Why House Of Nationalities Is Necessary in Souyth Sudan
"Why the Constitutional Review Commission Should Enshrine the House of Nationalities into Our Nascent Polity"
14 February 2011
By R. Mou Run
As the people of South Sudan anticipate formal independence in July, a great deal is also expected of the drafters of our new constitution. Our media is already abuzz with this issue and I do not wish to go into that discussion of inclusiveness and the like, in the review process. My aim here is to argue the case for a House of Nations (or the House of Nationalities as it currently exist in the realm of civil society organisations) into our decentralisation of power. The House of Nationalities in its current form represents something that many South Sudanese probably seek to perpetuate and I believe, if modified and institutionalised, it can hold a diverse nation-state together. History suggests that our future national level of government will desperately need it.
Here is why and how it can work:
Our Interim Constitution seems to me to be devoid of original ideas and the thought that a permanent constitution will be developed from it by so few people in such a short time is worrying. The fact that the committee has the word “review” in it does suggest no major changes need to be made. This is very concerning indeed. If history has taught us anything, it is that the most imaginative, most radical constitutions, truly reflective of the land and its people can insure liberty and through it, peace and prosperity. The House of Nationalities is an idea and the review committee must view that and incorporate it as another House into our constitution. By creating a House of Nations representing all tribes of Southern Sudan, the state takes away the sense of marginalisation that sometimes foments protracted conflict in plural nation-states.
From my perspective, a House of Nations is not an advocacy of ethno-federalism, rather, it is a house of equal representation of identities. In such a house, a nation must have one or two (my dream would be to allocate each nation two seats – one fixed for a man and the other for a woman) representatives irrespective of the population of the said nations. Equal representation means equality of status as nations. We know this idea to be one of the bedrocks of republicanism that serves the exemplary polities such as the United States of America.
Adopting a House of Nations need not mean redrawing current state borders for such an institution must be about the nation of people, not geography. State borders can remain as they are and the South Sudan legislature (which I suspect will be the national assembly) elected to represent the wishes of the individual can stand in its own place as well. A house of Nations also needs not affect the vertical relationship between the different levels of government.
Leaving state borders as they are will do two things: first it will allow members of ethnic groups to vote for their tribal leadership irrespective of residence; second, it will take away potential territorial standoff between the state and any tribal group.
The purpose of the House of Nations would be to counteract the tyranny of the majority, the democratic deficit. Indeed failure to acknowledge the fact that majoritarian democracy is anti-liberty especially as far as minorities are concerned is one of the main reasons most diverse postcolonial states that simply copy Western models of representative democracy tend to fall short on the promise of good governance. The American Founding Fathers, invented rights-based representative democratic republic precisely for that reason and we have the opportunity to do something majestic with being the newest nation-state in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The world is full of ideas and history guides us through the lists of trials and errors; as a new nation, we have one of the rarest opportunities to define ourselves now and lay down the foundations for liberty, prosperity and the opportunity to enjoy life for posterity. We can, can prove all our doubters wrong.
In a recent opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, neoconservative commentator, Bret Stephens mocks us by quoting some 19th Century West African chiefs who requested the British Empire to colonise their people just so they could get things under control and wondered whether we, like those chiefs of centuries past, would need help in the art of governance. I thought Stephens, as ignorant as he sounded, had reasons to insult us. Examples of failed or failing states in Sub-Saharan Africa abound in the Western imagination, Sudan being one.
Reasons for failure are not enigmatic. Recent rewriting of the Kenyan Constitution resulted, in no small part, from a lack of vision to account for pluralism and division of power in the original; the standoff in Ivory Coast; the root cause of the Lord Resistance Army; the continuous breakdown of governance in the Congo; and not least, our very reason for breaking away from the north have to do with relegating the elephant in the room – our diversity – to some unimportant irk. We must acknowledge that we all belong to different tribes and until every cultural group has equal stake in the state, petty wars will be inevitable for identity is a vessel into which all grievances can be stuffed, molded and potentially perpetual enmity, perceived or real, can come from it.
