Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 12 November 2019

What federal system is suitable for South Sudan?


By Dr Jacob K. Lupai*

Federalism is seen as a constitutional arrangement for dividing power between different levels of government so that federated states, regions or provinces can enjoy substantial autonomy over certain policy areas while at the same time sharing power over other areas. It is a means of ensuring peace, unity, stability and development for prosperity in countries that have territorially concentrated differences of identity, ethnicity, culture and language. Federalism can improve service delivery, ensure decisions are made at the most appropriate level of government, protect against the over-concentration of power and resources in few hands, and create abundant opportunities for democratic participation and development. Federalism has also helped countries to settle conflicts. This all shows that it is important to understand what federalism is all about instead of outright opposition to federalism because of the fear of the unknown.

For those who may need to know, federalism is a form of government that divides political responsibility. One author highlights one of federalism’s underlying concepts as being that of too much power is very dangerous and it is therefore desirable that there should be diverse levels of government to prevent undue concentration of political power. The other concept is that particular powers are best assigned to particular levels of government well suited to exercising them. According to one author, Duncan Watts, in Understanding American Government and Politics, even the most authoritarian government would find it difficult to make all decisions at the centre because it would be impractical for any set of ministers to understand the needs of every area and to involve themselves in the minutiae of its public administration. Hence there is a need to allow some scope for the regional or local initiative through federalism.

Worldwide support for federalism is greater today than ever before. Even in the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan signed on 12 September 2018, it is recognized in the Preamble that a federal system of government is a popular demand of the people of the Republic of South Sudan and the need to reflect this demand by way of devolution of more powers and resources to lower levels of government. People should be aware that federalism gives a nation the flexibility to accommodate ethnic and cultural differences, thereby promoting unity in diversity for peace, stability and development. Federalism is inherently more democratic than a unitary system because there are more levels of government for public opinion to be heard and participation at the grassroots.

The rationale for federalism
For people to be aware, the main benefit of federalism is that it can provide a framework for the recognition of ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity. By guaranteeing autonomy to diverse groups, federalism allows self-government through the state, provincial or regional institutions while still certain powers are shared with other groups through federal institutions. Federalism protects diversity and prevents conflict from flaring up due to unequal treatment based on one’s ethnicity. Federalism is also considered appropriate where diverse communities are territorially concentrated with clearly defined borders forming states, provinces or regions for the relevant level of government in addressing domestic issues.

Federalism can promote innovation in policy-making by enabling states, provinces or regions to pioneer innovative policies that would not be otherwise politically viable at the national level. For example, the US state of Massachusetts was able to establish a health insurance system that greatly expanded access to medical care for low-income citizens despite the absence of such a provision at the national level. In addition, federalism frees the central government from having to handle domestic administration and service delivery. This enables the central government to focus on the strategic challenges of national priorities. It can be seen here that the rationale for the adoption of federalism is clear. Federalism strengthens national unity and promotes peaceful coexistence, stability and development for prosperity in a country with diversities but endowed with vast resources such as South Sudan. Federalism also provides an outlet for minority views that is most likely to strengthen overall national unity.

Types of a federal system of government
Broadly speaking, there seem to be two types of a federal system of government and they are presidential and parliamentary systems. It may be difficult to confirm which of the two systems is the most suitable for South Sudan without a bit of research. However, in a study, a strong relationship was found between parliamentarians and good governance in the two areas of economic development, and human resource development. To the extent that economic development and human resource development influence the quality of governance, a parliamentary system may offer advantages over a presidential one. Nevertheless, the study is hardly conclusive that a parliamentary system is by far better than a presidential one. More research may be needed to be undertaken in order to conclude with confidence the type of federal system of government that is suitable for South Sudan. Nevertheless, there are some other systems of federalism that may be highlighted.

Dual federalism
This is the creation of two levels of government, central and state, province or region, that are supposed to be independent, each with its own clearly defined sphere of influence and responsibility. The concept may be interpreted in different ways between those who want a more nation-centred form of federalism and those who advocate a more state-based form. However, this situation may create a conflict and as in the US, this was finally resolved through the barrel of the gun on the battlefields of the Civil War in the 1860s.

Dual federalism is a model that supports a strictly limited role for the central government over states. However, the strictly limited role of the central government may weaken the central government in addressing strategic issues of great national importance.

Cooperative federalism
This is a partnership of the different level of government in a federal system in providing effective public services in the country. In cooperative federalism, levels of government are related parts of a single government system, characterized more by cooperation and shared functions than by conflict and competition. In the nature of cooperative federalism, the government supplements, stimulates and assists states, provinces or regions rather than pre-empting them. It is considered that the distinguishing features of cooperative federalism are a sharing of responsibilities over many governmental functions and the recognition that all the people involved are partners rather than adversaries. Cooperative federalism may, therefore, be something to consider for South Sudan.

Type of federal system of government for South Sudan
This brings us to answer the question, what type of federal system of government is suitable to adopt in South Sudan? This may be a million dollars question. There is no straight forward or easy answer to the question. This is because one cannot simply choose a federal system of government from an imaginary list and believe it is the answer to the question. There are many types of a federal system of government and each country is unique and may need a unique resolution to its peculiar root causes of conflict within its borders. It is not just a matter of copy or cut and paste.

First and foremost, the root causes of the conflict must be identified in order to conceptualize the type of a federal system of government that may resolve the conflict. In South Sudan, the demand for federalism has been there since 1947. The demand for federalism is now even louder than ever before because of the perpetual conflict with no resolution in sight. Reports on human rights and resolutions from the National Dialogue have highlighted some of the root causes of the conflict in South Sudan. With the root causes of the conflict highlighted, and with commitment and political will from leaders to resolve the conflict, South Sudan would have been at a different level with the conflict a thing of the past.

For all practical purposes, the resolution of the conflict in South Sudan is the adoption of a federal system of government with the three former provinces or regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile forming the federation. Unfortunately, this may sound like ethnic federalism to some people. This is because the two major ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nuer, in South Sudan are found predominantly in Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile regions respectively. In contrast, the non-Dinka and the non-Nuer group is found predominantly in Equatoria. However, the adoption of a federal system of government will significantly put the gross mismanagement of resources and abuses of human rights with impunity behind our backs for a better way forward and a brighter future for all in South Sudan.

The type of a federal system of government that is suitable to adopt in South Sudan will depend on the consensus of the people. For example, the National Dialogue can produce a consensus on the type of federal system of government suitable to adopt in South Sudan. There is no way a federal system of government can be imposed on people without consensus.

In conclusion, however, without the adoption of a federal system of government, it is difficult to see how the unity of South Sudan can be sustained with all its widespread diversities in addition to contradictions.

*Dr. Lupai is Associate Professor of Food Security at the University of Juba. He was Minister of Agriculture and Forestry in the former Central Equatoria State and is the author of the book, South Sudan, Issues in Perspective published in 2014. Dr Lupai can be reached at jklupai@googlemail.com

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