Localising humanitarian aid during armed conflict: Learning from the histories and creativity of South Sudanese NGOs

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Bringing local perspectives to global debates on localisation, this report makes a rare contribution to knowledge on the everyday efforts and motivations of South Sudanese NGOs, and structural issues within the aid sector.

The report makes the following key arguments:

  • South Sudanese NGOs have expanded in waves during humanitarian crises. These waves of expansion have entrenched assumptions that South Sudanese NGOs should tolerate higher risks than their international counterparts.
  • Long-standing funding patterns (including short-term projects and underfunding of core costs) have consistently undermined the capacity of many South Sudanese NGOs. The increasing reliance on pre-financing has also made it more difficult for South Sudanese NGOs to establish a track record and prove themselves trustworthy. South Sudanese NGO founders have often made significant financial sacrifices to establish and sustain their organisations.
  • The founders and leaders of many of South Sudan’s largest NGOs are often highly motivated, dynamic and charismatic individuals who often have significant experience of working for international organisations. At the same time, there are biases towards particular types of organisations: women-led organisations and organisations whose focus is not on humanitarian response; and growing an NGO and accessing funding is much harder for organisations without a presence in Juba.
  • South Sudanese NGOs interact with national and local politics and power in complex and contingent ways, and it is too simplistic to assume that they have a higher propensity than INGOs to be polarised by wartime politics. The resources managed by NGOs – whether national or international – make them significant players in all local political economies across South Sudan. South Sudanese NGOs use a variety of strategies, often based on their detailed understanding of politics, to uphold humanitarian principles despite local and national politics. At the same time, the centralised nature of the aid sector in South Sudan perpetuates geographic inequalities, with access to funding often contingent on an organisation’s profile and presence in Juba.

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Leben Nelson Moro

Director of International and Alumni Affairs at University of Juba, South Sudan
Leben Nelson Moro teaches graduate courses in the areas of development, conflict, forced migration and humanitarian affairs at the University’s Center for Peace and Development Studies. He received a Master of Public Administration at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and Master of Science in Forced Migration and Doctor of Philosophy in Development Studies at University of Oxford, UK. He primarily conducts research on development-induced displacement and resettlement, focusing on oil, conflict, and displacement in South Sudan. He has conducted fieldwork in South Sudan, Egypt, Uganda, and Kenya. Some of the findings of his studies appeared in the Journal of Refugee Studies, St Anthony’s International Review, Forced Migration Review, New Internationalist, and Pambazuka News.

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