Dealing with Government in South Sudan: Histories of Chiefship, Community and State

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Explores various aspects of chiefly authority in South Sudan from its historical origins and evolution under colonial, postcolonial and military rule, to its current roles and value in the newly independent country.

South Sudan became Africa’s newest nation in 2011, following decades of armed conflict. Chiefs – or ‘traditional authorities’ – became a particular focus of attention during the international relief effort and post-war reconstruction and state-building. But ‘traditional’ authority in South Sudan has been much misunderstood. Institutions of chiefship were created during the colonial period but originated out of a much longer process of dealing with predatory external forces. This book addresses a significant paradox in African studies more widely: if chiefs were the product of colonial states, why have they survived or revived in recent decades? By examining the long-term history of chiefship in the vicinity of three towns, the book also argues for a new approach to the history of towns in South Sudan. Towns have previously been analysed as the loci of alien state power, yet the book demonstrates that these government centres formed an expanding urban frontier, on which people actively sought knowledge and resources of the state. Chiefs mediated relations on and across this frontier, and in the process chiefship became central to constituting both the state and local communities.

Link to publication

Cherry Leonardi

Director of Postgraduate Studies Research / Senior Lecturer (Modern African History) in the Department of History at Durham University
Cherry Leonardi specialises in African history with a particular research focus on South Sudan. Her book Dealing with Government in South Sudan: Histories of Chiefship, Community and State (James Currey, 2013: http://www.boydellandbrewer.com/store/viewItem.asp?idProduct=14224) is the result of a doctoral and postdoctoral research project funded by the AHRC, the Leverhulme Trust, the British Institute in Eastern Africa and the British Academy. In 2010 she held a Leverhulme Research Fellowship and in 2009-10 she was the lead researcher and author of a report on local justice in South Sudan for the US Institute of Peace and the Rift Valley Institute.

More recently she has been working on a project on land governance and boundary disputes in South Sudan and northern Uganda which led to a publication co-authored with Martina Santschi in the Rift Valley Institute's Contested Borderlands series: Dividing Communities in South Sudan and Northern Uganda: Boundary Disputes and Land Governance (2016), freely available at http://riftvalley.net/publication/dividing-communities-south-sudan-and-northern-uganda#.WBx3Vk9vjIU.

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