A case for a National Joint Council of Elders - Acuil Banggol
Updated: Feb 23
Acuil Banggol, Juba
Allow me to humbly add my voice to efforts towards forming, recognising and incorporating a National Joint Council of Elders in South Sudan (NJCE). If formed, this institution would utilise the role of South Sudan’s elders in exploring civic movements for the sake of building a nation state.
The NJCE would not replace the constitutionally mandated Council of Traditional Authority Leaders (COTAL), but instead complement it. Elderly wisdom is required in transforming our mentality from that of revolution to institutionalism and constitutionalism.
Such a body could play a soothing role in our nation’s politics, acting as a fire brigade and extinguisher in the case of conflict. Everyone, particularly junior political figures, should know that their political relevance can only be enhanced by the demonstration and implementation of authoritative knowledge and wisdom.
I trust society and the government will bestow appropriate material and moral rewards on the members of the NJCE. Between 1983 and 2005 we sacrificed our salaries, such that elders can now hold constitutional posts. Despite this, those that assume the responsibilities of statesmen and stateswomen must be aware that harder times are ahead. None of us should claim a monopoly of wisdom, and be immune from the criticism of those we lead.
In the modern world, it is a glaring truth that only stable countries are able to enjoy the effects of rich natural resources, such as improved livelihoods and prosperity. This is saliently seen in nations such as Singapore, Switzerland, South Korea, Botswana, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and also Arab Gulf Countries like Dubai, Oman and Bahrain.
It might be claimed that this prosperity is driven by sociopolitical stability and stable, sustained governance. Naturally, this drives social harmony between diverse ethnicities and cultural communities.
Contrast, for example, Japan and China, or East Germany and other Western European states that are ranked highly in livelihood and prosperity. Elsewhere, countries including Venezuela, Syria, Iraq and the Balkan states are potentially very wealthy. Yet, their resources are used for the enrichment of countries other than themselves. Despite being the home of such sought after resources, their vulnerability and base livelihoods are obvious.
The surface reasons for this are clear: unstable sociopolitical systems, citizen insecurity, and hostile environments for business and foreign investment. Although not abandoned by such investment, they exist as magnets for intensive extraction and lootocratic industries. In turn, these industries fuel conflict.
All conflict hotspots across the world share a certain ease by which their citizens are drawn up into patterns of violence and war. These nations’ citizens, ethnic and cultural communities are tricked into becoming the major players in conflicts that serve only as acts of national self harm. In doing this, they become the sole victims of those extractive and lootocratic industries.
South Sudan is amazingly resource rich. Yet, it is South Sudanese citizens who are at each others’ necks. Foolishly, South Sudanese citizens are abusing cultural identity and unity for the sake of ethnomilitary groups and intercommunal destruction. The harm inflicted on South Sudan by South Sudanese people is almost equivalent to that inflicted its enemies from 1955 to 2004.
In future, only dialogue and mutual searching for hope should be considered. Political spaces must be dominated by deep thinking and the exchange of views, as permitted by our laws and norms. South Sudan ought to define itself and establish itself in its own context.
On social media, I recently encountered an idea which has considerably interested me. If considered and implemented, it could enable a revival and rejuvenation of the sort of Jenubeenism that helped us achieve physical liberation in 2011. The idea is the establishment of an ethnofederal system, tailored to South Sudan. This would allow legislation which recognises, incorporates and institutes all of South Sudan’s ethnic and cultural communities. Stability could be well sustainably developed. South Sudan can again be stable if we embrace unity in cultural diversity. This can only work, however, if such diversity and unity is the founding principle of our ethnofederalism.
I read an important suggestion by Ustaz Athian Majak Akuemchol, addressed to our uncle Dr. Aldodit that Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) should instead be transformed into a Joint Council of Elders. This idea forms the basis of this article, and the argument for an NJCE. Following from this, I would add that the NJCE should be followed by a State Council of Elders (SCE).
I support the JCE insofar as individual ethnic and cultural groups need representation. It would be dishonest if anyone suggested that such groups do not need to be represented by their own leaders, in one way or another. Hence, the JCE would work well as one local component of a larger NJCE system.
Extrapolating this logic, a national ethnocultural structure whereby hope, inclusiveness and unity in diversity drives South Sudan’s development seems possible. Such could exist as a civic body, satisfying our nation’s appetite for the wisdom and advice of elders. It would be voluntary, allowing our senior citizens to contribute sage and relevant knowledge.
My suggestion allows for popular legitimacy and accountability, but with an appropriate constitutional mandate. This allows the NJCE to engage with the government on behalf of South Sudan’s various ethnicities and cultural communities.
We must bear in mind the increased relevance of these communities in the modern age. Those who know anything about the rise of the nation state will appreciate identity is a defining characteristic of the modern age. Between the fifth and seventeenth centuries, the Church reigned supreme. Upon mistreating Galileo, the door was opened for secular views supported by scientific method. The principle of government and governing institutions engendered the French Revolution. Since then, liberalism and national democratic revolutions have taken us down the path of cultural identitarianism: take note of Black Lives Matter.
