Caught Between Two Cultures: When aid in South Sudan is pulled between local norms and western systems

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Kinship and community support-based social security mechanisms are vital for the survival of South Sudanese in times of crisis. They are based on concepts and longstanding practices of mutual support, social obligation and vulnerability. These concepts can conflict with western ideals of transparency, accountability and “fair” allocation of resources, including aid. As a result, socially and culturally important coping strategies can be difficult to reconcile with international aid guidelines, values and policies. They can also be seen as undermining aid agencies’ commitment to humanitarian principles.

Tensions and dilemmas emerging from these partly incompatible value systems, or this “clash of civilisations”, are particularly evident when NGO staff engage with local authorities and community members. These tensions can pose significant pressures and even risks to aid workers; particularly local staff. This report aims at enhancing donors’ and aid workers’ understanding of the dilemmas, tensions and conflicting goals that emerge when international guidelines, policies and humanitarian principles meet the reality on the ground.

Martina Santschi

Senior Researcher in the Statehood and Conflict program at swisspeace
Ms Santschi wrote her doctoral thesis in Social Anthropology at the University of Bern. Her doctoral research focused on statehood, local governance and citizen-state relations in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal in South Sudan. She has extensive field research experience in South Sudan, DRC and Uganda. Ms Santschi has been involved in research projects and consultancies with the University of Durham, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the Rift Valley Institute, the United States Institute for Peace, the London School of Economics and the World Bank. In these projects Ms Santschi has studied and worked among other things on local justice, customary law, traditional authorities, socio-political structures, land governance and conflict resolution. Currently, she supports the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in issues related to traditional authorities and conflict resolution and works as a lead researcher with the DfID and Irish Aid funded Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium on South Sudan.

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