By Mapuor Malual Manguen,
June 26, 2014(Nyamilepedia) — Dr. Riek Machar Teny, the leader of Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-O) could be giggling now. The federalism which he demanded in the ongoing peace talks in Addis Ababa between his movement and the government has excitedly reverberated so much in three southern states of the republic of South Sudan prompting the presidency to urge proponents and opponents of federalism to stop debating it.
Riek failed to win to his side people of Equatoria region in battle fields. Having realized this, he wisely crafted another idea to win over their opinions; he demanded that future South Sudan government must be restructured base on federalism. And this quickly aroused nod from Equatoria intellectuals, writers, and three Governors of Central, Western and Eastern Equatoria states more than Machar’s own home turf.
Ideally speaking, it created what I may call “proponents and opponents frenzy” on social and main media where some individuals have already picked up ethnic or regional cards to propagate hate speech and discontent among the people.
While addressing the country’s national parliament on 1st June, the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit criticized the demand for a federal system by the rebel leader Riek Machar as a ploy to divide the “internal front” and that citizens be allowed to decide on the matter. The President was alluding to conduct of referendum where all South Sudanese electorates can decide themselves on whether or not the country should go for federalism.
When Vice President James Wani Igga, who too hails from Equatoria region urged politicians from his backyard to toe government agenda and stop demanding federalism ( which according to him Riek stole from Equatorians), he immediately came under fire from the youth who criticized his stance while praising somewhat louder Governor of Central Equatoria state, Clement Wani Konga. The youth also pushed other two Governors who were a bit reluctant to come out openly and champion this idea.
I called Governor Clement Wani Konga “louder” because he is the most vocal Equatorian politician demanding federalism to be established in South Sudan. He was the first most senior official in the government to defy his own government on this matter. On 5 June, barely four days after the President cautioned people of South Sudan against buying Machar’s demand, he ignored it and declared that “Equatoria stands for federalism and no one can sit on it”.
Governor Konga went ahead and organized general meeting with all civil servants and politicians from his state at Nyakouron Cultural Centre where he briefed them about state government’s position in support of a federal system of governance during which thousands of civil servants attended.
This move put his colleagues from Western and Eastern Equatoria states in awkward position in their backyards. It was against this backdrop that youth from Equatoria region urged them (two Governors) to equally educate their populace about federalism just like what Governor Konga did. Vowing to pressure, Governor Joseph Bakosoro and Louise Lojore had no option but joined chorus calling for federalism in South Sudan.
The number one casualty in my view is the government of President Salva Kiir Mayardit. The defiance direction taken by three Governors of Equatoria region depicts negatively on the strength and unity within government corridors from central to state government level against strong oppositions from SPLM former detainees and SPLM in Opposition.
Further, Equatoria’s defiance has localized federalism debates to regional basis as proponents see their opposing group as oppressors who want to maintain dominance through centralized system of governance. In effect, Government attention has been divided between the known enemy in the bush and new internal agitation within its rank. This is how Machar’s time bomb is dividing “internal front” which President Kiir warned in his parliament address early this month.
Secondly, another casualty is the vice President James Wani Igga who became in this debate a lone ranger in his home turf. It paints Igga as someone who could not bring anything on the table. His advice against federalism was a test of his popularity in Equatoria. No doubt VP Wani was rebuffed by politicians and people he assumed to be his supporters.
It should be note that Riek Machar would have not taken up arms had he not been sacked and replaced with Wani Igga. Machar sacking put him far distance behind the ladder of succession in ruling SPLM party and presidency. Ideally, Wani is currently well positioned in line of succession if President Kiir were to leave office today. But, if he could not defend his position or bank foothold at his home, it is unlikely that his future ambition would be significant.
As Equatorian position is rocking Kiir’s boat from within, the safer approach government should adopt to tackle this tide is not to silence debate on federalism per se. The government must come out clearly and tell South Sudanese why federalism is inappropriate at the moment. The citizens should be educated about its advantages and shortcomings and why the government is not or willing to adopt it.
Moreover, South Sudanese should know why they want to move away from decentralized federalism the country has currently to complete federal governance system. This will let citizens make appropriate choice once and for all. Any new gamble may backfire in the near future and story will repeat itself again.
The author is journalist, blogger and political commentator based in Juba. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or mapuormalual.wordpress.com