Returning to South Sudan, it is clear to see that the SPLM’s successful liberation agenda has become popular amongst peasants, farmers, cattle herders and rural elites conscious about their own ethnocultural identity in opposition to Khartoum’s racist theocracy.
With the rise of technology, we have seen the harmonisation of development with political, economic and social literacy. SPLM’s revolutionary forefather, Dr John Garang, saw the possibility of taking modernity to rural peoples. Yet, in the age of social media and technological advancement, tech literacy now demands the movement of rural peoples to urban areas. As this occurs, a greater role is given to the roles and influence of ethnicities and cultural communities.
It is best that we adapt to this change, rather than be swept away by it. If we do not do the former and are instead affected by the latter, we will undoubtedly witness the sort of intercommunal seen in the Arab Spring, Somalia, Iraq and Syria. Recent events at Capitol Hill in the USA demonstrate how quickly such change can occur, even in developed nations.
In terms of South Sudan, we must be aware of anarchy within and amongst communities, particular against the nascent nation state.
In this respect, we must consider what is written in the 2011 Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (TRCSS2011). In Articles 167 and 168, sections 1 and 2, a Council of Traditional Authority Leaders is mandated. However, it is strange that it is mandated in lower case. In this sense, it appears almost hidden. From this, it appears more as an expression and not as a proper noun of a formal institution. It should be corrected to Council of Traditional Authority Leaders (COTAL), to be instituted at national and state levels. I also join those advocating for more states; specifically a return to 32 or 39 states.
The relevance of chiefs, kings and queens has been proven. There are many studies that support the popularity and relevance of traditional figures of authorities. Such is acutely seen in the Monyomiji and Buulok in Ottoho, and the various ethnic and cultural communities of the Murle.
As a nation made up of the territories of its people, South Sudan’s borders constitute the land of its many ethnocultural groups. To name but a few, these are the Wut in Jieng, Chie in Naath, Ashira in Murle, Omudiya in Chollo, Hot Dhok in Acholi, Jur in Bari and Rangara in Azande.
Given this, I couldn’t shy away from the idea that these traditional homelands might be considered Traditional Communal Federal Systems (TCFS). This relates to Article 168, sections 1 and 2 of TRCSS2011, which mandates traditional authority at all levels of government. As a nation consisting of a number of traditional tribal lands, traditional authority must be omnipresent. This must be remembered when considering the resolution of the R-ACRSS to build a modern nationstate of multitribal, multisocial, multicultural and multinational nationstate.
SPLM’s 2016 manifesto explicitly states that ‘Our democracy shall best be strengthened through devolution and decentralisation [federation], procedural justice and development of administrative law in ways that give individual citizen and communities the right to challenge state decisions that have not been arrived at by legitimate means or that do undue harm to any citizen... Or democracy's shall empower our peoples to seek appropriate redress whenever they have been made to suffer for the failings of their government.’
As a diverse, multitribal, multisocial, multicultural and multinational nation, we value unity in cultural diversity. Part of this process is insisting on the equal dignity of all human beings. All those oligarchs, political and military elites must recognise that it was Jenubeenist cultural identitarianism that cemented such unity in diversity that eventually won us independence. It was Awulaat Jenub, and not division, that fuelled our struggle for liberation.
Truly, only a disconnected and immature politician would deny the importance of identitarian unity in South Sudan’s recent history. It is unrealistic to suggest there is no cultural identitism inherent to Jenubeenism, and to ignore how this relates to the many ethnicities and cultural communities it covers.
To deny the necessity of recognising the many cultures and ethnicities that make up our nation would be to become another Sudan. In many respects, the idea of traditional authority is acutely democratic.Traditional authority leaders are traditionally selected and enthroned by consensus. Hence this institution would enjoy unparalleled popular legitimacy. This would act as a steadfast barrier against regional, cultural or ethnic dictators emerging from sources outside of popular democracy.
I have lobbied and will continue to lobby for an inclusive, free, peaceful and prosperous ethnofederal South Sudan. Before the famous Bentiu All Chiefs and Traditional Authority Leaders Meeting, I successfully organised 7 Councils of Traditional Authority Leaders (COTAL) in the 10 states that existed at the time, as well as the Abyei Administrative Area.
With support from USAID, successful attempts were made to compose a draft policy framework for a COTAL in Jonglei State of Bor South, Twi East and Duken subregions of Greater Jonglei. COTAL offices have also been constructed in Yambio, Torit, Rumbek and Kuacjok. In Warrap State in particular, there is a well established COTAL.
This work directly relates to my Masters thesis, which is published under the title of Roles of Traditional Authority Leaders in Taking Towns to Rural Peoples in South Sudan. Here, I argue for tricameral and bicameral legislature at national and local levels, respectively. This is essential in any attempt to forge a traditional society state in a South Sudanese context, characterised by nclusiveness, stability, peaceful coexistence with shared love, trust, mutualism, interdependence and interconnectedness.
With time, I hope we will see a stable South Sudan, equally attractive to domestic and foreign investment. Effort is being exerted to this end as I write. Who knows. Interested readers' advice is welcome. Please let me know!