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South Sudan: Where Do the Governors of Equatoria Stand On Federalism?

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South-SudanLast Friday the 30th of January 2015, the three Governors of Equatoria travelled to Addis Ababa to present their protest on what was reported in the media as relegating the current Vice president, who is from Equatoria, to the third position in the Executive in the IGAD proposed power sharing arrangement within the peace agreement that will end the war and bring peace to the country. They took with them a document titled “Equatoria Community Second Extra-Ordinary Conference and the Fifth Conference Resolutions” purported to have been the resolutions of an extra-ordinary conference held in Juba the same day by “Equatoria Community”. The document did not receive as much publicity as the reported anger of the Equatorians on denying their number the proposed position of the First Vice President of the Republic. Thanks to “Juba Monitor” newspaper which published the full text of the resolutions on a full page of the paper with true signatures of the three Governors. This was in its issue No. 304 dated Monday the 2nd of February 2015. Since then the veracity of document has not been challenged, therefore, one may safely assume that it is authentic.
There is a lot that can be said on whether the issue of hierarchy within a political party is a regional matter or is purely party business, or whether state appointments are the prerogative of state organs and institutions or matters to be determined by communities. Even whether state officials hold government positions in a personal capacity or in the name of the communities/States they hail from. These matters are not of interest to this author and will not be discussed here. The purpose of this piece is to deal with one extremely important aspect of the published resolutions of Equatoria Community; that is federalism. The reason for doing so is because if there was one issue that Equatorians showed proven unity on is their near unanimous demand for a federal state in South Sudan. In all their conferences which to date number five (according to this latest document), the demand for federalism in the four previous conferences has been a constant and prominent item in the resolutions. Last year, the three Governors themselves came under tremendous pressure from some influential quarters in the national government for adopting such a stand but they stood their ground, to the admiration of many South Sudanese who believe in free speech, not to mention those who support such a system of governance to be fully implemented in our country. Indeed, the three Governors sent in June last year a joint delegation, including ministers from the three States of Equatoria, to the Addis Ababa peace talks in an attempt to persuade the negotiating parties and influence the mediation to include in their agenda the adoption of federalism as part of resolving the current crisis.
It is this author’s considered opinion that as far as federalism is concerned the resolutions of Equatoria Community dated 30th January 2015 which the Governors took to Addis Ababa are a turning point indeed. These resolutions are different from if not in contradiction to the resolutions of the previous four conferences. The following paragraphs shall attempt to explain why.
The Communique is a carefully drafted document. It is noteworthy that in a long preamble, which constitutes almost half the document, there is no reference to federalism which had featured prominently in the resolutions of the previous four conferences of Equatoria Community. The sole paragraph that deals with federalism came under “Other Issues” [(B)(20] which we quote here in full. Quote:
“Federal option for the republic of South Sudan shall be democratically negotiated in the constitution making process but not through party interest agreement. Neither the SPLM nor the other political parties and organisations have the mandate to determine and impose federalism on South Sudanese people. Equatoria’s constant call for federal system is a peaceful, open and civic demand driven by our socio economic and political situation in our country. It is therefore a constitutional right in a democratic society to propose the best governance system to serve the people”. End of Quote.
For the ease of analysis, we shall break the above statement into its essential elements. These elements are:
1. Federalism “shall be democratically negotiated in the constitution making process”.
This statement can only mean that the issue of federalism should not be raised in the current peace talks and should await the permanent ‘constitution making process’. This sounds familiar a language and we all know where it comes from. But, is this the view of Equatoria Community? If so, why did they send a delegation to Addis Ababa in June to promote federalism and sell it to the negotiators?
2. Federalism is to be negotiated “not through party interest agreement”
If we take the previous sentence that federalism shall be democratically negotiated in the constitution making process, one assumes that the parties that will take part in those negotiations are the political parties, each of which has a stand (interest) on federalism and other issues related to the constitution of the country. So, if all issues are to be negotiated ‘through party interest agreement’, why not federalism? The current system of governance in the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan 2011, call it what you like, came as a result of agreement of political parties (some say, imposition of the SPLM) in 2011. This is a system the drafters of the Communique seem to particularly like and would like to maintain as we shall point out later. Why was ‘party interest agreement’ acceptable for the current system and objectionable for federalism?
If the ‘party interest agreement’ is meant to refer to the outcome of the peace talks in Addis Ababa, mainly between the government and the SPLM/A-in opposition, why would a federalist reject federalism that comes through such an agreement and accept other agreed points? Are we interested in the application of federalism or in who brings it about?
