By Jacob Akol
January 3, 2014…“We should use this crisis as an opportunity to revisit what we recognized before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and Independence.”
Asks Jacob J. Akol
1. Suppose there is an agreement in Addis Ababa for a ceasefire in South Sudan, what next?
2. Suppose the Government drive the rebels out of Bor, Bentiu and enforce security around the oil fields to resume oil production, what next?
3. Suppose the rebels have their way and control Bor, Bentiu, Malakal and even enter Juba, what next?
While we must necessarily concentrate on bringing about an end to the on-going distractive gun battles in Greater Upper Nile in and around the towns of Bor, Malakal and Bentiu, we must look ahead to the short and long-term governance of the Republic.
Some South Sudanese opinion writers have already suggested power-sharing based on the old provinces, often repaired to as Greater Equatoria (now divided into three states), Greater Bahr al Ghazal (now divided into four states) and Greater Upper Nile (now divided into three states). The idea is to rotate the post of the President regionally every five years. That concept is great and it is not new. Some countries like Switzerland practice a similar system and it is worth investigating further.
However, we should go deeper than that to critically look at who we really are as a people and what it is that we should recognize, give form and respect as the basis for our unity. This idea is not new either as far as South Sudanese are concerned. We have recognized that we are different ethnic communities of more than 60 living languages and therefore with diverse living cultures values. But what many South Sudanese fail to recognize and accept is that all cultural values are equal, no matter how big or small an ethnic community, and that we should recognize and give them form in our constitution, laws, policies and governance to achieve a fair and just unity in diversity.
We South Sudanese, including this writer, have written pages and pages about the importance of this concept, not only for South Sudan but for the rest of African nations which continue to be weak because they remain ethnically divided simply because they have shied away from giving this real need for “Unity in Diversity” the constitutional and political reality it deserves in the sharing of power. Greed blinds those already in power, usually members of larger ethnic communities, to sing the old song: “We should not endorse tribalism”, as if tribalism were not the guiding force behind their daily activities!
In a paper titled “Constitution: the Foundation of National Stability”, presented at the Rift Valley Institute Lectures at the University of Juba, March 5-6, 2013, I quoted:
“In a conference convened in Nairobi from January 17th – 19th 2003, and attended by more than 80 participants, a preamble to a long list of resolutions went like this:
“We, the members of various nationalities of the South Sudan/New Sudan, Civil Society organizations and stakeholders, having discussed the practical aspects of the “House of Nationalities” proposal (“A space for preserving the unity and the diversity of the South Sudan”, January 2002) and considered the means to bring this initiative into operational existence, the Conference reached agreement and broad consensus on the following: –
- Agreement on the principle and the proposal of the “House of Nationalities”, and so and so forth… Ref. (www.gurtong/peoples/Houseofnationalities).
- Note that not much has been done to develop further the proposed House of Nationalities to date.”
I also made the following recommendations with justifications:
Some people will suggest a “House of Chiefs”; but this group, though important, does not need a “House” because it is already a reality and operates as part of the administration of justice and local government. It simply needs to be strengthened to do the job it does more effectively. So, the House of Chiefs or Traditional Leaders cannot be seen as a substitute for legitimate ethnic representation at the national level. I would therefor recommend that:
- Our constitution should state clearly that South Sudan is multi-lingual, multi-cultural and therefore multi-national, just as the Ethiopian constitution has acknowledged.
- Establish a true House of Nationalities or Congress of Ethnicities with a representative from each of our ethnic communities (some 60 – 70) members? That’s not much!)
Some people may wrongly conclude that this is an endorsement for tribalism; but nothing can be further from the truth. Refusing to recognize the reality of our diversity in the last 50 years of independence has not lessened tribalism; if anything tribalism has continued to blossom under that denial.
Some may argue that such equal representation of Ethnic communities, no matter how small or large, would be unfair to larger ethnic communities like the Dinka, the Nuer, the Zande and the Bari. But what they ignore to put into consideration is another House, the Constituency Assembly, in which representation will be based on the population. The size of these large ethnic communities would therefor be reflected in this House of Representatives.
The House of Nationalities or Congress of Ethnicities would be like the Congress of the United States, which is composed of two senators from each of the states, no matter how small or large the state. Thus the heavily populated states of California and New York send exactly the same number of Congressmen/women as of that of tiny Hawaii and Rhode Island to the Congress.
Some may argue that such a representation could be prohibitively expensive; but why should it be? This argument is often based on presumed high salaries and perks that must be paid to members of the government, civil servants and parliament; but this should not be the case. Remuneration of anyone in public service should reflect the average national income. Public service is not for those who want to get rich materially. Anyone wanting to get rich should be told to consider a career in business, not in government, parliament or public service.”
Conclusion: These suggestions need to be critiqued, analyzed and refined in our new constitution, laws and policies with the eye on fairness in power-sharing, respect for progressive values of our cultures based on the concept of “Unity in Diversity”. We should use this crisis as an opportunity to revisit what we recognized before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and Independence.
*Jacob J Akol is Editor/Director of Gurtong Trust