Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 13 June 2014

Why federalism must wait


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 adiokmayik@yahoo.com

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  • 13 June 2014 10:13, by Reuben

    "In fact federalism brings government power closer to people."When goverment power is brought closer to the people then services are brought closer and no one complains that Dinka takes everything,stability follows and unit comes.With the current system u are advocating for,there will be no unity bse eveything is enjoyed by Jienge only.Federation is the best.63 tribes for federation 1 agains

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    • 13 June 2014 11:54, by Sir King

      We can not wait for another month my dear Mayik, we are tired of your useless administration.

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    • 14 June 2014 06:18, by jur_likang_a_ likan’g

      Mr Author, stop using the word must in making political statements that require choice amongst citizens. You can not walk over people’s constitutional rights. Who are you to order people to follow your opinion? Wake up boy!

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  • 13 June 2014 14:09, by Gatkuoth

    "I think Dr. Riek knew what federalism meant way before Equatorian conference held last year, 2013, in which the idea was coined". writing out of rationality would help your hatred toward Dr. Riek. For your information, he was in the front-line for support of Federalism right from the drafting of the Interim constitution in 2011. read this...it may help in your citation

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    • 18 June 2014 12:20, by Adodi Jotuwa

      Having read this article including the comments, I have realized that all comments posted here are useless because they believe that federalism at this time is a realistic solution to the root causes of the current political crisis, ignoring the truth—Dr. Fool Riek Machar’s poor political ambition, including his poor political record in the history of South Sudan since 1991.

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      • 18 June 2014 12:21, by Adodi Jotuwa

        Do you really know how many types of federalism you’re advocating and which one is vividly defined and interpreted by Dr. Fool Riek Machar? Do your research, please. Which type of federalism realistically fits our current educational, political and economic environment? This author, Mr. James Adiok Mayikk is one of the experienced political analysts and should be considered as a think-tank.

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        • 18 June 2014 12:22, by Adodi Jotuwa

          Almost every believer in Riek’s camp in 1991 disagreed with the vision and political strategy of Dr. John Garang which brought us here today as a country. Where would we or South Sudan be if we were to agree with Dr. Fool Riek Machar’s political prostitution of rebelling against SPLM/A by easily ending up in Khartoum and returning later to be forgiven in Nairobi in 2002?

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          • 18 June 2014 12:23, by Adodi Jotuwa

            How and why do you expect the enemy of your freedom since their entry into Sudan (Land of the Black) in 1821 that South Sudanese have been fighting against since pre-independence of 1956 to appoint you as the President of South Sudan in 1997 (KPA) following your surrender? How can you surrender to your enemy and expect to be treated as a King or appointed to rule South Sudan in 1997?

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            • 18 June 2014 12:25, by Adodi Jotuwa

              Why Should Dr. Fool Reik Machar’s followers struggle to prove to South Sudanese and the whole world that they are warriors but failed repeatedly to fight against Khartoum’s successive Islamic regimes who easily resort to using them as militia to kill their own brothers and sisters in South Sudan? South Sudanese desperately need education, political stability and prosperity, not guns or corruption.

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              • 18 June 2014 12:26, by Adodi Jotuwa

                If indeed there is poor governance, does it mean that we should opt for federalism? If there is corruption, nepotism or poor institutional performance, does it mean that we should pick up federalism as the best viable governing system in the 75% illiterate population of South Sudan? There are different interpretations of federalism between Dr. Fool Riek Machar’s camp and some Equaroian’s.

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                • 18 June 2014 12:44, by Adodi Jotuwa

                  Believe me or not, any political theory from Dr. Fool Riek Machar’s camp is never a solution to this country because of his insistent tribal politics. History has proved it and continued to demonstrate its ugliness to us up to the present time. South Sudan will slowly and surely evolve to that perceived federal level where people will be only arguing about its meaningful interpretations & benefit.

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  • 13 June 2014 18:07, by Kim Deng

    Anyone from Dinka Kingdom doesn’t want see/hear any outside suggestion that would oppose their Kingdom existance. They (Jaang) were against self-determination for the people of South Sudan until they were forced in 1991. The Mighty Nuer Warriors alone are capable to force the same Dinka Kingdom to accept what is good for everyone in this Jungle (South Sudan).

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  • 14 June 2014 04:37, by Joseph

    Nobody fight or plan for federalism, but kiir force people. Kiir mobilized his villager’s people to central to fight whoever oppose him which end up as Nuer massacre, therefore let us try another government system. Our people at grassroots suffer for long; Let us give them chance to make their own policies and power for the better future and development.

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  • 14 June 2014 07:38, by Philosopherking

    I am still undecided whether the author is ignorant, hypocritical of mentally inconsistent or all the above. Do you think peace, stability, and human development will fall from the sky? You say, federal system is good system of governance, yet say we must wait for more inefficiency, dictatorship and domination?

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    • 14 June 2014 07:44, by Philosopherking

      What better measure for human development is there than people making decisions and governing themselves? If some states are not ready, they can temporarily give their powers to the central government and allow others to autonomously run the affairs of their own states. We can not be held hostage by the incompetence of those who are not ready.

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  • 14 June 2014 07:54, by Philosopherking

    One of the most irrational articles I have ever read on federalism! Federalism is the division of powers between levels of government, what has that got to do with division among people? Every state already has a government and civil servants...what is lacking is a system that is democratic (fair, efficient, representative, accountable, transparent and participatory) and that is a federal system!

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  • 14 June 2014 09:53, by wani

    Federalism is the dreams and hope per now. you have shown your political ideology enough and nothing can come again from your york.
    our political aspiration and manifest is federalism because it’s better we owned our services than been directed by individualistic interest that serve personal casket .

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  • 14 June 2014 10:56, by Msudi

    Mr Mayik,
    You are entitled to your opinion but remember while you live and move freely in Juba ten of thousands of Nuer nationals do have the freedom you enjoy. they have been confined to concentration camps around Juba in the same city where you are allowed to move about with out any restriction or risk being killed.You dinka ngok of Unity state, we do need you. join the sold out abyei

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  • 17 June 2014 10:02, by Ambago

    It is obvious that the opponents of federalism are basically a trait of people who have contracted the “Jallaba” attitude of centralising state power and wealth in the hands of a few. The author of this article should revisit the SPLM manifesto and acquaint himself with the root causes of the Sudanese problems. This "Neo Jallabism" will only tear us apart.

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