Home | News    Wednesday 9 July 2014

Renowned historian offers insight on demands for federalism in S. Sudan


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.


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.


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  • 9 July 2014 09:38, by Mi diit

    Dr. Douglas Johnson, please take your time to explain this issue of federalism to primitive Kiir Kuethpiny and his cult-like followers. Maybe because their grand dads or moms didn’t actively paricipate in the demand in the past they are jealous about it. But why should a president be jealous about something to do with his citizens. Primitive thinking of course.

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    • 9 July 2014 10:23, by Wicdail

      God is great! What a brilliance Politian? “Better to be free, poor and happy than being a slave”, my dearest thanks goes to Professor Douglas Johnson for his sincerity and honesty; for revealing this all times important piece of information in our country’s history. Buth Diu and his colleagues were the brightest Southern Politians in their times. They negotiated our freedom with no masters degrees

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    • 11 July 2014 17:34, by Adodi Jotuwa

      What "type of federalism" (NOT its "public perception"), which Johnson avoided to mention to the audience should South Sudanese adopt? Is it resonating with the rest of South Sudanese aspirations or Riek’s interest only? The real question what type is suitable to the people of the 3-years old nation with respect to unity, education, economy and politics?

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  • 9 July 2014 11:27, by jur_likang_a_ likan’g

    That is how the political journey our country should have taken after obtaining independence from awlad saramit in Khartoum. The end of the journey is adoption of liberal federalism with development.

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  • 9 July 2014 11:27, by jur_likang_a_ likan’g

    That is how the political journey our country should have taken after obtaining independence from awlad saramit in Khartoum. The end of the journey is adoption of liberal federalism with development.

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  • 9 July 2014 12:59, by Jalaby

    Well, nothing new here in what Mr. Johnson had lectured about the history of federalism demand by Southerners during the 50th of the last century in Sudan, I mentioned that to you before and told you that the southerners members of parliament in Khartoum refused to vote for independence unless given the federalism, the northern elites were suspicious about federalism

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    • 9 July 2014 13:05, by Jalaby

      request by southerners and thought the purpose of it is Self-Determination!
      Well, that has become part of history and the south separated from north after 50 years and became the first failed state in the world with no real competitor after they beat Somalia and removed it from the top list!

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      • 9 July 2014 13:12, by Jalaby

        Mr. Johnson didn’t answer my questions: does it really need for a curfew from dusk to dawn and shoot to kill if southerners request Federalism?
        Northern elites made no difference between Federalism & Self-Determination and rejected the federalism request, does Juba share the same thought with northern elites about the real purpose of Federalism request?

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        • 9 July 2014 13:21, by Jalaby

          I believe southerners (both against & support Federalism) don’t really know the difference between Federalism & Self-Determination,where they intersect and where they differs and what really they need for themselves? I believe that’s because they don’t have identity and that always keep them jump high in the dark and maintain to be the top failed country in the world!

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  • 9 July 2014 14:00, by Mapuor

    South Sudanese demand for federal system should have good reasons for it would be baseless if good reasons are not provided.Ok it will enhance development!how will it enhance development?What is obstructing development under the current system of government?Some say it will eliminate tribalism!how?.Can we go for Ethiopian type of federalism?Ethnic based federal system!

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    • 9 July 2014 14:01, by Mapuor

      Only ethnic based federal system can solve all problems in the country. Never again should different tribes be put under one state.Dinkas and Nuer should first be put under separate states.That means greater Upper Nile will have the following states:1.Pdang state 2.Jikeny state 3.Chollo state 4.Lou/GAweer state 5.Western Nuer state 6.Greater Bor state 7.Murlei/Anuak state 8.Maban Uduk state.Pa

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      • 9 July 2014 14:09, by Mapuor

        Pariang and Alor will go back to greater Bhar El Gazakal and together with Abyei form a state.Equatoria will have the following states:Zande/Baka state;Moro state;Bari speakers state,Latuka/Lopid/Boya/Didinga state;Taposa state;Acholi/Madi/Pirrie/Lokoyo/ state.

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  • 9 July 2014 14:42, by Ito

    Thanks God that a great experts in south sudanese affairs is educating the masses about federalism. It is because if we say this decentralization is still not a solution as it keeps power to hands of one or individuals the government don’t accept our interpretation and now a whiteman has said it to you. He does not belong to any tribe in south sudan. He is honestly telling the truth.

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    • 9 July 2014 16:58, by Mi diit

      They will soon call that white man a rebel. Any one who tries to correct them is a rebel. They are a confused bunch of blood suckers who are too deformed to be reformed.

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      • 9 July 2014 17:55, by Hardlinner

        My fellow dinka brothers we must tell kiir thatbfederation will bring our oil money to dinka states not juba. The power in juba need to reduce. Only regional federation is allow. All current mixed states must be desolve and remodelled. Our people in unity state, jonglei and upper nile must have dinka states otherwise no federation.

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  • 9 July 2014 18:02, by Kim Deng

    “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. Who can declare that if not from Nuer who don’t fear none, but God?

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  • 9 July 2014 18:04, by Kim Deng

    "It is better to burn down this Jungle (South Sudan) to ashes than being called Dinka Kingdom," Kim Deng declared.

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  • 9 July 2014 18:22, by Bolong

    Ito and Mi diit, don’t mess up your own thought with the truths that has been lectured at Juba university by veteran historian Douglas Johnson. You need to read all 24 page entitled Federalism in the history of South Sudan political thoughts. You will find statements by various Southern leaders in regard to federalism and self determination or separation of South from the North. there is no race.

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  • 9 July 2014 18:52, by Bolong

    Kim Deng, it has been your habit, you should have called your name Kim Destruction, not Dengdit the ancestor whom Nuer and Dinka are descended.

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  • 9 July 2014 19:54, by Angelo Achuil

    I think this is really helpful. Thanks a lot Johnson

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