The first time the issue of increasing the number of states came to public attention was when SPLM/A-IO proposed establishment of 21 new states based on the British colonial districts during the peace negotiations. As we all know, the regime strongly opposed the proposal and even refused to discuss it in the negotiations. The great irony is that the government that has refused new 21 states, came up with even a larger number of states based on nothing but ethnic interests. It’s no secret that the 28 new states originated from the Jieng Council of Elders ( JCE ). Thus to say that it was the fulfilment of a popular demand by the government is nothing but an outright fallacy. At best it could be viewed as a request by a portion but not the whole Jieng community. And even if the entire Jieng community supports the creation of the new states, it will remain the demand of one tribe out of the 64 tribes that form South Sudan.
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The regime also propagated a claim that having more states would facilitate the delivery of services and bring about development to the remote areas of the country. It would, as its supporters insist, take towns to villages in agreement with a well-established SPLM objective. Well, it’s quite easy especially in a dictatorship to enact a particular policy and use the government propaganda machine to organise public demonstrations in support of what the government did. But people would soon realise that their lives haven’t changed much and what were disseminated by the regime were just slogans for public consumption. There hasn’t been any considerable development of our cities and towns at the expense of the rural areas. Over a decade in power hasn’t brought safe running water to the majority of the households in the capital city, Juba. Apart from the privileged people, the majority of the citizens drink water straight from river Nile ( Supiri ) or wells. This alone exposes the weakness of the regime’s argument. If it could fail to set up a primary infrastructure like safe water supply for the capital, how plausible that it would succeed in building the far more costly infrastructures like highways, bridges and railways by merely increasing the number of states?
Little details have reached the public domain regarding the 21 states suggested by SPLM/A-IO during the peace talks in Addis Ababa. The proposal is far from being perfect or ideal for the following reasons: a) Although it sounds reasonable that it was based on the British colonial districts, however, it didn’t take into account the demographic changes and the economic realities that have occurred since the departure of the British. 60 years after the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium is quite a long time and with our reduced life expectancy this could well be the entire lifetime for a sizeable number of South Sudanese. It means the majority of the people in those districts is now composed of a new generation of South Sudanese. With a new generation of people, significant changes are bound to happen thus the British colonial districts may not accurately reflect the demographic and economic facts on the ground. b) Similar to the 28 states, there was no national debate about the pros and cons of having 21 new states. Therefore, it runs the risk of being viewed by some as non-inclusive or lacking a broad-based support. c) Despite the fact that SPLM/A-IO represents all the communities of South Sudan, the 21 states’ proposal may not escape the accusation of being heavily pro-Nuer interests. However, the difference between the two is that the 28 states are being illegally operationalised while the 21 states’ system is a proposal subject to discussion and amendments.
Both the proponents of the two views can hardly demonstrate to or convince honest people that all communities in South Sudan have been consulted or their perspectives were taken into consideration. The views of the Equatorians and the other tribes appear to have been largely ignored. It must be clear that there are on-going grievances in greater Equatoria even with the ten states’ system. The former three regions of Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazal have comparable population sizes. Therefore in fairness, there should have been an equal number of states as a result of breaking up the former regions. Also looking at some of the new states with populations barely reaching 100,000 and meagre or non-existent infrastructure, you realise towns like Kajo Keji and Lainya with area populations of 196,000 and 89,315 respectively according to the 2008 census should have qualified to be made states in their rights. The biggest grievance, however, is in the allocation of counties. Again the 2008 census showed the populations of Central Equatoria, Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states as 1,103,592 / 1,200,000 / 964,353 and 600,000 respectively. Only six ( 6 ) counties were allocated to Central Equatoria State ( CES ) while ( 11 ), (13 ) and ( 9 ) were assigned to Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states respectively.
Juba city, the most populous city in South Sudan with a population of 368,436 which is more than half the entire population of each of Lakes state ( 685,730 ) and Unity state as above, was maliciously ” compressed ” into one ( 1 ) county while Lakes state enjoys ( 8 ) counties. The case of Mongalla is kind of interesting hence making elaboration irresistible. Mongalla was the first capital of South Sudan before being moved to Juba in 1930. History tells us that it was the only town in South Sudan visited by the American President Theodore Roosevelt in 1910. A town of great economic potentials as evidenced by the fact that as early as the 1920’s the foundation for growing cotton and a textile industry were established. A sugar processing factory and a clothing mill were operational albeit for a short period. There were even plans in place for a paper mill that depends on growing the eucalyptus plants. Yet Mongalla was never made a county until recently. It just shows how arbitrary is the process of allocating counties in the Republic of South Sudan. The process is never straightforward or based on a sound selection criteria. It’s more often than not tainted with the whims and tribal inclinations of the rulers.
The question that comes to mind is – do we need more states? Which is more believable – that lack of development is caused by the ten states’ system or that it is the result of poor leadership coupled with corruption and incompetence? It is a well known fact that 4 billion US Dollars was embezzled in Juba under the President’s very nose. Also, few incidents of theft and embezzlement involving thousands and millions of US Dollars occurred in the office of the President. With all that in mind – how likely that the situation would improve with the creation of the new 28 states and the expansion of the government apparatus?
In the context of good governance, the issue of the number of states is a secondary one. The primary issue is the system of governance that is acceptable to the people of South Sudan. Historically, federalism has been the demand of the people since 1947 and remains popular among the overwhelming majority to this day. Therefore, and contrary to the regime’s rhetoric, the 28 states is not a popular demand, federalism is. Moving the country forward requires visionary leadership, innovative planning, administrative and fiscal discipline and hard work. In essence, the decision to increase the number of states should be based on economic benefits rather than on political or tribal gains.
When a tourist planning to visit our country learns about the new states through the media, and being cognizant of the international norms, he or she would expect nothing less than airports, hotels, restaurants, highways, 24 hours electricity supply, Clean water supply and above all security. Good Lord! We do not have a single easily passable road between Bor and Pibor. The Road between Malakal and Naser is seasonal and the same applies to many parts of South Sudan. The total length of tarmac roads in the whole of South Sudan is less than 150 miles. Having a tap water supply in your household is a luxury in the 21st century’s South Sudan. Rather than increasing government spending by creating more unproductive posts with the risk of increasing the number of embezzlers – why not use those funds in building the infrastructure all over the country? Increasing the number of counties to ensure equitable representation in the NLA would be a wiser option at extremely low cost than increasing the number of states. It has been recognised worldwide that big government seldom delivers the results that people have hoped to attain. It’s prone to maddening bureaucracy and rampant corruption. The keys to prosperity are small government, strategic planning, anti-corruption stance and fiscal conservatism.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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