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Sudan Tribune

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A federal system and Kokora are two different things

By Jacob K. Lupai

March 20, 2013 – The concept that a federal system and kokora are two different things is to address some confusion in people’s minds. In the context of South Sudan some people may perceive a federal system and kokora as synonymous. However, it can be asserted that a federal system and kokora are altogether two different things. The confusion arises from a negative perception of kokora.

People need to be made aware that a federal system and kokora are not synonymous. They need some education to be confident to see the difference. One way of educating people is through the definition of kokora in contrast to a federal system. This hopefully may shed some light on the difference between a federal system and kokora.

Kokora is not an English word and so cannot be found in any English dictionary. It is a word in the language used by one ethnic group, the Karo ethnic group, of Equatoria. The Karo ethnic group is composed of the Bari, Kakwa, Kuku, Mundari, Nyangwara and the Pojulu. In translating the work kokora into English, it may simply mean division. In 1983 kokora became a famous catchword in South Sudan.

In 1972 South Sudan was granted the status of one region through an agreement known as the Addis Ababa Agreement concluded to end a civil war. As a single region South Sudan was administered through a high executive council headed by a president with a council of ministers. Previously South Sudan was composed of three provinces known as Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile separately answerable to the central government in Khartoum in the old Sudan. However, the agreement unified the three provinces into a single entity, the southern region.

In the southern region people of the former province of Equatoria agitated for decentralization. In contrast the majority of non Equatorians were vehemently opposed to the decentralization of the southern region into three regions corresponding to its former provinces of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile. The situation became reminiscent of people in a tag-of-war. There was neither mutual understanding nor a middle way as suggested by Arop Madut-Arop in his book, The Genesis of Political Consciousness in South Sudan.

Arop Madut-Arop’s conviction was that the division of the southern region into three regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile should have been accepted but under an umbrella authority of the High Executive Council with its headquarters based in Rumbek in Bahr el Ghazal. This was interesting. Had the southern politicians picked this up the situation might have been different and also the word kokora might not have been conceived as it was then.

Eventually when the southern region was divided into three regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile, the Karo word kokora became synonymous with the division of the southern region, the division which was negatively perceived and vehemently opposed by non Equatorians who strongly felt Equatorians wanted them out of Equatoria by all means. It is not therefore strange that the strong feeling against kokora lives on as a result of the division of the then southern region.

The feeling of people towards kokora may explain the confusion in people’s minds between a federal system and kokora. Some people imagine that a call for a federal system is in fact a call for the division of South Sudan exactly the way the division of the southern region took place in 1983 and the subsequent departure of non Equatorians from Equatoria.

Federal system
Hardly any argument will be made for the merit of a federal system. It is rather to articulate that a federal system is not the dreaded kokora which took place in a hostile atmosphere. By then politicians across South Sudan were unfortunately in bitter opposite camps with less focus on a middle way forward as people of one destiny.

A federal system should not be seen as a target against political opponents or a way of throwing out those who belong to other regions or states. It is not a political tool to discriminate but rather a tool that is used to promote national unity in diversity. Many countries in the world use a federal system without being fussy. Why should South Sudan be so unique not to adopt a federal system while it is a country full of diversities?

Kokora is already history. It is now thirty years since kokora first appeared in the scene. The population of people under 30 years old in South Sudan is 72.1 per cent. The implication is that the majority of population of South Sudan was not yet born when kokora took place. The question is why should a tiny minority of old people prejudice the energetic youth who are the future leaders of this country. Kokora is now being used falsely to warn people of divisions perceived as detrimental to national unity.

It is obvious that national unity is of paramount importance. What matters, though, is how to attain national unity. National unity cannot be attained by lecturing others. It is something that all have to work for. As in the SPLM Manifesto 2012 the Chairman, Salva Kiir Mayardit, said, “A new nation comes with new challenges. We must face challenges with innovative solutions and a bold approach”.

