The Principle of Tribocracy (Part 1)

"Without the prospect of democratization taking place due to the prevalence of tribalism, the entire region of Sub-Saharan Africa, for the last decades, has been left wallowing in abject poverty, illiteracy and political mediocrity. South Sudan too has no chance of ridding itself of tribalism..."

 The Essence of Tribocracy

By PaanLuel Wël, Juba, South Sudan
In the life of every person there comes a point when he realizes that out of all the seemingly limitless possibilities of his youth he has in fact become one actuality. No longer is life a broad plain with forests and mountains beckoning all-around, but it becomes apparent that one’s journey across the meadows has indeed followed a regular path, that one can no longer go this way or that. The desire to reconcile an experience of freedom with a determined environment is the lament of poetry and the dilemma of philosophy.” – Opening Sentence, Henry Kissinger’s Undergraduate Thesis, Harvard University, 1949.

IFebruary 7, 2015 (SSB) —  On Wednesday, 19 November 2014, Wau East communities from Western Bahr el Ghazal’s Jur River County filed an urgent complaint with Governor Rizik Zakaria Hassan over power-sharing aberrations. The community representatives, led by Chairman James Bak Nyiyuo and Secretary Abraham Urayo, met with the state governor “to put their case for equal presentation in the executive state government.”[1]

In their written statement presented to Governor Rizik Hassan on behalf of the Wau East community, the community representatives crisply stated that their “demand stemmed up from the grassroots of the community after we have seen the current presentation in the executive government in the state cabinet where only two positions were offered to whole Wau East communities by your government compared to the representation of other communities in which great differences are seen.”[2]

More importantly, the written statement also reiterated the Wau East communities’ continued support for Governor Rizik Hassan’s state government “as we voted you in through a fair, transparent and credible democratic elections”[3] during the 2010 general election. The meeting between the representatives of Wau East community and the state governor was considered “a success” chiefly because Governor Rizik Hassan had accepted to meet the community representatives as requested and duly promised to look into the communities’ demands as outlined in their letter to the governor. While applauding their initiative, the governor candidly explained to the community representatives “that the first appointments in his cabinet were based on their qualifications and personal background with the ruling party (SPLM) rather than on community interest.”[4]

Speaking to the press after their meeting with Governor Rizik Hassan, the secretary of the delegation, Abraham Urayo, declared: “Our meeting with the governor was very clear as a demand from our communities over [the] lack of equal representation in the state’s cabinet likewise to other communities within the state…The state governor has [assured] us that he will consider our list in case of any reshuffling in the cabinet.”[5]

The meeting was prompted by the Wau East communities’ grave “concerns that they will again be left out in the future when the governor names his next cabinet line-up.”[6] In essence, the Wau East communities are simply petitioning Governor Rizik Hassan to proffer them nothing but their fair share of the state government they had voted in through a fair, transparent and credible democratic election.

In their quest for justice and fairness, they are asking for transparency and credibility of the selection process just as it was the case during the election that saw Governor Rizik Hassan winning the gubernatorial post. The communities are puzzled about ending up with only two cabinet positions while other communities have more than their fair share of the state government. They want fair and just system—equal representation in the state government based on numerical strength.

Their cause is not so much love for their own community as it is a fight for justice, equality and transparency—the motto of the ruling SPLM party. Fulfilling the revolutionary vision of the historic SPLM movement is—in the befitting title of Jacob Jiel Akol’s book—the burden of our nation.[7]


On 23 July 2011, just on the eve of the unveiling of the first cabinet of an independent South Sudan, I had written an article, Tribocracy: The New Political Philosophy for the New Country[8], in which I had argued that for South Sudan to avoid the pitfalls of her fellow, post-colonial African countries and be successful, the new nation must fully embrace and constitutionally legalize tribocracy as a system of political representation at the state and national levels. My article, much as it has been my long-harbored view about the preferred system of governance in Sub-Saharan Africa, was partly triggered by President Salva Kiir’s announcement that his first government would “be formed based on qualifications of candidates and not on tribal representation.”[9]

My advocacy for tribocracy is not so much the love for tribalism as it is the desire to take the bull by its horns. We should stop burying our heads in the sand of complacency. Indeed, to assert that the evils of tribalism are the ruination of Sub-Saharan African countries would be to affirm the obvious. Tribalism is the denial, or unequal sharing, of political offices by and/or amongst various ethnic groups that make up the nation-state. It breeds an intoxicating environment in which no plausible policies could emerge to encourage and promote justice, fairness and equality in power sharing and allocation of national resources.

And because plump political posts do translate into goodies, tribalism has been, and will continue to be, the socioeconomic and political undoing of South Sudan just as it has been the downfall of much of the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa. This is because politicians operating under tribalism have always manipulated and abused glaring shortcomings in democracy for their political endgames.

Democracy has thoroughly been abused in Africa. Procedural elections in many African countries have been used to legitimize—and perpetuate with impunity—corruption, bad leadership, and greediness for power, and to undermine any prospect of economic transformation and social prosperity. Without the prospect of democratization taking place due to the prevalence of tribalism, the entire region of Sub-Saharan Africa, for the last decades, has been left wallowing in abject poverty, illiteracy and political mediocrity. South Sudan too has no chance of ridding itself of tribalism by counting on democratization.

