Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Why a federal South Sudan

As I write this, Riek Machar is in the bush fighting for the survival of the dream of a just and equal South Sudan while  the rest of the world is grasping at straws or is pretending that Silva Kiir is just another politician who's head has been filled with the desire of power past the point of recognizing reason.

The truth is far less simple and the root of the problem is to be found in the very nature of the old Sudan and the way even the South of the country operated from 1957 onwards. South Sudan much like the rest of the country it broke away from, is far from homogeneous. It is a place where a multitude of peoples, some more numerous than others, live cheek by jowel with each other in a mixed society that only found an identity when the desire for an independent South Sudan got enough traction within the ranks of the SPLA/SPLM and it's splinter movements over the years. As far back as John Garang, there was always a plan to create a federated Sudan or Riek Machar's plan do the same to an independent South Sudan.

John Garang

Why federalism? What is the attraction of a system that creates a filtering of power from the people v the direct application of power by the all the people over the entire region?  It's simple,  South Sudan is not easily lumped into one chamber and one identity in that sort of organic natural way that you could say.... expect of Portugal. Tribally or ethnically the end result of a Presidential system leads to the selection of  a leader by all Southern Sudanese who is flawed in as much as the only possible result is yet another Dinka or Nuer who will think of nobody else or Riek Machar who along with his alies was always for a more representative leadership that took into account the needs of the entire nation. Such a system requires all Equatorians to band together and support one party or create a party that will somehow attract votes from across the country, but inevitably, never enough to win the presidency. But in a federal system with a prime minister, such a party in a parliamentary system would be very powerful indeed.

When  I was working for RASS many years ago during the long dark years of struggle, we realized quickly that the creation of an identity for the new country would not come from ethnicity,  but from the cooperation of many ethnicities in the fashion that had always existed. Towit; every time there was a Gordian knot of  massive proportions to cut through, it was done by people from smaller, less populous tribes from Equatoria. This worked for the simple reason that traditional mediation by such peoples was accepted by the much larger tribes on the basis that these smaller groups would not propose any solution that would allow for a worse situation in which they themselves would be hurt and by extension the rest of the country would be equally protected from further disagreement that usually stemmed from a Dinka Nuer conflict, that  as we have just seen , could lead to bloodshed on a massive scale.

Why this traditional tribal structure that has worked for decades was set aside, I do not know. The current  artificial presidential model has led to numerous policy disasters not least of which was the apparent decision that it would be a good idea for Dinka cow herders to take over farm land in Equatoria for grazing in the name of the national interest. This national interest is little more than the more obvious example of Dinkocracy in which the winner of the presidential vote got to make policy for his people, not all the people, just his people.

If there had a been a properly set up federal system with a proportionally balanced and weighed amount of seats by region in a national Parliament that could counter weigh such tendencies as have rocked the country in the last year, we could have avoided this entire bloody mess.  The mere feeling backed up by unchecked political power  that one man  from one tribe could today favour the Dinkas  and the next one the Nuer, sets up a perpetual see saw of conflict that will doom South Sudan to faliure before it's got on it's own two feet. The moderating influence of Equatorian counter weight in any discussion means that no policy will ever be adopted in Juba that isn't genuinely in the national interest.

After the shooting stops from the latest  round of violence, it would be nice to see the creation of a party political system that isn't based on ethnic or regional loyalty. There is need to establish such an ideological/practical array of  political division or there will be a repeat of  incidents like the ones plaguing South Sudan right now.  National interest cannot be created nor can a national consensus exist as long as people do not rise above the current voting patterns. I am aware from as early as the years just prior to the peace agreement and the cooling off period following the end of the war of liberation, that the only way we created consensus in the North American diaspora was when we made people leave the tribal divisions at the door. Only then were we able to create the list of jobs needed to do when the time came, the list of priority spending targets when the money became available.  At the end of the day at every one of those conferences we knew that almost everybody in the room had lost people to the bullets and bombs of Khartoum. How many hours, days , weeks and months were spent building the consensus that created the new identity of  "South Sudanese". How could we allow petty self interest now that the country is liberated , ruin what could be one of the most prosperous nations in Africa.

South Sudanese is not something you can point to in an anthropology study or linguistic map of Africa, South Sudanese is as artificial as American, Canadian or even Italian.  A country as large as Western Europe, with as many linguistic groupings and regions cannot be expected to become ONE seamless perfect identity overnight,  but with the help of a federal system and the taking into account of all the regional and ethnic interests in decision making, it wouldn't take long for a stable albeit new identity to take root. Tribalism should give way to multiculturalism and cooperation, a society where it is ok to be Dinka , Nuer  or any other tribe and still be like a brother or sister to your fellow South Sudanese. Celebrate your diversity, but never forget that the nation was forged in the blood and the steel of all the peoples of South Sudan, not just those of the current presidency.

In the years I served the Movement ( SPLM/SPLA indepence then SSIM/SSIA ) in my RASS capacity, I was proud to be part of a process that slowly over time took people from a disconnected group of people with a similar strugle against oppression, to a path where all concerned were agreed that there should be a country called South Sudan and that the country should learn from the errors of the North. To be clear, what precisely did the North do ? How did they treat the South from the 1950's to the last day the bullet flew?  Sisal, sesame and coffee, all crops that would have made South Sudan prosperous were suppressed or stolen and the profits all went to Khartoum, oil revenues and fields were entirely in the control of the North while population centres from Juba, Malakal, Torit and others were bombed and destabilised. Is this what people really want to do yet again but this time in the name of  skewed national self interest? Should  Equatoria be made the next South, to be marginalized and maltreated at the hands of a string of un representative non pan-national leaders whose only desire is to insure the comfort of one large tribe or the other?

What is required now is a meritocracy in the civil service, national bank, judiciary and police, the estblishment of a fully British styled assembly with the power to name a Prime Minister from amongst it's own, empowered to run federal affairs via a cabinet also named of assembly members supporting the PM's party.  This federal assembly needs to however work with and for the various interests as represented by the states or provinces that speak for specific regions and the interests that arise from that region's resources and talents. The benefits of strong provincial governments and strong federal government mean the tight balancing act between regional interests, national interests and good common sense solutions to problems  that otherwise left to fester, will only lead later to the sort of bloodshed we have seen or the ultimate dissolution of South Sudan and the glee of many who said it should never have been allowed to go it alone.

I know the desire of my old boss Commander Chairman Riek Machar and all those that were imprisoned  and now recently released, as well as all of those under them, was to make South Sudan a rich, prosperous and fair country. I would like to think that if Silva Kiir has the best interests of the country at heart, he would rapidly move to make sure the talks start soon and the reforms put in place quickly. I however will not hold my breath, I was aware early on that there was every possibility that because Riek Machar, or for that matter anybody else, could have beaten Mr Kiir, trouble was brewing. When, the mass firing occurred after the removal of  VP Machar, I knew that paranoia had taken hold. Such was the situation that only the blindest could not see the bloodbath to come.  That the UN and the rest of the world are doing nothing to stop Uganda from propping up the rotten and dangerous regime of Silva Kiir is even more distressing given the extra work this gives the rebels who would otherwise have cleared the crumbling vestiges of legitimacy and power still left.

Riek Machar

As it is, it would appear that the South Sudanese diaspora is coming to side with Riek Machar and his rebels, most recently the Dinka community in Minnesota has joined in the many other voices calling for the toppling of the current president of the country. One hopes this ends soon and the rebuilding can start without delay.

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