a high school certificate or higher to be eligible to vote. The general assembly elections would have to be held every four (4) years.

To avoid the collusion between the Guardian Council and the would-be president, the Guardian Council would have to be well paid. In addition, they must not work in the government of the president that they have elected.

The term of the president in the office would be eight (8) years. After eight (8) years, the president must step down and must not run for the office of the president ever again.

The term of the Guardian Council members would be the same with that of the president which is eight (8) years. During the eighth (8th) year, the new members of the Guardian Council will have to be elected into office by October so that they can prepare for the election of the new president.

The multi-party system that we currently have would have to be abolished, everyone in the country would be under one party, and everyone will have an equal chance to become a president if they categorically convince the Guardian Council by detailing their plans as to why they want to lead the people of South Sudan.

So what are the benefits of the new system to the people of South Sudan if we adapt it?

The joy of independence
Like many Africans before us, independence brought great joy to the people of South Sudan. There was great optimism that after decades of Khartoum oppressive rule and the subsequent brutal civil war, political freedom and independence would provide a voice for all citizens in the political process.

Moreover, there was wide-spread belief that with independence, South Sudan government would be able to use political and economic resources to provide their citizens with basic social and economic services: education, health care, housing, and employment.

However, like many African countries who got their independence before us, the joy of independence and expectations for better living conditions started to wean shortly after.

If someone asked you or I a question as to why things are going backward in our country? It is almost certain that our answer would be the “government is squandering our resources”. This may or may not be true, however, to find the answer for that question, we have to look at the factors that foster malpractices by African governments of which South Sudan government is part of the pack.

If we study critically the legacy of post-independence African governments, one can conclude that South Sudan is exactly following the same terrifying path. The internet site (exploringafrica.matrix.msu.edu) postulated that given the colonial legacy, the first African governments after independence were faced with a multitude of urgent political problems.

Most of these problems come under three large categories:

(1) Sovereignty and security.
(2) National Unity
(3) Basic human services

1. “Sovereignty is a fancy term for authority and power to insure security. The brand new African governments inherited countries that were created by colonialism. These colonies were created and maintained by the force of the colonial governments. Not without cause, the new independent governments were concerned that once colonial rule ended, there would be a strong chance that newly independent countries would face the possibility of disintegration. Consequently, one of the top priorities of the new governments was to ensure the sovereignty and security of their new nation-state”.

A good example in the case of South Sudan was the Panthou war. In April 2012, the SPLA under the directives from president Kiir stormed Panthou and took control of it from SAF (Sudan Armed Forces). Initially, there was a sense of jubilation among South Sudanese citizens, people felt that the government was serious in ensuring the sovereignty and protection of South Sudan’s borders.

The statement from president Kiir “we will not withdraw from Panthou” was an ice on the cake. However, things didn’t turn out the way we would have hoped for, the so-called SPLA “orderly withdrawal” and the subsequent international disappointment on South Sudanese government in the way they handled the situation, turned the supposedly jubilant South Sudanese citizens to question the capabilities of South Sudanese government in running the newly established country’s affairs.

Consequently, some senior members of the SPLM led government begun to reposition themselves as better alternatives to the president (i.e. the leadership wrangling starts). Leadership wrangling in the government diverted the attention of all government officials from the much needed development.

The president has been switched into the defensive mode, all other senior MPs who want to be in the cabinet but failed to be there are constantly working ‘underground’ to destabilise the government simply because they want who they think will put them in the cabinet to be the president, nobody among them including the president cares about the future of the country, all they care is to get or maintain a position.

Hence, with the proposed system, there would be no incentives for these other senior members of SPLM to work against their leader as they know that he/she will step down at the end of the term regardless.

The president himself will work hard for his legacy and not merely to maintain the presidency. The result will be more synergy and thus prosperity and stability in South Sudan.

(2) National Unity. “Remember that. with the exception of a few colonies such as Swaziland and Somalia, European powers created colonies in Africa that were comprised of many different languages, religious, and ethnic groups. Moreover, colonial governments through the practice of indirect rule and divide and rule, created colonial societies that were often deeply divided along ethnic lines.

