South Sudan obtained independence in July 2011 as a kleptocracy – a militarized, corrupt neo-patrimonial system of governance. By the time of independence, the South Sudanese “political marketplace” was so expensive that the country’s comparatively copious revenue was consumed by the military-political patronage system, with almost nothing left for public services, development or institution building. The efforts of national technocrats and foreign donors produced bubbles of institutional integrity but the system as a whole was entirely resistant to reform. The January 2012 shutdown of oil production bankrupted the system. Drawing upon long-term observation of elite politics in South Sudan, this article explains both the roots of kleptocratic government and its dire consequences.
Alex de Waal is Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation and a Research Professor at The Fletcher School. Considered one of the foremost experts on Sudan and the Horn of Africa, his scholarship and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, HIV/AIDS and governance in Africa, and conflict and peacebuilding.