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Monday, 22 October 2018
 

Governance and Fiscal Federalism in Sudan, 1989–2015

(Hassan Ali Gadakerim) A few years before Sudan obtained independence, Sudanese natives pressured the British colonial administration to pass the 1951 Local Government Act, which established local councils to replace the former system of indirect native administration. This set the stage for
decentralisation effrts that characterised the early years following Sudan’s independence in 1956.
The early years following Sudan’s independence in 1956 were characterised by a cycle of civilian, multi-party regimes followed by military regimes (see Table 2). During civilian, multi-party regimes, decentralisation was often espoused as a policy through formal (de
jure) structures. Nonetheless, the actual (de facto) processes that were shaped by realpolitik (political bargaining and deals) more than policy pronouncements often resulted in the concentration of power in the country’s central ruling elite. On the other hand, Sudan’s
leaders advocated central power during periods of military rule, yet the ruling elite often took into consideration the will of local leaders in order to maintain their hold on power.

Multi-party governments led by a coalition of conservative political parties, mainly the Democratic Union Party (DUP) and National Umma Party (Umma),have ruled in Sudanduring three periods since independence: 1956–1958, 1964–1969, and 1985–1989. These
parties drew political support from tribal aristocracy and religious sectarian leaders (that is, the local elite), which has led to a belief that their decentralisation policies did not favour a meaningful transfer of power to ordinary citizens at the local levels (Ali and El-Battahani
2011).
A few years before Sudan obtained independence, a major decentralisation policy change was initiated with the introduction of the 1951 Local Government Act. This act created local
councils that had legal corporate status and clearly defied responsibilities. They were to exercise authority over a large range of local activities, independent of central control from British administrators, and they were directly accountable to local electorates. As these
councils developed, they acquired more powers. The objective of the act was to dismantle the scafflding of central administration and allow self-governing democracy to take root.
Local councils at the lower level, Districts and then Provincial Council and then Central Government. Local councils in rural areas were dominated by native leaders unlike urban councils in towns where merchants and middle had upper hand in administrative matters.
The diffrence between the provincial council and the local council is that Provincial Councils were later replaced by Regional Councils.
In contrast to these early effrts to modernise the local administrations, all three periods of multi-party civilian governments between independence and 1989 relied heavily on native administrations in rural areas. The last multi-party government in the 1980s, led by Sadiq al-Mahdi, sought to reinstate native administrations in marginalised regions. This did not prove to be an easy task because demographic, economic, and political developments (most importantly, the spread of modern education) had contributed to undermining the inflence and prestige that native leaders had enjoyed in the past. In addition, the new class of centrally appointed local administrators who had emerged to mediate between the centre and the countryside had succeeded in establishing themselves as the real power brokers, and their power could not simply be ignored by the central authority.
A large number of civil servants entered government employment between 1951 and 1956. These were the beneficiaries of the Sudanisation programme, which was introduced in the years leading up to independence. However, most of these bureaucrats were from
central regions, which undermined efforts to decentralise Sudan’s government. A study by Sudan’s Civil Service Commission shows that 86% of retired civil servants in 1970– 1980, who constituted the main force in civil service from the 1950s,were drawn from the Khartoum and the Riverian provinces, while only 8% were from Kordofan (Ibrahim 1985).
Although the multi-party governments led by Umma and DUP alleged that they efforts to resolve controversies around the government of Southern Sudan, they did not take active measures to translate these intentions into concrete policies. Rather, these governments were supportive of the interests of the political constituency of the Riverianelite groups, rather than the interests of the country as a whole. For example, during the conflct in Darfur and Kordofan, Sadiq al-Mahdi provided financial support to maraheel (tribal fighters), instead of trying to resolve the conflcts in the interests of the two region’s general population In short, efforts at decentralization during the civilian regimes were disappointing.
Although the British administration had established a framework that could have allowed for local government autonomy and power over certain issues, in practice, the central bureaucracy grew in power. The central government ministries in Khartoum jealously guarded their powers. Further from the center, offers in the field regarded their loyalties to the center higher than any loyalty they might have to a local community or to local representatives. Finally, the members of local councils themselves became involved in corruption and nepotism, becoming ensnared in national party politics that were characterized by family, tribal, and sectarian rivalries (Awad 1967). Thus, politics became monopolized in the hands of a regional oligarchy or Riverian elite .
Furthermore, efforts of less developed areas and regions to resist this centralization of power were quickly halted by central authorities, who controlled the military and police forces. This was largely a result of the effective patronage networks of the two leading parties, Umma and DUP, in co-opting aspiring rural politicians and withholding the resources needed for individuals in these areas to obtain education, healthcare, and other services that would have allowed them to gain more economic power and autonomy.
Nonetheless, regionally based opposition parties were established in this period, for instance the Beja Congress in the Eastern region in 1958, and the Nuba Mountains Union in 1964. Darfur, however, remained under Umma influence despite the radical movements of Sunni and other grumbling elements.
In contrast to the civilian, multi-party governments in Sudan’s early history of independence, the military regimes of Abboud (1958–1964) and Numeiri (1969–1985) expressly advocated a highly centralised government. Nonetheless, while Abboud’s regime maintained a convenient relationship with native administrations and religious sectarian leaders, Numeiri’s regime took a radical stance against them. Even during Abboud’s regime, however, decentralization policies were not meant to empower individuals at the local level. Rather, they were merely meant to create a stronger base of support for the central government and its policies.
Scholars in the fild of decentralization stipulates that local rule reforms in Sudan whether
before or after independence have focused more on legal structural and functional interrelationships among central governments and the local units and paid less attention to fiance, infrastructure and community.
According to Al-Asam (2016) the modus operandi of decentralization is not in shortcomings in the constitution or the law, rather he believes that failure is attributed to the interests of those responsible for implementing the laws. 4 Successive governments, since the days of the British before independence right through to post-independent governments (both civilian or military) were more interested in stability and were not serious enough to delegate real powers to local and regional layers of government. This meant that they were not willing to let go of their central dominance over the public fiancé, further more they were not serious in sharing funds with their states and municipalities, nor were they serious in allowing the decentralized institutions to think and plan for the development of their localities.
Yet, overtime, some measures by way of incremental change were taken. During the British the role of the District Commissioner was key in maintaining the hegemony of the centre with semblance of decentralization.