However, central to the very idea of a nation-state is the necessity of national unity. A nation-state has no chance of remaining a nation-state if it is deeply divided along ethnic or religious lines. National unity is essential for the success of any country. Consequently, a top priority of the new African governments was the development of national unity”.

By now, if you are like me, you would have probably be tired of hearing president Kiir granting the amnesty to various ethnically-comprised rebel groups. Some people questioned why president Kiir keep granting amnesty to criminals who have blood on their hands? Nevertheless, others applaud the persistent by the president to unite the people of South Sudan.

As we all know when David Yau Yau came to join the South Sudan government in response to the first amnesty, he was made a major general despite the fact that he never attended a formal military training. The president thought other rebel groups would abandon their rebellions and join the government with the hope that they would get good positions.

And indeed, many did come back and join the government although Yau Yau did make a U-turn. All these efforts cost money and energy at the expense of much needed development.

Moreover, the people of South Sudan are inherently tribal minded, we lack rationale thinking, we make decisions based on tribal mindset. The Dinka call Nuer “nyagat” (rebel), the Nuer think Dinkas are dictators and have been leading for long and it is about time the Nuer take over by all means.

The Equatorians call both Dinka and Nuer “uncivilised, arrogant, land grabbers”, and the Murle don’t give a heck about what others thinks.

All these weaknesses are being capitalised upon by the politicians, they use their tribesmen to get positions in the government, some help engineer problems between tribes so that they can come in and “offer” to mediate between the warring tribes, their sole propose of doing so is to gain a bargaining power.

Ironically, when they get what they want, they often forget the very people who help them get the position. These created a society that does not trust the government.

However, with the proposed system of government, all these politicians will have no gains in using their tribes as bargaining power. They will instead strive to achieve stability and prosperity in their communities by working together with the president as a team.

(3) Basic human services: “Colonial governments paid little attention to meeting the basic social needs of citizens. This was particularly true in the areas of education, health-care, and housing and adequate employment opportunities. New nationalist governments came to power on the promise that they would work towards meeting these important needs for all citizens. The legitimacy of the first independent governments in Africa depended on their ability to meet these needs”.

If you have travelled the world like me, you would have observed that there is no other country in the world where American dollars are in such a high demand. The recent supposedly “responsible” fiscal policy announcement by the South Sudan central bank governor to devalue the pound, and the subsequent embarrassing reversal of that decision was a perfect example of South Sudanese’s extreme dependency on US dollars.

As a result of the civil war which is the longest in Africa, South Sudan lacks quality housing, no quality of education, no modern healthcare facilities, and no modern economy. These conditions left thousands of South Sudanese with no choice but to take their families to neighbouring countries (Kenya and Uganda).

However, what is worrisome is that the government is busy with its internal crises, there are no plans or initiatives to develop the mentioned sectors which would see South Sudanese returning to their country in large numbers.

However the proposed system would eliminate the government’s internal crises, hence the government would be able to focus on delivering basic services to the people of South Sudan.

Some of you may argue that the problem is Salva Kiir and his “incompetent” government, some people suggest that if somebody else takes over then everything else that is currently bothering the people of South Sudan would be alright.

However, the internet site (exploringafrica.matrix.msu.edu) in their studies of Types of African governments 1960 – 1990, painted a bleak picture of what may await South Sudan if we do not change the current system.

The exploringafrica.matrix.msu.edu explained:

“At their independence, each African country had a constitution that, like the U.S. Constitution, established the “rules and regulations” of government. These constitutions often reflected the systems of government of the colonial power. You will remember that Britain and France had the most colonies in Africa. The governments of Britain and France are multi-party democracies. In this system, two or more political parties compete in regularly scheduled elections to control the government.

At independence, the French and British territories had a constitution that resembled that of their colonial power. The French system is sometimes called a presidential system that where, like in the United States, the president and executive branch have considerable power. State power is shared by the national assembly, or legislative branch.

French colonies, such as Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, and Mali inherited this system in which there is a balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government.

