South Sudan has a population of 12.58 million (2017). This population represents approximately 64 ethnic groups that speak different languages or dialects, as well as practice varied cultural activities. Most of the population in South Sudan lives in the rural counties, depending heavily on farms and other basic means to survive. The Independent South Sudan of 2011 brought nothing to needed changes for the average population. The resource expectations, including accesses to basic services, such as healthcare, education, employment and/or infrastructural activities, have not materialized. On the top of that is the insecurity which has dashed the hope South Sudanese had for the nation.
The chance for the country to regain peace is becoming difficult because the party leaders failed to compromise their positions on security and number of states South Sudan should have. To refresh the memories and reinform readers, South Sudan came from mother Sudan in 2011 with 10 diverse states. Until late 2014, South Sudan had only 10 states. The opposition movement (IO) came up with a concept of promoting previous districts in South Sudan into state levels, and former 21 districts became 21 states. But when South Sudanese leaders signed a peace deal in August 2015, IO and the regime in Juba returned to 10 states. However and before long, the regime in Juba unilaterally created 28 states out of 10 and now 32 states.
This was not a smart move and here is why. The territorial conflicts between states and local counties over the legitimate location of borders and rising competitions over the utilization of lands along secure borders continue to generate conflicts. The diversity this new nation needs would not be seen, and this would make it harder for citizens to learn languages and cultures to economically exchange goods and services for the empowerment of the local communities. People will remain isolated and enemies to each other. I emphasize that tensions surrounding the borders are far from a recent development; they are deeply rooted in political, economic, and cultural processes that stretch back centuries. With 32 states, where some lands are assigned to different communities that would not help but fuel the tensions for years.
Why South Sudan needs more states? It does not need more than 10 states. Look at the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. It composes of 9 National Regional states: namely Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Somali, Benishangul-Gumuz, Southern Nations Nationalities and People Region (SNNPR), Gambella and Harari, and two Administrative states (Addis Ababa City administration and Dire Dawa city council). The population of Ethiopia is 105 million (2017). The Ethiopia does not need 32 states even though the country population is 8 times South Sudan population. Economically, Ethiopia is better suited to sustain 9 states instead of more.
Howabout Uganda with estimates population of 44.27 million (2019)? Uganda only has 4 administrative regions that are divided into 134 districts including capital city of Kampala. Before the new constitution of Kenya that came into force in 2013, Kenya was divided into eight provinces (states). The provinces were subdivided into 46 districts (excluding Nairobi), but Kenya has a population is 49.7 million (2017). Both Kenya and Uganda are not proposing more states or administrative regions as far as I know. Like Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda are not literally using ethnic or tribal bases as means to create regions or provinces. They based their logic on economic and social developments.
Mother Sudan, on the other hand, has 18 states. These states, include two additional states that were created in 2012 within the Darfur region and one in 2013 in Kordofan region, bringing the total to 18. Sudan had 25 states before South Sudan left with 10 states in 2011. Now Sudan has only 18 diverse states with population of 40.53 million (2017). Economically, it is sustainable for Sudan to withstand 18 states instead of 20 or so. It also enables Sudan to remain united and focused strategically on addressing 21 century challenges. Like other surrounding countries, Sudan emphasizes economic diversity for her internal and external interest and security.
I am inking this small piece to request our South Sudanese leaders, especially President Kiir, to think strategically and prioritize peaceful co-existences among South Sudanese above anything else. South Sudan has a chance to experience a lasting peace and start refocusing on economic and social developmental issues. The historical conflict-affected fragile borders could be avoided if the country returns to 10 states. Let South Sudan develop 10 states first while empowering counties into levels where they could tackle local infrastructural foundations. Ten years down the road, South Sudan can append whatever number of states deems necessary. The Kenyan-Ethiopian models of empowering regions and districts, without making them states, could be replicated in South Sudan. I urge President Kiir to stop cat and mouse game on states and use a decree as before to return South Sudan to 10 states. By doing that Mr. President, you will finally bring the lasting peace your people need in South Sudan.
Dr. Gatluak Ter Thach
Adjunct Professor of Leadership and Nonprofit Management at Tennessee State University
Founder/CEO of Nashville International Center for Empowerment
Author works and lives in Nashville, TN (USA) and can be reached: email@example.com