We need an innovative and bold approach such as exploring a federal system that is unique to South Sudan in promoting national unity instead of being paralysed by paranoia of kokora. Kokora as it is now history, unfortunately, uprooted non Equatorians from Equatoria. Nevertheless, it was not only non Equatorians who were uprooted but Equatorians were also uprooted from the other regions. The pain of kokora was shared. So living in the past is not going to be helpful in nation building.

We may need to be liberated from the paranoia of kokora. This is in order to be rational in charting the way forward in attaining national unity because a federal system is not the same as kokora. At any rate it is the human being to make any system capable of delivering adequate services. For example, human weakness in the system in upholding the rule of law may see an increase in crimes being committed hence rampant insecurity that may be a threat to national unity.

Unity of South Sudan
How to promote the unity of South Sudan is a challenge. A centralized unitary system is considered by some as the guarantor of unity. However, what this does in a country of a very low literacy rate and where people are inclined to be too tribalistic is the encouragement of disunity. A decentralized system is claimed to be operational but the reality is that it is more of a centralized system. Others have claimed that South Sudan is already applying a federal system. This is false. A federal system is not being applied. The prejudiced are resistant because of what appears to be a hangover caused by kokora.

What appears to be a hangover caused by kokora is nothing but a guilt feeling for unforgivable crude behavior which I one time called medieval behavior. It is not kokora but the crude behavior that makes people suspicious that a call for a federal system is a ploy to throw them out, for example, from Equatoria. This is, of course, ridiculous. A federal system has nothing to do with throwing people out from this or that region or from a state for that matter.

A federal system is for an equitable sharing of power and wealth for the benefit of people regardless of their region, tribal, cultural and political background. Arguably a federal system is not the creation of tribal homelands. What is important is a strong central government that has an iron fist to deliver. A hot line of communication for consultation, cooperation and coordination between the centre and the regions should be established in promoting national unity. There are mechanisms of creating a unique federal system for South Sudan that will address the fear of kokora.

Appropriate system
As to what is the appropriate system for South Sudan is a matter of opinion. However, worldwide support for a federal system is greater today than ever before because of a growing conviction that it enables a country to have the best of both worlds, those of shared rule and self-rule, coordinated national government and diversity, creative experimentation and liberty.

In South Sudan a centralized system is being adopted but it seems the centralized system is not delivering basic services as expected. There is regional disparity, rampant insecurity and stagnation in development. How can national unity be promoted is such a situation? It may be appropriate to try something else. When the fear of kokora is overcome the appropriate system will be a federal system. This is because a federal system enables a country to have the best of both worlds, those of shared rule and self-rule. This can only be good in promoting national unity in diversity in South Sudan.

It is hoped that the difference between a federal system and kokora has been satisfactorily elaborated. The fear of kokora should not be unduly the fear of a federal system for South Sudan. It was understandable what the trauma of kokora thirty years ago had on people. It might have been unforgettable experience for those innocent ones. However, apportioning blame won’t be of any useful purpose in the search for a better way forward because it takes two to quarrel.

We either carry ourselves together or we fall. What is important is for people to be open-minded for governance that works for inclusiveness as the vision is to build an inclusive secular democratic developmental state according to the SPLM Manifesto 2012.

It is hoped it is now clear that a federal system and kokora are two different things. In all people should rest assured that the adoption of a federal system is not kokora or a ploy. Nothing will change in the way of movement of people out of Equatoria.

Inter-personal and community relations may improve as there will be reduction in crude behaviours which have been the source of antagonism. For example, such a crude behavior as grabbing land or plots of legitimate owners or disrespect for the rule of law will not be rampant as it is. This, however, does not mean that people with inherent crude behavior would have been ejected or thrown out of Equatoria. What that means is that in a federal system there may likely to be a behavioral change for the better.

In conclusion, Equatoria is an integral part of South Sudan. So the fearful of a federal system that it is kokora and that they will be thrown out of Equatoria should relax for Equatoria is a home to any South Sudanese like Bahr el Ghazal or Upper Nile which can also be a home to any South Sudanese.

The author can be reached at [email protected]