Mohamed Beshir Hamid

Devolution & National Integration

Devolution and National Integration in the Sudan

Mohamed Beshir Hamid


This study appeared as a chapter in Sudan since Independence: Studies of the Political Development since 1956, (R. K. Badal et al eds. Gower, London, 1986). The original draft was presented at the Marga Institute Dialogues on Devolution and Ethnicity, Colombo, Sri Lanka (12-17 December 1983) and was published in Ethnic Studies Report, Vol. 2, No. 2, Kandy, Sri Lanka (July 1984). 

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Would it not then
Be simpler for the government
To dissolve the People and
Elect another?

Bertolt Brecht, The Solution (1954)



The problems of national integration have plagued many countries, particularly in the third world where ethnic, religious and cultural differences have in some instances brought the state to the verge, if not actually into the abyss, of national disintegration. These problems are by no means confined to developing countries; in some of the most developed ones the traditional fabric of society has been threatened by similar forces, as in the case of Britain, Canada and the USA.


Since the early 1970s, devolution of power in various forms and degrees has been advocated as a strategy for resolving minority problems by preserving national unity while recognizing the sense of nationality in the component parts of the state. Indeed, even in relatively homogenous societies, such as France, devolution of power has become a pressing constitutional issue as a means of arresting or reversing centrifugal trends. It has been argued in some countries that the immense increase in the range and complexity of modern government and the resultant overconcentration of responsibility has tended to produce a situation of constitutional malaise characterized by “anaemia in the extremities and apoplexy at the centre” (Royal Commission, 1973, p.87).


While some form of devolved system of government is seen as an indisputable necessity, there are certain differences, and even some confusion in regard to the operational terminology, political objectives and institutional structures of devolution. Conceptually, the term devolution is used differently in different contexts and the confusion is not made easier by the apparent discrepancy between theory and practice in some cases where the devolutionary system has been adopted.


The purpose of this study is to examine the basic assumptions underlying the concept of devolution and to relate them to the experience of the Sudan in adopting this system for resolving conflicts between regional and ethnic groups. The study is divided into five sections. The first examines some of the problems in defining devolution; the second deals with the historical, political and ethnic sources and manifestations of the problems of national integration. The third section examines the institutional framework of the devolutionary approach to these problems, while the fourth seeks to analyze critically the operative political factors that, in practice, tend to negate, if not to reverse, the devolutionary process. The conclusion sums up the Sudanese experiment in devolution assessing the inherent contradictions of the devolved system that seems to be leading the country in the opposite direction to the one originally envisaged.



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