In a polity with a House of Nations, all cultures will be represented and every tribesman/woman will be able to name someone they voted for or against, but who still represents their tribe. That way, the state will not be able to impose laws aimed to negatively affect minorities and minorities will have fewer reasons to wage LRA –styled war against the state. In fact, it would be in their interest to settle internal disagreement through the ballot box as they contribute to nationwide contest of ideas. Let us think about that for a second before hastily designing a state based on the models of embattled polities in our neighbourhood.
As we approach being a legitimate state in the international system, we must not take history lightly. In his widely acclaimed book, The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of Nation-State, Basil Davidson points out all that is wrong with African statecraft. Chief among his arguments is African leaders’ blindness to the complexity of tribal differences. I believe if we give all tribes, or, as I prefer, nations equal voice in a house were their small number does not matter, we can diminish marginalisation and the possibility of tribally fuelled political conflict that has been plaguing our continent since decolonisation and turn this curse or burden into a blessing. We can be as radical as the Americans were and create a republic that older countries would seek to emulate in the future when their current structures begin to crumble.
Radically imagining our future has strong advocates. One of our surviving “Founding Fathers”, Joseph Lagu counseled in a recent interview with New Sudan Vision, that we do not “repeat the mistakes made by successive Khartoum Governments, but to behave and to give every citizen, no matter what ethnicity, gender, religion, the individual belongs; the sense of belonging. This is what will make each of the citizens to be loyal to his/her country.”
He added that we must pursue an American styled democracy. I agree. The United States is a republic and one of the key tenets of republicanism is to design a government in which no one branch of government dominates. A House of Nations can compliment our country’s goal of unity and give each citizens a sense of full representation; representation as an individual in the Legislative Assembly and also as a Luo, an Acholi, a Nuer and so on. There may be problems with this proposal but it has the potential to trim off some undesirable elements in the Interim Constitution where sits phrases like rights of minorities and other platitudes.
The word “minorities” is itself cringe-worthy for a people who spent so long and so much fighting for collective self-determination. These so-called minorities, under international law, have a right to self-determination. In the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, we claimed this right collectively. This secession is all about our collectivity and for it to be real, there has to be a house in which all nations sit as equal members of the state, not as majority-minority – the dichotomy which frustrated us, as one people, in our dealings with the North for such a long time.
We must accept our differences to be united; throwing a blanket on it is not the answer.
A House of Nations invested with the power to safeguard the interest of all the nations forming the union can act as an upper house. This will not be the first of its kind.
Jacob J Akol has been writing about how we should look to Botswana which has a house of chiefs representing local values. The Batswana example is worth thinking about, but I think the Ntlo ya Dikgosis (Batswana House of Chiefs) has some limitations that we, as a young state, imagining our own future without colonial trappings should go beyond.
This proposal for a bicameral assembly aiming to represent individuals on the one hand and tribes on the other may not be the ultimate antidote to the poison that runs through the veins of plural polity, but I believe it is a key ingredient.
14/02/2011, 9:38 PM
- Posted by Jacob Akol
Over all, I agree with Mou's sentiments about equal representation; but he has either not fully read my report on Botswana on this website or in my book 'Burden of Nationality'. I have listed the Botswan system of governance as one of the systems we in South Sudan should never adopt for the simple reason that it does not go far enough but endorses a colonial legacy which gives dominance of one ethnic group, the Bataswana, supremacy over others who are the mojority added together.
The colonial legacy goes back to when 8 chiefs of Bagtaswana speaking group wrote to Queen Victoria for protection against marouding Boers from the south. The English Queen granted the protection to the 8 Bataswana Chiefs. As far as Queen Victoria was concerned the protectorate known then as Baswanaland, and which we now know as Botswana, belonged to the 8 Bataswana Chiefs.
In comparison to our situation in South Sudan, this would be like handing over the whole of South Sudanhe to 8 Dinka, or Zande or Nuer chiefs.
When independence came, the native government of Botswana endorsed the old British system; thus the House of Chiefs in Botswana was composed of the 8 Paramount Chiefs from only one ethnic group, the Bataswana. The other ethinic communities have all along been discriminated against by limiting their representation to only sub-chiefs ,subjects of the Paramount Chiefs. I totally object to such an arrangement. If anything, I prefer the Ethiopian constitutional representation, never that of Botswana, for reasons stated in 'Burden of Nationality'.