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Bimeny, Ponsiano (2022) The Constructions of the State, Violence and Political Settlement in South Sudan. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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In December 2013, only two years into independence, South Sudan degenerated into civil war following disagreements within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) leadership. A subsequent Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS), signed in August 2015, created a Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) and a moment of truce. When the main opposition leader abandoned the TGoNU, leading to a resumption of fighting and hostilities in July 2016, the TGoNU turned to its population through national dialogue to redefine and shape their state. However, the national dialogue struggled to generate broad-based political backing among opposition political and military elites as well as among other equally powerful actors such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union (AU), the USA, and the Troika1 nations of the UK, Norway, and Italy. This was due to a general lack of clarity in its political and economic aims, procedures, and expected outcome in comparison to the internationally accepted alternative – a political settlement/peace agreements initiative whose aim, outcomes and mechanisms are predetermined way before negotiations begin. Instead, actors opposed to the national dialogue preferred to focus on renegotiating the terms of the 2015 ARCSS, but completely ignored contributions from the population of South Sudan. With two competing approaches to conflict resolution and state-making, the two camps failed to find a unified ground. Both approaches have continued, but the conflict, and different forms of violence, persist in the country. This thesis investigates and answers the primary research question, "How are the contradictions in different groups’ vision of the state connected to the processes of state formation in South Sudan?" It employs a mix of research techniques to enable academic enquiry in a context where violence, conflict and mass population displacement create limited physical access to ethnographic research terrain; it adapts research techniques utilising flexible, corroborative and improvisational approaches. It is a qualitative study based on innovative research methodology involving cyber research, research with South Sudanese refugees in Uganda and Kenya, attending South Sudan National Dialogue consultation meetings with refugees in Uganda and research with diaspora communities and academics outside of the country were utilised and represents an important highlight of this thesis. Since South Sudan returned to war in 2013, major studies on state formation continue to attribute the failure of the country’s transition to statehood and nationhood to problems of ancient ethnic hatreds and identity politics, to the state’s failed monopoly of the legitimate use of force, or simply to a lack of statesmanship from political and military elites. This dissertation argues that the continuing violence and conflict in South Sudan are a consequence of overriding and historical contradictions in the way different groups understand and envision the state. On one side, there are powerful actors whose interests drove the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and subsequent peace agreements, which constitute political settlements based on power/wealth-sharing at the central level, exemplified by the division of ministries and vice-presidencies. On the other hand, the research revealed a broad popular concern that the state should be providing services, security, and development at the local level. The empirical materials of this dissertation, particularly chapters 3 and 4 describe changes and contestations in social practices due to war and displacement. For instance, traditional sociocultural practices and institutions like age-set and ethnic identities as dynamic loci of support for the population, which become even more important when people experience shocks and stresses. It highlights recruitment drives and rebellion strategies of both the central state and the rebel armies as responsible for undermining and distorting these alternative forms of population’s coping mechanisms. As disparities between the agendas of the central state and the military and political elites, and the expectations and vision of the local population increases, so do people’s alienation from and rebellion against the new state intensify. Communities are increasingly forced into having to navigate between the violence and coercive tendency of the state and the deficiency of its constructive features on one hand, and the safety offered by the traditional sociocultural systems – but also their limited capacity on the other. As people navigate this terrain through mass rural-urban, rural-rural, and inter-country migration, the local/traditional governance mechanism remains, or becomes, even more important to people experiencing continued displacement and state violence. This dissertation’s findings highlight evidence of existing contradictions in groups’ vision of the South Sudanese state, and their strong links to state formation in the country. On the one hand, it finds evidence linking these contradictions to primary causes of violence in the country. On the other hand, it also finds recent violence and conflict as linked to the absence of the governance mechanisms required to turn groups' contradictory visions into constructive processes of social relationships. It concludes that existing state-making tools and approaches, such as the political settlements, or the good governance agenda currently being pushed in South Sudan, are ill-suited to end violence and war in the country. Instead, they appear to facilitate the re-allocation of violence rights, opening new frontiers and theatres of violence. They also continue to erode and appropriate the traditional sociocultural governance mechanisms that are historically attributed to rural areas, thus significantly contributing to reproducing the material and social conditions that ultimately manipulate existing social dynamics to fuel numerous forms of violence.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Zoe Marriage, Tania Kaiser and Jonathan Goodhand
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 29 Nov 2022 15:22

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