The Debate: Understanding Federalism
Proposed Federal system for future South Sudan: Let us serialize it
By Sindani Sebit
June 09, 2014(Nyamilepedia) — Since the events of 15-16 December 2013 in Juba and subsequent outbreak of fighting in South Sudan, South Sudanese have been grappling with whether these sad events could be the blessing in disguise for envisioning the future of South Sudan in which all people live in peace and harmony, enjoying the fruits of a prosperous nation. The gruesome killings in Juba and the fierce fighting that has claimed thousands of lives, has alarmed the world and particularly IGAD and Troika countries that had worked tirelessly to bring about the independence of South Sudan from Sudan in 2011. Now there are staggering peace talks going on in Addis Ababa aimed at peacefully resolving the needless conflict in South Sudan. While the negotiators are fixed on cobbling an interim government, which could bring both sides of the conflict to share power, the opposition has proposed to first discuss the fundamental root causes of the problem in South Sudan and agree on how to deal with them and also agree on the future governance system for the country.
The governance system that has been proposed by the opposition is a federal system as opposed to the current perverse quasi-decentralized system in Juba. Although the call for federalism in South Sudan is being opposed by Kiir and his immediate supporters, the call is rapidly gaining support from many sectors of South Sudanese society including the governments of Central and Western Equatoria and people of Greater Upper Nile. Most South Sudanese in the Diaspora have already lined up behind the call for federalism in South Sudan.
As the call for federalism in South Sudan is becoming louder, wider and irresistible, there is urgent need to bring South Sudanese with speed to quickly and completely understand the federal system that is being advocated for. While Some South Sudanese have confused the current so-called decentralization system in South Sudan to Federalism, it must be stated on the onset that this comparison is either an attempt to lure South Sudanese to believing wrongly that they have a federal system or lack of understanding what really a federal system entails. This is simply because the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan has not only failed to name the system as federal system but actually concentrated the governance, economic and security function in the centre with the ten states being relegated to be subservient to the central government. At the central level, the central institutions such as the Parliament, Judiciary and security apparatus are subjugated under the presidency, making the president the sole dictator in the country. South Sudanese are all aware of the countless decrees issued by the president, including those used to dismiss elected governors and other constitutional post holders. This is not federalism but centralized system in disguise. In addition, while the states are supposed to be service delivery organs that should bring power and resources nearer or closer to the people, the central government continues to retain 80% of the resources for the lavish life styles of an emerging elite or embezzled by individuals, creating a small clique of “haves”, in Juba while majority of the people of South Sudan wallow in abject poverty. This is not the federalism that South Sudan needs. The Transitional Constitution of South Sudan has created a dictatorial monster who is wielding his constitutional powers to disregard the bill of rights in the constitution; thus committing grave human rights atrocities at will. These powers have made South Sudanese judiciary impotent, the parliament marooned and civil society powerless. The president has overstepped the constitution and went ahead to create his own parallel military force and security apparatus that has terrorized the citizenry in the country at will.
Therefore, the proposed federal system that is being advocated for by the majority of South Sudanese is the intended real federal system of governance that is implemented in many of the federated countries such as UK, USA, Canada, Germany, India, South Africa, etc. In this vein, the objective of serialization of the proposed federal system in South Sudan is to create awareness among South Sudanese and educate them on the basic principles of federalism and the implementation strategies so that South Sudanese can deliberate on the system on the same page and clearly understand whether such as system can solve the chronic problems which have bedeviled South Sudan. The fear of “doubting Thomas” and those who fear change must be allayed so that they can embrace this change without reservation.
South Sudan is a diverse country that is multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious. The country has varied geographical conditions and awash with various natural and human resources spread all over the states. The political landscape is darted with various beliefs and conceptions. Therefore, such a country needs a system that can recognize and accommodate all these level of diversities with the aim of uniting the people, while harnessing these diversities for their effective self governance and rapid development. The current system in South Sudan has completely failed to respond to the diversity in South Sudan; instead it tried to subjugate the people into a system dictated by the powers that be. This is what was and still continues to happen in Sudan. The deliberate refusal by the then ‘united’ Sudan to demands of South Sudanese for federalism in the 1947 Juba Conference, in 1955 Torit Conference and in the 1965 Khartoum Conference, created all the wars in Sudan that led to the disintegration of Sudan. There is also possibility that the remaining Sudan may further disintegrate if the government in Khartoum continues with its militaristic attitude against the rebels in Sudan.
