Governing Unclear Lines: Local Boundaries as a (Re)source of Conflict in South Sudan

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South Sudan’s administrative boundaries stem from the colonial period. Since it gained independence in 2011, subsequent rounds of reshuffling of the political system, internal borders, and power relations have been a source of confusion, elite manipulation, and conflict throughout the country. This paper explores the impact of this confusion by focusing on multiple shifting linkages between administrative boundaries and identities and shows how the mobilization of ethnic identities has become central to territorial claims and creating territorial borders. We use three local conflicts in Central Equatoria State to illustrate how claims of belonging and entitlement are being used by elites for economic, political, and socio-cultural gains. The three cases also show how such manipulation increases the likelihood of ethnic division and conflict. Following the decision by the government in 2015 to increase the number of states from 10 to 28 in October 2015, further manipulation of borders and identities is likely to occur and could result in more violence, ethnic-based conflict, and human suffering.

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Peter Justin

PhD Student, African Studies Centre at Leiden University, the Netherlands
Peter Justin (born in Yei – South Sudan), is a PhD candidate in the ‘Grounding Land Governance’ Programme, a collaborative effort of the Africa Studies Centre Leiden, the Faculty of Development Studies of the University of Science and Technology in Mbarara, Uganda, the Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management at the Radboud University, Nijmegen, Wageningen Disaster Studies, and a series of other institutes and NGOs.

Within this programme, Peter is responsible for the research project in Southern Sudan. He investigates how land reforms and decentralization on land governance in Southern Sudan is being implemented in a context where the state has been largely absent in the past. His research explores how decentralization develops in the interaction between the emerging land governance by the state and ongoing local land governance processes. The project includes a combination of ethnographic and action researches.

Peter Justin has been involved in a number of action researches in Southern Sudan under the project “Oil and Peace in Sudan”, a collaborative project of IKV Pax Christi, The European Coalition on Sudan and the Sudan Council of Churches. Prior to that, he has been working for different Research Institutions, including Upper Nile University in Sudan.

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