July 9, 2014 (JUBA) – Douglas Johnson, a veteran historian and author who has worked in Sudan for nearly 50 years, said federalism meant different things in the minds of different people and leaders in the new country.
He gave a lecture on Saturday at Juba University as the debate over federalism in the country continues to grow.
In a 24-page paper entitled Federalism in the History of South Sudanese Political Thoughts, presented at the lecture, Johnson highlighted the genesis of the demands before Sudan became independent in 1956.
He briefly described the attitudes towards federalism and the ways it was presented in periods ranging from before Sudan’s independence in 1956 up through South Sudan’s independence today which was achieved through the exercise of the right of self-determination.
DEMANDS FOR FEDERALISM
In his presentation, Johnson referred to historical documented statements by various southern leaders in regard to federalism and self-determination or separation of the South from the North.
He said the first time that the collective opinion of southern Sudanese by then was canvassed about a national political issue was at the Juba conference of 1947. The conference, he explained, was exploratory and could take no decision by itself.
The 1947 conference, he said, was about whether the Southern leadership of the educated class was willing to take part as appointed members of the legislative assembly that was being established in Khartoum. There was no mention of federalism.
It was in 1953 under the first southern party, the Liberal Party that South Sudanese demanded federalism in order to vote for independence of the Sudan and maintain its national unity, or opt for self-determination.
One of the earliest documented statements came in a petition addressed to the British governor-general and forwarded by Abdel Rahman Sule, a Muslim merchant from Juba and co-founder of the Liberal Party, in which southern Sudanese asked for federation or be administered under the trusteeship of the United Nations till such time they are able to decide on their own.
The federation was presented as the only viable path to the unity of Sudan, and self-determination for the South was also raised as the only acceptable alternative to federation.
He revealed that the earliest five southern leaders who emerged in 1953 and organisers of Liberal Party who promoted the idea of federalism were Benjamin Lwoki (president of Liberal Party), Abdel Rahman Sule (chairman of the Juba branch), Buth Diu (member of national parliament from Upper Nile), and senators Paulo Logali Wani (from Equatoria) and Stanislaus Paysama (from Bahr el Ghazal).
History also reveals they were also the ones who organised the first ever pan-southern conference of 250 delegates of chiefs and representatives from the diaspora, held in the Juba Cinema in October 1954, which debated the southern Sudan’s future in Sudan.
It was at this 1954 conference that the idea of federalism was publicly debated by a southern-wide body for the first time.
During this conference a hot debate ensued for and against federalism in which a delegate, Necodemo Gore, raised strong concerns entailing that southern Sudan was premature for federalism as it was going to be difficult to find people or finance to run a southern federation.
One of the organisers of the conference and southern representative in the house of representatives in Khartoum. However, Diu responded to the concerns, saying it was better to be free, poor and happy than being a slave, a statement which seemed to win the day.
“May I draw your attention gentlemen, chiefs, of all tribes, elders, citizens present in this house, I should like to know whether you in this house want to be slaves or it will be better for you to be poor and free and happy?” Diu was quoted as saying.
Diu also explained to the conference that it was the responsibility of the national government to work out means to support the southern federation or risk separation.
“With regard to the first part of your question, the present government must be bound to manage the federation of [the] South for fear of separation. If they cannot we can manage to separate the country. This I am quite sure the present regime has in mind. To conclude my dearest friend Mr Necodemo we are here for freedom not money,” Diu said in his remarks.
A vote was then taken and federation was passed by 227 to 0, with seven abstentions.
The idea of federalism was also developed in response to demands for self-determination and was explicitly expressed at the roundtable conference convened in Khartoum in March 1965 when Aggrey Jaden, a prominent Southern politician, returned to the principle, which he also equated with the struggle for independence.
Professor Johnson argued that to different leaders and citizens of South Sudan, federalism means many things. He said some may want to adopt the centralised federalism system adopted in Sudan in 1994, which he said was only theoretical as the power and wealth were still at the centre.
Others he said may fall short and establish federalism similar to a decentralised system, which gives and takes devolved powers to and from the smaller units of governance while depriving them of the resources needed for development.
Others may go for full blown constitutional federalism in all its aspects, where powers are divided between the national and state governments, while others may think it is about the division of people and dislodging others from one’s own region or state.
Johnson stressed that while the current ruling SPLM party succeeded in achieving independence through the exercise of self-determination, it did not prepare and define in advance the kind of system of government the new country should adopt.
He also lamented that the initial renewed calls for federalism were made during the drafting of the transitional constitution in 2011.
“Federalism has once again emerged as central to the discussion of how South Sudanese wish to govern themselves and live together now that they have achieved their independence. But self-determination means more than choosing independence. It also means choosing a form of self-government, and that choice has still to be made,” he said.