Realizing the fact that centralization is not the answer to political and socioeconomic problems in diverse societies such as South Sudan, and indeed has created conducive atmosphere for a failed South Sudan state, a system that recognizes diversity as strength, while utilizing the values of diversity for national cohesion and socio-economic development, is crucial. As a result, the current disagreements in South Sudan serve as the best catalyst for South Sudanese to look back and admit that they should start now from different perspective, by accepting their unique differences and perceptions for building a strong future South Sudan. No governance system can do this other than federalism.
Therefore, this document intends to outline the following in regards to federal system proposed for South Sudan. The proposals illustrated here may not be exhaustive because, the authors do not claim to have the monopoly of all facts and strategies about federalism; after all, the system proposed must be adaptable, adopted to South Sudan context and attempts to solve all or nearly all the pricking problems in the country to the satisfaction of the majority of its people. The main points to look at here are:
- Definition of Federalism
- Advantages of a federal system
- Federal Government
- Declaration of the country
- Form of governance including the sovereignty of the country
- Functions of the Federal Government
- Federal Legislature, including its independence
- Federal Executive, including the Attorney General’s Office
- Judiciary, including the Federal and State Courts
- Federal Law Enforcement Agencies. These include Federal Intelligence Service, Immigration and Custom Services (or Revenue Authority), drug enforcement and illegal trafficking services and special security service
- Federal states
- Objectives, principles
- Governing structures
- Powers and functions of the state
- Commissions and independent offices
- Federal Human Right and Equality Commission
- Independent Elections/Electoral Commission
- Public Service Commission
- Parliamentary Service Commission
- Judiciary Service Commission
- Revenue allocation and distribution commission
- Salary review and allocation commission
B) Independent offices
- Auditor General’s office
- Controller of accounts office
The reform of the army will be tackle separately while the police, wildlife and other security agents will be mentioned in the roles assigned to the states. Therefore, this introduction will limit itself to the definition of federalism and its potential advantage to South Sudan.
Definition of Federalism
From the Concise Encyclopedia, federalism is defined as, “political system that binds a group of states into a larger, non-centralized, superior state while allowing them to maintain their own political identities.” Does South Sudan have states to fit in this definition? Indeed South Sudan has states. A state is defined as “a territory considered as an organized political community under one government”. Since 1955 South Sudan has always been organized into Upper Nile, Bahr el Ghazel and Equatoria. These three territories are now further divided and reorganized into 10 states. These ten states or more can be bound into a larger, non-centralized superior state, while allowing them to maintain their political identities. The essence of the states maintaining their political identity is crucial in the case of South Sudan, so that they can be able to forge their developmental agenda according to their priorities and resources available to each. Secondly, the ten states in South Sudan currently have their own political beliefs and perceptions that can be nurtured and propagated within the boundaries of the state, while the Federal Government concentrates on crucial matters that face the larger union.
However, successful federal systems must have common characteristics and principles. These include constitution or the basic law stipulating the distribution of powers; diffusion of power among the constituent elements, which should be substantially self-sustaining; and territorial divisions to ensure neutrality and equality in the representation of various groups and interests. Successful federal systems should also have a sense of common nationality and direct lines of communication between the citizens and all governments that serve them. As it stands now, South Sudan has no common characteristics and principles. What exists now in South Sudan is degraded into Dinka, Nuer and the common “tribe” in Equatoria called Equatorians. These are tribal characteristics that are not bound by common principles, but by tribal interests to rule and plunder the resources of the country. Lack of common principles has precipitated corruption, land grabbing, and lack of respect for individual property, as some of these actions are not considered as crimes by some of the communities in South Sudan.
Constitution that devolves powers to the people empowers the people and enables them to share in the governance of the country. This brings sense of belonging and ownership, equal participation and satisfaction. These contribute to the building and development of the country. In addition, the states must be empowered to raise their own financial resources from the resources in the states. This makes them independent and self sustaining. On the other hand, the federal government should also ensure that more resources go to the states instead of the current practice where the central government retains 80% of the resources making the states non-viable in terms of service delivery.
