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Fragility and State-Society Relations in South Sudan

Fragility and State-Society Relations in South Sudan published on

Authored by National Defense University

It has long been recognized that the new state of South Sudan would face daunting challenges. The world’s newest nation is also one of its poorest-the result of negligible investment in its people and infrastructure over many decades by the erstwhile governing authority in Khartoum. War ravaged the country nearly continuously since 1955, costing over 2 million lives. South Sudan’s state-building effort, moreover, started from a rudimentary institutional base, having inherited few functional governance systems. What governance structures existed were confined to former garrison towns such as Juba, the capital, in a territory roughly equivalent to Afghanistan with a population of 11.8 million people. Adding to the difficulty is the very real risk of renewed conflict with Sudan and the chicanery on the part of the government there to stir up trouble in its southern neighbor. In short, South Sudan was bound to face struggles.

Despite the steep road South Sudan must climb, the performance of the Government of the Republic of South Sudan (RSS) since independence in July 2011 has made it steeper still, disappointing citizens and international partners alike. President Salva Kiir himself has decried the diversion of public monies-perhaps as much as $4 billion-by leading government and military officials. Perceptions are widespread of senior government malfeasance, self-interest, and disregard for citizen priorities. Meanwhile, state authority remains heavily centralized within the executive branch, where decisions are often made opaquely and without consultation or oversight. This has been matched by regular reports of repression by the army and the police, conveying an impression that government officials see their role as one of self-enrichment and maintaining power rather than provision of services to citizens.

Ethnic divisions, long exploited by Khartoum during the war, have been deepened by the perception of Dinka dominance of the RSS. These fears have been reinforced by dubious state and national elections in 2010 that favored candidates from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. In some cases, this has translated into open insurgency followed by brutal reprisals by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in the process, particularly in Jonglei state but also in pockets of rising insecurity around the country.

The new country is not without assets. It took control of developed oil fields that are estimated to yield 350,000 barrels per day and annual net oil export revenues (at full potential) of roughly $9 billion for the government. The population in South Sudan, furthermore, is nothing if not resilient, having endured years of hardship, isolation, and war. Much of the expansive territory is highly fertile for agricultural production, though only 4 percent is currently under cultivation. Moreover, South Sudan enjoys a font of international good will, with key partners in East Africa, Europe, and the United States having provided extensive humanitarian assistance to South Sudan throughout the war and overwhelmingly endorsed the new state’s quest for independence and membership at the United Nations.

Efforts to meet the young state’s many challenges will fail, however, without greater trust and social cohesion between the new government and citizens. State-society relations provide the foundation for any state. If this foundation is strong, built on the principles of trust and legitimacy, then even poor countries can be stable and withstand intense external threats. Conversely, if the foundation is weak, then instability will persist irrespective of government revenue flows, the strength of the security sector, or the maneuvers of any external adversary. Strengthening state-society relations, then, is an imperative for the state-building and stabilization agenda of South Sudan.

Publication Date:
Oct 27 2014
1502961962 / 9781502961969
Page Count:
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
6″ x 9″
Black and White
Related Categories:
Political Science / World / Middle Eastern


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