A bystander on federalism in South Sudan [Part 2]

By: Alier Aciek Kut

Merits of federalism:

The people of a particular region may have different aspirations, traditions and cultures that are so important to them. Communities are always distressful when their cultural heritages are not respected, protected or not given the honour they deserve. The national government sometimes ignores these culturally rich traditions because of lack of knowledge and understanding or because of too much attention on national issues. The states governments always pay attention to cultural aspirations of their citizens and therefore their policies are designed and made to preserve and conserve local traditions and cultural aspirations.

It provides a hurdle to the dominance of the majority and the marginalisation of the minority by the majority. It is very much possible for the majority tribes to dominate the national government, but in the states where locals’ needs matter the most, the minority tribes dominate all organs of the government. This eliminates the fear and syndrome of domination. So federalism minimises the consequences of failure to understand that in a free and democratic world, numbers rule. Democracy is sometimes defined as the rule of the majority with consideration and respect to the views, opinions and aspirations of the minority.

Demerits of federalism:

Federal system of government can lead to duplication of government, wasteful, over-lapping or conflicting policies in the country. This can be very confusing as to which government is responsible for a particular issue and to what extent. For example, the insecurity in former state of Jonglei at the inception of the CPA was taken by national government as communities’ problems over cattle, pastures and water, and therefore the responsibility of state government there to quell it. There was lawlessness across the state. You can steal, kill and kidnap somebody’s child and still you can be a free man and remaining at large, with no one investigating to hold you accountable. Disarmament was conducted to take the guns off the hands of civilians but to no avail.  It did not succeed because the government took the guns and left without any protection mechanism in place for people and their properties. So the people rearm themselves to safeguard their safety, safety of their children and properties.

It leads to inequitable development in the country because some states that are rich in resources than others and therefore can generate more revenues to meet their development targets. If the states that are poor in natural resources do not get adequate funding from the national government, then they will remain behind in term of development. So in the same country, there will be developed, developing and undeveloped states because of inequality in resources. For instance, Juba is more developed than any other towns in South Sudan because of funding from the national government to develop road infrastructure. Federalism creates real inequalities as rich states offer more employment opportunities and better benefits than the poor ones. Uneven distribution of resources is another source of regional inequalities in term of living standard because the citizens of states bestow with wealth generating materials can get better earnings, incomes and services.

Federal system can lead to harmful and unhealthy struggle and rivalry for influence among the states. Other states may even venture into a rebellion against the national government or against each other to assert their influence. Rivalry between states can make some to be more selfish and care only for their own interests by advocating for course of actions that do not promote the betterment for all. The competition for influence by the states is always a threat to peace, security and stability of the country.

It spreads, widens and multiplies corruption. Corruption, misuse and abuse of power and mismanagement of resources is always blamed on senior government officials and those close and connected to them. If every state is to have a legislature, executive and judiciary, then every single Pound in the country meant for development will end up in the pockets of these officials occupying the named organs and there will be nothing left to pursue that development. 

It is expensive to have a federal system of government as more people are elected to offices at the national level and states levels. Also both the states and the national governments have executive and judicial officials. In South Sudan, there are a number legislative assemblies and a number of councils of ministers. This is one of the reasons why the budget of South Sudan is always exhausted on salaries, allowances and other privileges with less money left for development. It is argued that federalism is only afforded by those countries that are rich.

Federalism promotes regionalism which may be against the unity of the people in the country if misunderstood and inappropriately applied. At the time when South Sudan was divided into three regions; Equatoria, Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile, its people were not speaking in one voice, but in three voices. The effect of which resulted in Kokora that was disastrous politically as far as Addis Ababa Agreement was concerned. Now, cattle keepers travelled from Lakes and Jonglei states to Equatoria region in search for better pastures and if they commit any wrong in the process, for example, destroying crops, the locals officials all the times responded by campaigning for the cattle keepers to go back to their states with their cattle, instead of punishing them under the law for wrong doing of destroying crops. Federalism is not compartmenting tribes in a way that prevent them from interaction by way of intertribal marriages, sharing of resources, and residing and living together as one countrymen.

It can lead to divided loyalty; loyalty to your state and loyalty to your country and this affects someone’s patriotism, especially when the national government fails to initiate national programmes that will attract and rally the citizens’ attentions, imaginations and aspirations in support of such programmes.