Britain, on the other hand, has a parliamentary system. In a parliamentary system, the national assembly (what in the U.S. is the Congress) selects the executive cabinet from among the members of the national assembly. The head of government in this system is called a Prime Minister. African countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone inherited a parliamentary system.

If you looked at these governments in 1980, twenty years after independence, they did not look like the British and French models imposed at independence. What happened?

…The government structures inherited by independent governments were weak and lacked capacity. However, governments were called upon to provide social services and develop economic infrastructure. Colonially inherited government structures were not suitable, it would seem, to meet the new political demands of independent African countries.

The constitutions that were developed for the newly independent countries were different from the political systems developed by the colonial state. As you can imagine, there was tension between the old colonial system and the new constitutional system.

Underdeveloped economies provided scarce revenues for governments to use in meeting the great demands for social services and to stimulate economic growth. With limited economic means, governments were not able to meet the legitimate needs of its citizens. Lack of government response led to growing popular dissatisfaction in many African countries. This situation put tremendous strain on the political system.

Finally, one of the most difficult political problems newly independent governments faced was that of developing national unity among people who were divided along ethnic, language and religious lines. Imagine what happened in countries divided along ethnic lines when newly independent governments were not able to meet the expectation of the citizens.

Governments faced with growing opposition often used limited government resources on specific groups of people in an attempt to gain support of that group. The favoured group was often the ethnic or language group of the political elite. This led to increasing ethnic tensions as the ethnic groups not favoured struggled to receive what they considered to be their fair share of government support.

At the same time, the favoured group not wanting to give up their position of privilege, attempted to maintain their privilege. Do you understand how a weak government, with limited resources can lead to ethnic tensions, that in turn further weaken the political system?

Given these factors many African governments faced serious political problems within a few years of independence. One of the ways to deal with political crisis is to change the system of government. The 1960s witnessed the initiation of two types of governments that were responses to political crisis.

Military Governments

Almost all African countries that gained their independence in the 1960s started out with multiparty systems. However by the end of the 1960s, only a handful of African countries maintained a multiparty system. Indeed by 1970, half of the independent countries in Africa had military governments. That is, the military took over control of the government.

Instead of elected civilians, the government was controlled by the military. Why do you think that there were so many military coups just a few years after these countries became independent?

Here are a few of the reasons given by some political scientists:
African governments inherited a weak political system from the colonial era. Consequently, the first African governments did not have the capacity to govern effectively. Military leaders, afraid that their countries would fall apart politically, decided that they could do a better job of governing.

Given the under-developed economic systems they inherited, many African governments were unable to meet the social and economic needs of their countries. This situation often led to a crisis of legitimacy. That is, the citizens became disillusioned –fed-up– with governments that could not provide basic social and economic services, such as jobs, education, and adequate health-care.

Military coup leaders in Africa often justified their taking power on the grounds that the prior civilian government had been unable to meet these basic needs.

The political environment of the early post-colonial years gave rise to ethnic tensions that at times became so severe as to threaten the political system. The military claimed a right to intervene and take power in order to stop ethnic and regional rivalries from developing into a civil war.

The strains on the political system in the early years of independence provided an environment in which corruption became widely practiced in some African countries. Government officials, often frustrated by their inability to be effective, used their government position to benefit themselves and members of their family.

Military leaders often used the pretext of widespread corruption to justify their taking power.

This is quite a list of weaknesses in the post-independence governments in Africa. Indeed, so fed up were the citizens of some countries, that they actually welcomed the early military coups. However, military regimes are not democratic; indeed, one of the first things that military governments do is dissolve the legislative branch of government.

Moreover, military governments in Africa were no more successful than civilian governments in addressing the political, social, and economic issues, which provided the environment in which the coup d’etats took place.

In spite of popular opposition to military rule, between 1960 and 1985 there were 131 attempted coups in Africa, of which 60 were successful! And three countries have had six successful military coups! Indeed, out of 54 independent African countries, only six countries have not experienced an attempted or successful coup since they became independent”.

Some of you may argue that South Sudan is different from other African countries; however, in my opinion, South Sudan’s current situation is identical to those experienced by African countries in the early years after attainment of their independence.