3. “Neither the SPLM nor the other political parties and organisations have the mandate to determine and impose federalism on South Sudanese people”.

This is the key statement in the whole document. If the political parties in the country do not have a mandate to decide on federalism, who has?
As mentioned earlier, the SPLM and the other political parties (some of them, to be exact.) sat down in April 2011 and worked out a Constitution that became the constitution of all South Sudanese. This constitution ‘imposed’ a particular system of governance on the South Sudanese people. Make no mistake; the Southerners were not consulted on that Constitution. Now, why should following the same procedure be acceptable in relation to the current system and objectionable when it comes to adopting federalism? One may innocently further ask the drafters of the Communiqué: if it is not the SPLM and other political parties that ‘determine and impose federalism’, how shall federalism ‘be democratically negotiated’ in whatever forum?
Add to the above points the constant reference in the Communiqué to the “decentralized Equatorial (sic) States”. Nowhere is the three Equatoria States mentioned without that being preceded by the word ‘decentralized’. The drafters must have wanted to pass a clear message. Those familiar with the political discourse that followed the hot debate about federalism last year will not fail to understand why this stress on decentralization from the side of the drafters of the Communiqué. People have then been made to understand that the choice was distinct between federalism (as proposed) and decentralization (presumed to be the current system of governance enshrined in the Constitution). In theory and practice, decentralization is the system of governance antithetical to centralization of power. It spans a wide range of forms: local government, autonomy, federalism and confederation (as was in Switzerland). Hence, the use of decentralization without further qualification as to which type you are referring to is misleading, to say the least. As you can see, federalism itself is one type of decentralization. However, we shall here follow the popular use so that we do not confuse the readers. One can infer from all the above that the drafters of the document are for the current system of ‘decentralization’ to be maintained. But, is that the view of the Governors and the Equatorians they represent?
One cannot fail to admire the determination and courage of the Equatoria Governors for standing up for what they believe in and taking their case to Addis Ababa where the President was at that time. This was a commendable step. Our country will be saved only when all of us say what we believe in, and not what the powers that be would like to hear. However, let us honestly and soberly evaluate the outcome of that trip.
The publicly declared aim of the visit was to insure that the current Vice President occupied the position of the First Vice President proposed by IGAD mediators. It must be stressed that at the time the news broke out up to the moment of writing, it remained a proposal; the two sides did not agree on it yet. So, there was no position of First Vice President that was on offer. The Governors must have found out in Addis Ababa that the position of the government delegation on the matter was the rejection of the proposal and had suggested instead two Vice-Presidents of the equal status, whatever that means!! Where does this arrangement, if accepted by the other side, leave the original demand of getting the No. Two position? If the trip was to influence the position of the government in the talks to accept the proposal and then give the position to the Equatorian Vice president, then judging from the position of the government, not much has been achieved. As things stand today, the current Vice President will retain his position after all. Was the trip premature or were other issues discussed? The Communiqué helps us answer this question.
To come back to our main point, what did the Governors tell the government mediators about federalism? Did they convey to government mediators what came in the Communiqué above?
The reason for asking these questions is because the agreement that was signed by the two parties on the 1st of February is silent about federalism.
One hoped the Governors reminded the two negotiating parties about their commitments to federalism so far. As a matter of fact, the stakeholders in Bahir Dar did agree in October 2014 on the following in relation to federalism. Quote:
“Acknowledge that a federal system of governance is a popular demand of a large section of the population of South Sudan and therefore agree to reflect it by way of effective devolution of more powers to the states in this agreement particularly in the areas of security, judicial administration, law enforcement, fiscal reforms and public sector reforms.” End quote. (Source: Summary of Areas of Agreement and Disagreement, Reviewed and edited by the Negotiating Committee on 4th October 2014).
If there was no backtracking by either of the parties, why didn’t the same statement appear as it is in the agreement of 1st February? Or did they withdraw that commitment on reading the Communique of Equatoria Community that the issue of federalism should await the constitution making process? It is oxymoron to talk of ‘imposition’ when the stakeholders have acknowledged that federalism is a popular demand.
These are legitimate questions that await honest clarification. It is clear the drafters of the Communique were not certainly for a federal system of governance. Maybe in the rush to catch up the plane that same day, many of the participants including the Governors did not have time to have a critical look at the document. Some cynics suggest that federalism was traded off for the second position in the Executive. One is disinclined to accept this view at the moment, and would rather give the Governors the benefit of the doubt.
The author is the leader of the opposition SPLM-DC
The views expressed in the ‘Comment and Analysis’ section are solely the opinions of the writers. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author not Sudan Tribune.