South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, on October 2nd, 2015, issued an executive order that increased the country’s current 10 states to 28 decentralized states. The new arrangement, to a certain degree, follows ethnic boundaries, methodically isolating those communities mainly in the Upper Nile region. Thus, the decision supposedly addresses longstanding demands for devolution of powers and participatory democracy, reduces power wrangling at the center, responds to ethnic conflicts necessitated by perceived and/or real domination, and mitigates new conflict dynamics created by the ARCISS. Public response has been mixed. Some citizens believe the decision is a positive development, which paves way for self-governance. On the other hand, others see it as negatively impactful, especially in light of many constraints, such as lack of consideration for constitutional procedures and prevailing economic situation in the country.
The executive decision underlies the notion that creating more states produces more seats to accommodate political elites. Likewise, the new states partly surface by transferring positions from the national government to subnational communities, thereby curtailing power conflicts at the federal level. The objective is to transfer half of the size of the central government to the states, narrowing the government at the top and broadening it at the base. Advocates for the federal system are generally concerned with direct involvement of the governed, thus establishing additional subnational administrative units supposedly promotes participatory democracy. Ethnic conflicts, like political conflicts at the center, are equally seen as a product of current governance structures. South Sudan comprises over 60 ethnic communities. While ethnic diversity could be an incentive if well managed, the country is plagued by longstanding ethnic hostilities. At times, ethnic conflicts amplify political conflicts, hence ethnically fanned political violence. Ethnic federation, as is momentarily the practice in Ethiopia, may allow for cohesion in the country, the decision seems to suggest. Lastly, the new order attempts to preempt the new political dynamics the ARCISS has generated in the Upper Nile region, subjecting government supporters in Upper Nile and Unity states to the opposition’s rule. A new conflict could arise if the government supporters in those states do not buy the agreement. Expanding space for shared governance in the two areas, the government possibly discerns, could reduce future conflicts.
While some quarters of the South Sudanese population are celebrating as evident by public response, the procedure of the decision and its contradictions to the transitional constitution and the agreement for the resolution of conflict in South Sudan (ARCIS) are also being challenged. The rebel movement that Dr. Riek Machar commands, for example, has already expressed its disapproval of the new order, on these bases. A number of peace advocates have also expressed similar concerns.
In this weekly review, the Sudd Institute attempts to shed light on the expansion of states in South Sudan. The analysis looks at the driving factors behind the decision, implications in the context of economic viability, constitutionality, and timing of the decision. Our sense is that, although there are plausible merits to the creation of additional states, it could turn negative, depending on how the political stakeholders manage it. In the sections that follow, our analysis provides detailed discussions on the decision’s key motivations and implications.
Augustino Ting Mayai is the Director of Research at the Sudd Institute and an Assistant Professor at the University of Juba’s School of Public Service. He holds a PhD in Sociology, with concentrations on demography and development from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently studies how state effectiveness affects child health outcomes in South Sudan and Ethiopia. Dr. Mayai has written extensively on South Sudan’s current affairs.
Nhial Tiitmamer is Research and Training Officer at the Sudd Institute. He is also the Institute’s lead person in environmental, energy and natural resources issues in South Sudan. Nhial received his undergraduate and graduate education in Environmental Studies and Sustainable Energy in Canada where he spent stints as an environmental consultant and research associate in environmental studies. Nhial is the co-founder of the NewSudanVision.com and has been an active member of the South Sudanese community in the Diaspora through which he has been involved in informed activism in issues about South Sudan.
Jok Madut Jok is a cofounder of the Sudd Institute. He is the author of three books and numerous articles covering gender, sexuality and reproductive health, humanitarian aid, ethnography of political violence, gender based violence, war and slavery, and the politics of identity in Sudan.