Being aware of the fragility a war-torn society
is facing, many South Sudanese are anxiously asking the following
- How can peace and stability be ensured in the South
Sudan which has experienced so many divisions and violent
conflicts along ethnic lines?
- How can the more than sixty ethnic communities living
in the South Sudan unite while preserving their diversity
and keeping their dignity?
- How can cultural ignorance be overcome and mutual respect
be enhanced for each and every community?
The concept of a House of Nationalities was
developed by Sudanese intellectuals during two workshops held
in 2000 and 2001, and this as the answer to the crucial questions
on cultural diversity and political stability. In January
2003, more than seventy leaders of the South Sudanese Civil
Society 1 and representatives of various ethnic groups met
for three days in Nairobi and came up in strong support of
the project, agreeing that all communities should decide themselves
on the implementation of a House of Nationalities during a
national confer-ence to be held inside the South Sudan.
In preparation of such a national meeting,
a delegation composed of chiefs and members of the civil society
visited Botswana and its ‘House of Chiefs’ in
order to learn from the experiences made in a country praised
for its fine record of good governance and economic growth.
During the years of 2003 and 2004, the idea of creating a
House of Nationalities spread all over the South Sudan. Arguing
that the future belonged also to them, the Youth and Women
united at the occasion of workshops held in Kenya, in Uganda
and indeed in all the three regions of the South Sudan. They
raised their voice in support of the project which they consider
to be important for peace among the ethnic communities and
for harmonious development.
Of great significance was the first Women
conference on the House of Nationalities held in Lokichokio
in November 2003 when the seventy participants agreed that
a forum of traditional leaders would provide
them with a most efficient platform for improving the status
and role of women in the South Sudan.
In June 2004, the SPLM invited over 300
kings, chiefs and spiritual leaders of the South Sudan to
a historical conference. The Movement presented to them the
results of the peace negotiations achieved so far and thanked
them for their contribution in the liberation-war. In the
meeting’s final resolution, the chiefs formally demanded
the recognition of the country’s cultural diversity,
asked for a role in the peaceful resolution of conflicts among
their communities, and a forum for regular meetings of traditional
leaders representing all the ethnic commu-nities
(Mazalla al-Kawmiya) in the South Sudan.
The aims of the House of Nationalities are:
- to provide the space for representatives of all ethnic
communities of the South Sudan to meet in a spirit of
- to promote the dignity and the culture of all South
- to gain the State’s recognition of the different
ethnic communities in the South Sudan;
- to be a body to be consulted by the government before
laws or poli-cies that affect the communities are adopted,
in particular those concerning culture, communal land
and customary law;
- to lay the foundation for a new concept of a nation-state
by putting cultural diversity at the core of shaping a
new national identity;
- to serve as a venue for the settlement of disputes.
It will empower communities to solve conflicts themselves
while protecting their cultural and ethnic diversity from
In the House of Nationalities, all sixty-two
ethnic communities of the South Sudan will be represented.
In addition, distinct sections of geo-graphically divided
ethnic communities should be represented as separate entities
in their own right. This could mean that initially about ninety
communities (see the list on the last page) would be represented
in the House of Nationalities.
Once fully established, the House of Nationalities
will set up its own rules and procedures and will decide if
additional communities should join the House of Nationalities.
The chairmanship of the House of
Nationalities may rotate from one community to the next.
The House of Nationalities will be independent
of all political parties. It will not substitute a future
Parliament, which will be elected by the people of the South
Sudan. The political authorities will decide whether the House
of Nationalities will be given any formal judiciary or legislative
The members of the House of Nationalities
may meet at places of historical significance. The meeting-places
could rotate between the different states of the South Sudan
in order to promote lasting friendship amongst the communities.
Though the House of Nationalities has been planned for the
South Sudan as a whole, Houses of Nationalities at the level
of each state could be established to provide more space to
cultural diversity in the South Sudan. The House of Nationalities
is the property of all ethnic communities of the South Sudan.
Each community is responsible for strengthening the House
of Nationalities. The work can be started in many places by
different communities, but it will only be completed when
all South Sudanese communities have found their place in the
House of Nationalities.
Answers to some initial concerns:
Initial fears saw the House of Nationalities
as an instrument to be used against major ethnic communities.
But all cultures have the same significance, and all are in
need of the same protection. Although the various communities
may be different in culture and in size, all communities count
with an equality of rights. There were worries that the House
of Nationalities might become an obstacle for building a modern
state. But Somaliland, where the tribal
house called «Guurti» prepared the ground for
the establishment of modern institutions, provides a reassuring
experience, and so could Botswana, where a "House of
Chiefs" was set up by the country's mod-ern
Concerns were also raised that a House of
Nationalities in the South Sudan might separate the South
from its immediate neighbours to the North. However, tribal
structures also exist in the North, the East and the West
of Sudan. Different Houses of Nationalities could therefore
be created in the other parts of the country. By giving cultural
diversity a political recognition, the House of Nationalities
will make an important contribution to a new vision of a nation-state
for the whole of the Sudan.
1 the Horn of Africa Centre for Democracy
and Development, the Civil Society Commission of the
SPLM/National Peace and Reconciliation Desk, the Sudan Women
Voice of Peace, the New Sudan
Youth Association, the Centre for Documentation and Advocacy,
the New Sudan Council of Churches,
the New Sudan Indigenous NGO’s Network and the Federation
of Sudanese Civil Society