Federalism does not eliminate poverty because despite its preferences of the government being made closer enough to the local people, still elites formulate policies that may not be in lines with the needs of the local people. The most concerned citizens are ignored and their views on issues affecting them always missed out in policy frameworks. The elites do not understand the needs of the locals and therefore always come up with policies that do little to reduce poverty.

Local interest and identity are often compromise in the name of national ones. When there are disputes that are not clearly defined in the constitution or statutes, national government always win. Its laws are supreme over the states’ laws and therefore can easily prevail in such disputes.        

The starting point for federalism:

The starting point for federalism in South Sudan has to be the presence of Transitional Constitution because we cannot afford to begin from nowhere. The decentralisation expressed in the Transitional Constitution is very much federalism for the reason that federalism itself is a product of decentralisation. You shall not have federalism when decentralisation is deficient.

Now South Sudan is preparing to draft a new constitution. There are heated debates on which system of government the country is to adopt in the new constitution. The unitary system and federal system are the main ones the debates are centered on. Already the mistrust created by politicians and inflicted on the tribes of South Sudan has made the debates to be tribal and regional in character, and the constitution requires the country to redeem itself from such tribal and regional affiliations; to adopt a government system that will help in defusing tension and eliminating the mistrust. Adopting a federal system will be a first remedial step to neutralise the doubts and suspicions that have existed and characterised domestic politics in South Sudan for long, and to underscore a point that big tribes have no interests of dominating the smaller tribes. Under federalism, gaps and differences that stay alive among tribes will be bridged, trust will be built and stability will be achieved. Also adopting a federal system in the new constitution will be a sacred honour to those who stood up for the rights of the South in 1947, and particularly William Deng Nhial who strongly believed that federalism was one of the solutions to Sudan’s problems at his times and at these times, the belief and faith in federal system to solve the current deficiencies and insufficiencies in governing South Sudan is much needed.

If the current constitution is the basis for federalism, then we have to improve it and powers like executive removing elected officials ought to be outlawed, allowing states to have judiciary parallel to national judiciary because you cannot have a law making body in the states with no judiciary to interpret and apply the laws such law making body make, introducing judicial review principle where all laws, policies and actions of government officials are subjected to court action to substantiate their constitutionality and legality. That all laws, policies and actions of government officials must conform to the constitution or else the court can legally declare them null and void.

There is need for the constitution to safeguard states from being dissolved or altered in any way, by the national government. Devolution is necessary, decentralisation is necessary, and states are necessary. The irony of the Transitional Constitution is that the national executive have powers to remove governors and can dissolve state legislature when national security is threatened. These are some of the gross weaknesses in the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan. If there are problems that are believed to be perpetuated by officials in the states, prosecute those officials if some of their actions contravene the law. Or allow the citizens of the states to exercise the right of recall, where the electorates are asked to confirm whether the elected officials shall continue and complete the term of office they were elected or shall be removed from office and replaced with the new ones.

South Sudan is a frail state that is fading and failing. It has to pick itself up again. Difficult decisions have to be made. We have to prove that we can manage South Sudan by proving doubters wrong that the wars of 1955-1972 and that of 1983-2005 were not fought in vain. If South Sudanese are to do away with all these vices, then we have to come up with a constitutional system were tensions can be reduced, chances of mistrusts can be minimised, trust can be built and the divide can be bridged.

The powers and the resources the government has belong to South Sudanese. If this is true, then all the powers and the resources shall not be conferred on national government only. Some of these powers and resources have to remain with the states. If South Sudanese are to do away with the deeply rooted conflicts they faced day in day out, then true federalism have to be tested.    

If the devil is in the details, then the exclusive powers of national government should include:

  1. Army
  2. Currency, coinage and exchange control
  3. Foreign affairs and international representation
  4. Passports and visas
  5. Immigration and aliens control
  6. Declaration of war
  7. Be a party to any treaty, convention or international agreement
  8. Be a member of any international organisation, like UN, AU, IGAD
  9. Issue imports and exports licenses
  10. Collect imports and exports duties

Federalism is a sharing of administrative burden between the national government and the states governments. The extra powers and responsibilities to be added to the numerated powers above should be considered by the framers of the new constitution. Other powers and responsibilities not mentioned above should be left to the states.

Under federalism, South Sudanese shall pull together, come together and hold together.

The author can be reached via email: alieraciekkut@gmail.com or Tel. +211926517281

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