By James Adiok Mayik
June 12, 2014 - Introduction: Many if not all advocates of federalism in South Sudan fail to see many facts as to why South Sudan is not ready for a federal governance now. A federal system in South Sudan at this time is likely to be based on ethnic lines and that will delay civilized integration based on nationalism. Yes, South Sudan may need a lot of things given its infancy in nationhood. However, these needs may not come all at once but one at a time. The immediate needs for South Sudan at the moment are not federalism and democracy as currently being used by Dr. Riek’s rebellion to kill innocent people. South Sudan needs peace, stability, and human development. These are critical areas which need our country’s immediate attention, energies, resources, and efforts.
Federalism is a good system in the view of international best practices. It decentralizes power, decision making, resources, and brings national authorities closer to every citizen. However, the shortcomings or successes of federal governance depend on the stakeholders in a particular nation and South Sudan’s case could fit that particular concern. In the case of South Sudan and especially at the moment, federalism will form small villages of tribes in which creativities coming from members of other tribes shall be resisted. Federalism in South Sudan at the moment will force us back to ways of the 1800s Africa. South Sudan is a new nation, yes, but that must not always be used as an excuse to bog down progressive perspectives and aspirations of the people to move forward.
My concern on the ongoing advocacy for federal governance in South Sudan is centered on two aspects. First, South Sudan has recorded more than 70% illiteracy rate. That rate is alarming indeed, not fit enough to help the masses understand the literal meaning of federalism. The second concern is centered on the result of this low capacity among the people. With such level of human underdevelopment, more than 70% illiteracy rate makes ethnicity become an impediment for a knowledge-based and creativity-based economic development. Federalism in South Sudan at this time will create villagism and savage belligerence amongst tribes. Cattle rustling, attacks against villages, struggle over strategic business lands, and tribal discrimination in the job markets will be a game of the time.
With those two concerns in mind, federal governance in South Sudan could easily tarmac our highway to genocide. States which are curved out of ethnic lines will advance impression of ethnic loyalty making everybody coils back to their tribal villages while rendering a very weak central government. That exclusive tribal loyalty will definitely render the central government less important and that will Somalize our country. Time is the essence when it comes to the evolution of ideas. A good idea works for the immediate benefit of a nation when there are more than half of the populations who understand it. South Sudan must wait until when more than 70% of its 11 million people can define, understand, and utilize the literal meaning of federalism by themselves. Having lived in more sophisticated nations where federalism has engendered durable solutions to governance problems does not mean a few of us should impose a knowledge most people need time to absorb.
Having known that, the immediate need of the people of South Sudan right now is not federalism but rather creation of a conducive environment in which progressive ideas of societal organization could be introduced. These ideas such as federalism, democracy, and many more cannot work if peace is absent. Such ideas cannot work if the people, the economy, health system, and education system are not stable. Moreover, how can people understand which governance is better than which when majority of the citizens cannot read even labels on their own prescriptions? There are many other priorities South Sudan leaders should focus their efforts, wisdoms, and energies on other than jumping the time. South Sudan, its peoples, and their ideas do not need radical revolutionary but rather evolutionary changes. This will ensure that South Sudanese are not strained in coercive changes which do not consider their situational contexts.
Like I mentioned, federalism is not South Sudan’s priority. One pressing challenge is weak institutions of the government. That should concern us all. In that connection, the government of South Sudan must prioritize development of the people in order to hasten inclusive understanding of our country’s political direction. South Sudan with its development partners must focus on building training institutions which will engage the post war youth in self-development. Vocational training centers should be opened for the former combatants including the white army. Such innovative approaches will reduce widespread use of guns by youth who have no alternative living skills. A need for collective responsibility to grow together without tribal hates is one more reason why federalism must wait until the people evolve in terms of human capacity to choose what is right for them.
When South Sudan has a well-developed human capital which is capable to blend into the outside world, options of governance will be discussed more inclusively. Well educated and trained South Sudanese citizens will gain the ability to see beyond ethnicity and that is the time federalism will serve its right purpose for South Sudan. When citizens gain the abilities to contribute to an equitable economic development; when students choose to attend schools of their choices regardless of locations within South Sudan boundaries; and when professionals compete for jobs within their specialty anywhere in the country on the basis of meritocracy rather than ethnic affiliations; that is the time when federalism will serve more good than evil.
