Security Desk - How South Sudan should be governed I

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Thursday, 10 September 2009 23:09
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Mariar Wuoi

(Pennsylvania USA) -  As the referendum deadline approaches, millions of Southerners are filled with hope and anxiety. From this experiment-gone-wrong called united Sudan, there is a good chance that Southerners are going to vote to secede. We don’t know whether this will be in South’s interest. Southerners are eager for something that has never been tried before: an independent country. Every experience with the North has been characterized by exploitation, extermination, neglect, and promises unfulfilled. This is the main reason why South is likely to secede come rain or shine. But is South seceding for the sake of turning its back on North or is it doing so because it wants to create something better for its people? Is secession a less bad scenario than remaining part of Sudan and seek changes from within? Are we prepared to undertake the responsibilities of a functioning government – one that will meet the aspirations of millions of Southerners?  Or is South just getting ready to join dozens of other failed countries south of Sahara?

These are the difficult questions that must be answered before we cast our vote.  There are no easy answers. South is like a wife locked in an abusive relationship and is finally fed up and wants to get out even if doing so is fraught with uncertainty. It’s the only experiment that has not been tried before. Given this challenging future, South must do what many African countries failed to when they took over from powerful colonial governments: lay strong foundation for institutional effectiveness.

Many African countries inherited a system of government that was centered on a powerful executive branch. What this created is ruling elite that controls all apparatus of government; thereby creating conditions for patronage and ‘bigmanship.’ This has led to widespread corruption and failed bureaucracy. In Kenya, for example, Jomo Kenyatta became a very powerful president and was able to control the other two branches of government. What happened is the Kikuyu community benefited economically from the Kenyatta administration just like white settlers did in many colonies across Africa. There was no attempt or will on the part of Kenyatta to change the status quo. There was no incentive in trying to do away with a system that was likely to serve him well. A selfless leader would have said that there is something wrong with this system; let’s reform it so that we can create a more equitable society and one where institutions are strong and able to serve citizens.

When Moi took over from Kenyatta, he took more draconian measures to assume more powers and made the country a one-party state for the next decades. The Kalenjins did well under Moi. Many owned businesses and corruption became the hallmark of Moi’s regime. Following the 1982 coup attempt, Moi pushed the country towards a police state by instituting tough laws and suppressed internal dissent. More importantly, tribes like Luo, and Luhya among others, began to feel marginalized and left out of wealth distribution process. Today, Kenya is a country mired in political competition and corruption. It has not advanced to the same level as Botswana. When you look at South today, you see similar conditions plaguing Kenya coming to light. South has a powerful executive similar to one Kenyatta inherited from the British, and the legislative and judicial branches are not performing their check and balances on the executive on matters such as corruption and prosecution of those who have misappropriated state resources. To remedy the problem, I believe that South should create an hybrid system of government that will incorporate aspects of government that have worked in countries like United States, China, and even Iran.

Yes, China and Iran. To some, this must sound like a joke but Iranian system is really effective. The only major drawback is the Supreme leader because it goes against the idea of overthrowing absolute monarchy. What Iran created is a powerful system of checks and balances that has at least reined in corruption that was widespread under the Shah. So what can we borrow from Iranian system? A powerful supervisory council of some kind that will oversee the performance of a president, advice the president on policy ranging from defense to domestic and even dismiss the president if he/she veers outside policies set forth by the council is what we can borrow from the Iranians. In effect, what this creates is a weak executive that is overseen by a powerful supervisory council. The Council vets all the president’s appointees and dismisses an appointee who does not perform or fails in critical functions of his docket. The main function of this council would be to see if a particular policy is good for the country. It would set the direction of the country and expect the president to not deviate from that program. Members of this council would come from all over the South, any political party, and must be distinguished in fields ranging from law to military. More importantly, a president would have the right to appoint members of the council but has no power to dismiss them. Only parliament would recommend that a member of the council be removed if found to have fallen short of the trust of his or her responsibilities.

So what are the advantages of a weak executive and powerful system of checks and balances? For starters, it makes presidency unattractive to those seeking power and incentives and those who want to run the country as a way to serve the public to undertake the arduous process of becoming a president. It eliminates a system of patronage in which those appointed to serve the country end up serving a personality. When those appointed to serve the public end up beholden to the person who appointed them, this is a recipe for corruption to flourish. Individuals can misappropriate public resources or don’t perform effectively in their respective portfolios, because they know full well that they will never be punished as long as they command the good grace of the president.

Time and again, this has been the case in many African countries. If we have a council that can dismiss and recommend prosecution of those found to have breached public trust, there will be no instances of corruption that have cost countries dearly in many countries across Africa. Another positive aspect of a weakened executive is that it eliminates the perception that certain tribe controls power and wealth of the state. In fact, a candidate from a minority tribe can run for presidency and once in office, he or she can expect to follow a program set and approved by the council. Failure to do so will result in dismissal from the office.

A powerful supervisory council made up of respected and distinguished citizens in the South can ensure that checks and balances are adhered to. If, for example, a president made decision without consulting and winning the approval of parliament, the Council can put a break to his unilateral move and advice him to reconsider. Likewise, parliament can be expected to perform its legislative and appropriation duties diligently.

The question that logically comes to mind is whether such an ambitious system is achievable and sustainable over time? It is if there is a political will to put country above ambitions. South is in an enviable position to take notice of what has worked elsewhere and what has failed. It does not have to look far to see that the experimentation with powerful executive has been a failure. It has bred more problems that have essentially prevented countries from investing in their people.

The hypothesis here is that this system is a good roadmap for how the country can escape the black hole of corruption, weak institutions, and failed development. The devil is always in the detail.

Can such a system be designed in such a way that it wins the trust and confidence of Southern citizens? There is no such thing as perfect system of government ever created by men. Even in advanced democracies like those in Western countries, there are hiccups and tweaking that are necessary from time to time. What don’t change are the underlying principles upon which the system is founded. The objective is doing away with a colonial relic like a powerful executive in order to create a more equitable and fair system of government. Doing so would be advantageous and lead to a path of development. In time, there would be no need for a particular tribe to seek or maintain power as a shortcut to prosperity. It is a way to serve the overall goals of the nation as a whole. Each tribe is reduced to looking inward for economic and social progress and not to the state.

For now, this is the system uniquely suited to the South’s need and will result in a better outcome than what we have seen in neighboring countries and across Africa. A second part of this article will elaborate details of how such a system can be created in the South. There are hypothetical scenarios under which such a system of government can be problematic. However, it will do what has never been done in many other countries that have been characterized by failures and lack of investment in human capital. More importantly, the main intent here is to do away with corruption and more importantly, prosecuting to the fullest extent of law those who engage in corrupt practices. A weak executive does not have the power to influence or defeat prosecution. It is the only way to escape the trap that has befallen many other countries and is the way to win confidence and attract meaningful investment in our development.

*Mariar Wuoi is a NSV columnist. He can be reached This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.