A successful nation should always instill to its citizens a sense of common nationality based on equality but not on perceived principles that other communities are more national than others or based on contribution to liberation as has been in the practice in South Sudan that some people arrogate themselves as liberators while others are liberated. Communication among citizens cannot be effective unless the government is taken close to them in form of devolved government. This is important because it accelerates rapid development and advancement. This will also ensure that any change made or proposed has been accepted or sanctioned by the people. These are, therefore, the ills that federal system has to address so that the independent states agree to federate with common principles and sense of common nationality.
Advantage federalism to the people of South Sudan
The federalism will contribute positively to the following:
- Recognizes all the national diversities while it strives for strengthening national unity based on common principles and equality
- Devolves powers to the people thus making them to participate and share in the planning and development of states. This creates a sense of common understanding, equal participation and ownership and makes the citizens responsible to their own affairs. The dispersal of power to the states and communities is generally a protection against tyranny. This leads to large extent thriving of pluralism.
- Helps to manage conflicts by permitting states and communities to pursue their own policies. This reduces the pressure that would have built up in the center like currently happening in South Sudan
- Improves efficiency as governing of the nation from the center creates inefficiency and ineffectiveness
- Enables citizens to decide on how they can be governed by ensuring that the citizens always have to sanction or be consulted on the decisions being taken by their leaders. This also removes from the leaders the dictatorial tendencies that they may have, as the people have the rights to remove or reprimand them
- Enables states to become independent and self-sustaining. They will determine and plan their development agenda according to their objectives, priorities and available resources
- Ensure that federal resources are effectively shared between the federal government and states according to the functions of the two levels of government, as stipulated in the constitution with 80% of the resources going to the states. This principle of resource sharing is intended to spur quick development of the states
- End the culture of categorization or profiling citizens according to tribe or contribution in the society
- By making the states self sustaining and ensuring that more resources are channeled to the state, creates conducive atmosphere for equal development instead of wasting resources in the federal capital
- Enables states not only to control their resources but also to use them for betterment or development of the state
- Ensure that the relationship between the citizenry is mutual based on equality and respect for one another
- By empowering the states to have their own security enforcement agencies and courts up to court of appeal will ensure that justice to be carried out in an atmosphere of complete understanding of cultural diversities and institution of justice and not favouritism, or merely on tribal inclination as the case is now in many parts of South Sudan. This will create understanding and harmony among the citizens and law enforcement agencies and the Judiciary
- By ensuring equal development in states, it will reduce internal migration, dispute over land grabbing, internal displacement and overconcentration in few urban or rural areas that have services
Disadvantages of federalism
As system federalism has its own drawback, though these may however not outweigh the significance and numerous benefits the system renders to the people. Some of the challenges associated with federalism include:
- It may allow special interest groups to protect their privileges. Some states may use state rights and laws to avoid federal regulations that guarantee civil rights such as free movement and settlement of people in the country. However, in such situations the federal law should supersede the state laws.
- It may frustrate national policy because of differences in priority setting. However, this has been taken care of by the revenue allocation commission which ensures that resources are effectively distributed and utilized according to the overall priority in the country
- It increases the cost of governance generally and can also cause uneven distribution of these costs. Some states may spend more than twice as much per capita as other states on certain priorities. This can also be dealt with by the salary review commission which ensures that the cost of government is within the overall income of the country.
- It creates disadvantages in the poorer states and communities. However, the task of Revenue Allocation Commission is to ensure that this should not happened by ensuring that national resources are distributed according population and level of development between the states and within the states.
In conclusion, South Sudan has never had the chance except now to look back and overhaul its autocratic constitution so as to introduce governance system that will not only accelerate development, but that will create united democratic South Sudan based on mutual agreement, citizen participation, state resource control and self-sustenance and respect for one another and for national resources and private property. Part 2 of this series will focus on the proposed federal structures that include the Legislature, Executive and Federal Judiciary. Keep reading and also send in your suggestions. All are welcome but please we need positive criticisms not reactions arising from frustrations.
- The Debate: Understanding Federalism June 9, 2014 — By Dr. Richard K. Mulla.
- The Debate: Understanding Federalism June 9, 2014 — By Deng Elijah
- The Debate: ‘FEDERALISM A MUST FOR A VIABLE STATE” June 6, 2014 — By Gatmai Buom Ruot
Sindani Sebit is a concern South Sudanese. He can be reached for comments at Vosskaro2005@yahoo.com