In a country without democracy but with with an embarrassing rate of illiteracy, the chances of economic development and political stability are literally beyond the realm of possibilities. Consequently, it is prudent that South Sudan should not trudge the very path to self-destruction that was taken by her counterparts in Sub-Saharan Africa. Pure liberal democracy, under the present conditions in South Sudan, is a mirage. Even in the West, it was a long arduous, never-straight, process. To expect South Sudan to democratize just within few years after independence is a frustrating exercise in sheer self-delusion.

Indeed, the horrendous spectacles of bad leadership, poor governance, rampant corruption and nepotism along with unabated accounts of inter-tribal conflicts and a chronic addiction to political rebellions as well as general malaise in socioeconomic development and political immaturity in Africa in general and in the present day South Sudan in particular, are merely symptoms of the underlying principal illness: tribalism.

In the 1960s, when most African countries were shaking off the heavy yoke of colonialism and embarking on self-rule, the then young inspiring leaders of African countries were greatly troubled by the illness of tribalism. Nonetheless, many hoped that, with democracy, liberal education and the promise of economic prosperity in hand, they would combat and defeat tribalism in its infancy, once and for all.

However, those promising tools they had pegged their hopes on to fight and eliminate tribalism—democracy, education and social prosperity—never saw the light of day. The poisonous thorns of tribalism choked them off in the womb as mere ideas. The rest is history as we can all see today in each and every country in the Sub-Saharan African region. That no single nation has succeeded in realizing her sociopolitical inspirations and harvesting the fruits of her independence is the plainest testimony to the resilience of tribalism in our societal psyche.

The way out of this political conundrum is to adopt and institutionalize tribocracy. The constitutionalization of tribocracy would herald the end of our current tribulations engendered by the evils of tribalism. Therefore, public appointments must be based on fair and equitable tribal representation, not on educational qualifications, political loyalty or liberation struggle credentials.


Whereas tribalism is “a form of government where representatives of a particular ethnic group hold a number of government posts disproportionately large to the percentage of the total population that the particular ethnic group(s) represents and use them to advance the position of their particular ethnic group(s) to the detriment of others.”[10]Tribocracy, on the other hand, is a political system where representatives of a particular ethnic group hold a number of government posts proportionate to the percentage of the total population that the particular ethnic group(s) represents in order to promote and achieve fair and equitable political representation across all ethnic groups comprising that particular nation.

In a tribal African nation such as South Sudan, the best qualification for political office is equitable tribal representation, not the so-called meritocracy. After all, educational qualification, work experience and relevant background are vague at best and misleading at worst, making meritocracy susceptible to political manipulations by some well-connected individuals from certain favored tribe(s). Such individuals from the favored tribe(s) perpetually end up with the lion share of the government in the name of “they are highly qualified” for the jobs.

Therefore, the officialization of tribalism is what I would refer to as tribocracy. It is a political system of governance in which equality in political representation in the national government and/or at the state level is achieved through the principle of equitable and fair tribal representation. As each and every tribe gets a small proportion of the national seats, the benefits accruable from those high portfolios will invariably trickle down to every tribe.

My main argument is that we should device an inclusive system of governance, which in word and practice must be seen as fair and equitable for all the ethnic groups of South Sudan. To think otherwise is to inadvertently sleepwalk into the same booby-trap that befell and doomed the young independent African countries of the 1960s. Instead of trying in vain to avoid tribalism, we should rather unflinchingly embrace it, adopt it and institutionalize it as our core political philosophy of governance. The legalization of tribocracy would herald the age of political fairness, tribal equality, societal harmony, long lasting peace and sustainable development.

My central point is that “tribalism is that little innocent girl we have all chosen to defile [only to] later turn around and call her a whore.”[11] Let’s strive to honor and cherish the little innocent girl. Negative ethnicity will only end in Africa when we have fully embraced and effectively institutionalized tribocracy into our own national constitution. The fight against tribalism will never be won until we have fully and comfortably embraced, honored and cherished tribocracy as the system of governance in South Sudan in particular, and Africa in general.

“Dawa ya moto ni moto”, say the Waswahili people. If tribalism is our predicament, then the solution to tribalism may well be tribalism itself. Tribalism is predominantly an African problem. Tribocracy is therefore an African solution to an African problem. This is the essence of tribocracy.

PaanLuel Wël is the Managing Editor of PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB). He can be reached through his Facebook page, Twitter account or email:

[Sudan Tribune, “Wau East communities file complaint with governor over power-sharing,” 19 November 2014

]2[ Ibid.

]3[ Ibid.

]4[ Ibid.

]5[ Ibid.

]6[ Ibid.

]7[ Jacob Jiel Akol (2006), “Burden of Nationality: A Story of Post Colonial Africa”.

]8[ PaanLuel Wël (2011), “Tribocracy: The New Political Philosophy for the New Country”.

]9[ Presidential Decree No.10/2011 for the Transformation and Reconstitution of the National Legislative Assembly of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011

]10[ Badal Kariye (2010), “The Political Sociology of Security, Politics, Economics & Diplomacy: Quicker Academic Path for Good Governance”.

]11[ Comment by a certain Karume, a Kenyan, on Maina Kiai’s article (2015), “To safeguard his legacy, Uhuru must write a different script on tribalism”.



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