What is the House of Nationalities?



The House of Nationalities Leaftlet



Being aware of the fragility a war-torn society is facing, many South Sudanese are anxiously asking the following questions:

  • 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 mutual respect;
  • to promote the dignity and the culture of all South Sudanese com-munities;
  • 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 political manipulation.


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 powers.


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

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