Dr. Riek Machar and Wani Igga: Why is Dr. Riek for federalism now rather than then? Here is my take on Riek’s current school of thoughts. Unlike Wani Igga, I think Dr. Riek knew what federalism meant way before Equatorian conference held last year, 2013, in which the idea was coined. At the time when Dr. Riek Machar was the second most powerful man in the SPLM led government, the federalism idea had no use for him. May be, to him at the time, the idea was a hell of nonsense because he knew it was going to force him down into becoming a mere Nuer and a villager of the same. Perhaps, now that the people of Greater Equatoria have virtually proven to be the center of attention in this political conflict with perceived ethnic undertone, Dr. Riek has gotten a new use for the idea. What could be that new use? The new use for the federalism idea in the mindset of Dr. Machar is to make it a tool to create a new political polarization and rift in the government’s frontline.
Why is Wani Igga against Dr. Riek’s advocacy for federalism now? Well, Equatorians seems to be Dr. Riek’s new targets of attraction. Riek may want to draw masses of Equatorian region into his political discipleship in a bid to balance the South Sudan government’s power equation. Politics is like playing chest game. Dr. Riek’s quest for federalism is a very bad move to the Vice President (VP) Wani Igga because it is likely to sway the neutrality of Equatoria region on the ethnic line of the current war. Perhaps in the VP’s judgment, if Equatoria buys into Riek’s call for federalism now, it may also force Vice President Igga down into becoming a mere Bari, a view Dr. Riek himself held when he was in the Presidency. If Dr. Riek Machar said nothing about federalism when he was in charge, why Igga now after replacing Dr. Riek? In my view, Dr. Riek may only win politicians but not youth in arms.
What is the role of oil in this war? In addition to Riek’s first use of the federalism idea which is to lure Equatorians to his rebellion, part of the underlying perception is that Dr. Machar wants to convince the Nuer that a federal Republic of South Sudan will exclusively put the oil wealth in their pockets. This pushes the Nuer youth to fight even harder and kill whoever comes in the way. In Dr. Machar’s mind, Greater Upper Nile region, which is home to all the Nuer ethnic groups, sits on the oil reserves currently under active commercial exploitation. In his vision as a rebel leader, federalism hence will ultimately deny oil money from enriching their perceived enemies, the Dinkas, most of who inhabit the Greater Bar el ghazal region. Whether this is real or part of the propaganda to fight the war is yet to be known. The fact is that most if not all South Sudan’s 4 trillion confirmed oil reserve does not lie under the Nuer villages. So why are the Nuer fighting?
Here are some blatant evidences to this analysis. A look at the fighters on Dr. Riek’s side shows all the Nuer with a pure tribal outlook struggling to capture and control the oilfields and capital cities of the Greater Upper Nile region. To the Nuer fighters, any member of different tribes found in their way is a problem and must die (massacres witnessed in the Bentiu hospital and mosque, Bor, and Malakal hospitals are practical evidence). Nuer youth’s tribal outlook in view of oil money is the reason why even the Shilluk civilians are being targeted to the point where some have been killed, maimed and even castrated in Upper Nile State. Dr. Riek’s opposition to the United Nations’ new mandate which included protection of oil facilities on the UNMISS mandate shows the world that Riek’s end goal or call it propaganda to make youth fight for his power, is to control the country’s economic politics.
Conclusion: It must be noted that our country should not be held hostage by a few who tend to impose what they see on everyone. Our country and its people should be allowed to grow naturally rather than coerced. With more than 70% illiteracy rate, the implication is that 90% of 11 million South Sudanese are left to spectate and wonder how they are being governed by a few elites who call themselves historical leaders. It is an outdated thinking that these so called historical leaders are right all the time. We must move on to focus all our resources on building our younger generations’ capacities.
We have a huge oil reserve, quantified at about four trillion barrels confirmed most of which under active commercial exploitation. This makes us a very rich society only if we stop fighting and sit to work and share. There is no winner in fighting over power to control the oil money. We will all win when we tap this resource with humility and a big heart to share with fellow nations. The state of our nationals’ capacities is quite pathetic but it is a challenge we must face headlong. Violence will only dwindle the little capacity will have as a nation because it sends a message to donors and investors how dangerous to work with we may become at times.
With more than 20 years of violent civil conflict between South Sudanese and their counterparts in Sudan, many generations of the current South Sudan had been denied access to tools and facilities of self-development. As a result, most of the current people of South Sudan have no capacity to understand the difference between what they have now and what they need to have in order to change their lives. This makes me think, in conclusion, that federalism is no priority at the moment.
I am not saying federalism is a bad system of governance. In fact federalism brings government power closer to people. My concern is the timing of such a system in the middle of our ethnic politics. Federalism at this time in South Sudan shall disintegrate our country into tribal units other than administrative units. Tribal units can be a very dangerous tool for Somalization of South Sudan. The immediate need for the people now is peace, stability, and human development. Federalism can wait until we understand its benefits.
James Adiok Mayik is a concerned South Sudanese national. He lives in Juba and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org