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Refugees Say South Sudan Should Have Federalist Government

FILE - Refugees gather at a transit center for South Sudanese refugees in the remote northwestern district of Adjumani, near the border with South Sudan, in Uganda, Aug. 29, 2016.

South Sudanese refugees in Uganda's Adjumani district want to see a federal system of government introduced in South Sudan. They said federalism can put an end to conflicts resulting from unequal distribution of power and resources.

Hundreds of refugees from the districts of Amoru, Moyo and Adjumani participated in last week's meeting with a team from the national dialogue's subcommittee on refugees and international outreach.

Participant Martin Idro from the Maaji settlement said many refugees have demanded the country be split into three federal states.

"That is Greater Upper Nile, Greater Bahr el Ghazal and Greater Equatoria. So if we want peace or if we want the future of South Sudan … the system of governance has to be brought into federal system of governance," Idro told South Sudan in Focus.

Kaliso Duku is a refugee leader from the Pagirinya camp, which hosts nearly 40,000 South Sudanese refugees. Duku told South Sudan in Focus that the people he represented at the meeting unanimously want a federal system of government to prevent a few ethnic groups from dominating political life in South Sudan.

FILE - Women are seen selling food stuff at a market in Mungula market, at a refugee settlement in Adjumani district, northern Uganda, June 15, 2017. (H. Athumani/VOA)
FILE - Women are seen selling food stuff at a market in Mungula market, at a refugee settlement in Adjumani district, northern Uganda, June 15, 2017. (H. Athumani/VOA)

"It should be a federal state that will actually determine the economics of that place, and policy of that place should be by the people of that area," Duku said.

Deng Dau, chairperson of the dialogue's subcommittee on refugees and outreach, confirmed refugees want a federal system of governance but said they are not united on what type of federalism they want.

"There are some of them who talked about [a] federal system as the answer to the current crisis, particularly issues that are related to pastoralist communities and farmers, issues of resource allocations, issues of employment. But others have been also saying South Sudan should return to three former states of Equatoria, Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile," Dau told VOA.

Martin Korcu, who represented the Agojo camp at the meeting, said some participants broke down in tears when describing how they fled South Sudan's conflict and their life in the refugee camps.

"We are … suffering too much. That suffering led our children to get malnourished, and then children are not going to school. A lot of suffering," Korcu said.

Fear first for refugees

Idro said the meeting was the first opportunity for many refugees to meet with officials from Juba since they fled to Uganda more than a year ago. Idro said many were initially reluctant to share their opinions.

"In fact, almost all the leaders were afraid because in South Sudan, there was no freedom," Idro told VOA.

But Dau said as the meeting progressed, the refugees loosened up.

"They were open, they were honest and they were also attacking what they think has not been done well by the government," Dau said.

Duku says most refugees were caught off guard because the dialogue team from Juba mobilized the refugees without telling them what the meeting was about.

"We were told to go for a meeting in Adjumani. We did not have an idea and we did not prepare even. But on the ground, we found different things," Duku said.

Certain conditions must be met before the refugees would return to the country, Korku said.

"We want to see a total peace and accountability for what has been done. And the government, what they are doing bad, is destruction, raping. … A lot of things there need to be accounted for," he said.

The refugees say they want to see tangible reforms in the security and economic sectors, and an end to impunity for those who committed war crimes.