One of the approaches for South Sudan to preclude all of the mentioned issues herein is to adapt the Guardian Council system.

Keep in mind that the aim of this document is to start a conversation about the way forward in South Sudan. If you like the idea, spread it and advocate for it.

Agok Takpiny
Country: Australia

12 Comments

  1. Collins Kepa says:

    Takpiny.

    Everything in life has merits and demerits. As such, I personally disagree with your proposal on the basis that it could even be the worst alternative to the Western System of Democracy. Please note that this is a personal opinion, but not something to discredit your effort. Nevertheless, the way forward in South Sudan is to identify the problem and fix it if we all agree to be honest by speaking out the truth.

    The problem of South Sudan is Salva Kiir and his Dinkanization policy; hence, addressing it will solve the problem forever. Tribalism is a cultural phenomenon rooted in Dinkas and one failure that some analyst make is by referring to Equatorians as a tribe. I hope people could learn to embrace the principles that Equatorians abide with.

    • john jerry says:

      With Dinkas in 7 States and 32% of the population of South Sudan. Does this qualify the Dinkas to rule the Country forever? Think again,bigger is not always better.

  2. malith Alier says:

    I love your proposal, however the country is so screwed up such that it will not accommodate new proposals.

  3. @ Agok, this is communist system of governance that you are alluding to but it was already rejected by the people of South Sudan during the liberation period. it will never work.

  4. Albino Kosti says:

    First off all, there are only two systems of the government in the World, the Capitalism and Socialism to Communism or dictatorship like what we see now in South Sudan under Kiir leadership.

    The democracy and a good constitution is very good to govern South Sudan. The tribalism will banish when we find a leader that doesn’t encourage tribalism opposite the one we have now under Dink rule. We need a leader that loves all 65 tribes of South Sudan, leader with a big mind.

    By the way Dinka are not 32% population of South Sudan that was statistic of Abel Alier during his rule.

  5. mawut says:

    How about we simply limit the terms of presidency to 8 years as you stated and instead of having the “guardian council” or what have you? why not just simply adopt the parliamentarian style democracy, akin to the one you guys in Australia have?
    since illiteracy and tribalism are the two factors impeding our political system, a parliamentary system where the president or a prime minister is elected in the parliament would take the vastly illiterate tribally-oriented majority out of the equation. only the elected MPs should be tasked with electing a leader and only an elected Mp, (most likely the leader of their political party) should contest for the top position.

    Additionally, if elected a president or a prime minster, he would be subject to impeachment by the parliamentarians if he screws up. a parliamentary or a representative democracy is to me the cure to our current political ailments.

    a lack of a definite system is the genesis of all the mess we have in Africa and in South Sudan in particular. a system whereby a president is given limited terms, separation of powers and defined roles of the leader and that of the members of the parliament would do wonders with our current political mess. .

    • Agok Takpiny says:

      Dear Mawut, that was my intention of writing this article, given our societal situation, it is meant to be a starting point of the conversation about the type of governing system that we people of South Sudan should have. your suggestions are so great especially limiting the term of the president to 8 years and not to be able to run for the office of the president again. if we people of South Sudan brainstorm further on the ideas which many people herein are able to suggest, we would end up with a constitution and a system that would utilise our extreme diversity for the good of the country as opposed to the current system.

  6. Dear all,
    even if God the creator of heaven and earth come down and decide to rule South Sudan, we will still complain that why did God choose to Rule South Sudan Alone instead of the whole world. God must be crazy to me personally, the so called democracy will never work in South Sudan because of so many reasons of which some are finger pointing at Dinka that they are the ones practising tribalism and nepotism.
    if i can asked a question, those making noise always about not wanting the presence of Dinka in Nimule, how do you call them, my fellow country men??

    Again in Kajokaji for instance, if you are not from there and you are a business person and it happened to take your goods there, no one will buy from you.

    Are those in Kajokaji Dinkas? he who finger points at Dinka is even a more tribalist than Dinka.

    As to my personal point of view, South Sudan needs a military ruler like during revolutionary struggle. By then we were so united why because if you do wrong, you are sentenced to death. there was no tribe, we were all SPLA period.
    so, we people of South Sudan, we are very notorious and we only believe in killing.

  7. Chol Dau says:

    Dear Agok,
    There is nothing inherent in “Western Democracy” which makes it incompatible with African concept of governance. Before the industrial and cultural revolution in Europe most citizens lived under oppressive feudal systems where emperors, kings, and even popes and bishops were mini gods. Then people rose up against these injustice and demanded and created human rights and democracy for themselves. It was not the Western leaders who gave these rights to their citizens, but the people themselves made it impossible for leaders to govern otherwise.

    In Africa, citizens are meek and look up to “leaders” for solutions. This does not work. Our people know how to liberate themselves from others (like in our case against the Arab North Sudan) but do not know how to actualize themselves (liberation from oneself). Democracy is not a work of art-you cannot buy it and wear it like a piece of cloth. Democracy is inherent in our lives. What we have not mustered is how to use it for our benefit. Who does not know that it is his/her right to be governed by the person of their choice? Who does not know you have the right to question the person above your head (leader) about their performance? Who does not know that national resources should be used fairly and transparently? We all know these without being taught.

    Even if we substitute the current governance structures with other forms like the one you suggested, we will remain in the same prediction: leaders will continue to loot and lord it over us simply because we are not claiming and making happen our God given rights. In the land of the blind, those in leadership take advantage of others. This is the reality of our time. And unless a critical majority reaches understanding of the fact that it is the People that lead and Not the Chosen Few, we will continue to wallow in poverty, complain and unjustified tribal animosity.

    But, you wrote out of frustration and I understand your pain and concern. We only differ in approach.

  8. Agok Takpiny says:

    Dear Chol Dau,
    you are 100% right, however, we have to know that there is a big difference between violent fight and peaceful fight. In our case with Arabs in North Sudan, we rose up and demanded our rights through violent means, that was perfectly justifiable as the situation demanded it. in that type of fighting, you only need able bodies, both educated and illiterates. However, the type of fighting that you are alluding to, which is by peaceful means is only possible when the majority of the population is educated, in a place like our country however, if you and I start a protest it can be quickly hijacked by uneducated, unemployed youths and make it a looting and destructive activity, and from there you know what to expect from the police which would ultimately thwart the cause. therefore in my opinion, the idea of people demanding their rights is not ideal in our acutely illiterate society. Let us continue to brainstorm and see if we can come up with a system that can make leaders be held accountable for their actions, a system that would preclude politicians from looking or making their tribesmen as human shield for their political positions.

  9. Isaac Deng says:

    – At the Rivonia treason trial in 1964, when Mandela faced the possibility of a death sentence, he said the following powerful words:

    “I HAVE fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But, if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

  10. Majongdit says:

    Dear Agok W. Takpiny,

    This is surely a well researched article. You have a good idea but South Sudanese are very difficult people. We can change all systems but the mentality of our people will still pose problems to that system itself.

    The population of Dinka in South Sudan is not 32%. According to 2008 Census, Dinka was said to be 3.3 million. That makes slightly over 40% of the 8.2 million. We may have doubts about that census but still it is official and it’s what we use till today until another census is conducted.

    I don’t care what the population of Dinka is. It is set to be higher or lower than what was given in 2008, but it can not be the basis of the Dinka rule. Anybody even from the smallest tribes can rule this country as long as he/she possesses the right qualities of a leader. Numbers can not sway us off our real values.
    The Madiba clan is not among the biggest clan of any biggest tribe in South Africa, but because they have Mandela who was a gifted leader, it was Mandela that became the President of South Africa, not the Madiba clan. That is what I go for in South Sudan. I will support any leader who has the right quality regardless of where he comes from.
    The Bari tribe is not a small tribe nor a very big tribe, but I like James Wani Igga from one of small clans of the Bari.
    It is a hard fact that a tribe matters so much in African politics, but realities always stay put.
    We need to aspire for a South Sudan that is democratic and allows equality for all. But to realize such a dream, it needs a lot of efforts right from the citizenry upto the government.
    Otherwise, I hail your opinions …with amendments.
    Majongdit

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