Monetized Livelihoods and Militarized Labour in South Sudan’s Borderlands

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Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, like much of South Sudan, is in a protracted state of social and economic crisis, rooted in generations of armed conflict, forced resettlements, and a shift towards a cash and market economy. Since the 1980s, family units and livelihoods have been destroyed, displaced or reworked by conflict and most people have been forced to engage in precarious work for survival. Many residents have been drawn into patterns of labour migration to Sudan, trade and markets in often dependent or exploitative relationships, which have built on much older histories of conscription and enslavement. Political-economic systems have developed that exploit these processes of commodification, labour exploitation and basic insecurity.

The report uses the concepts of stress, risk and precarity as a frame of reference for understanding the fragmented and contingent futures that people in the borderland are navigating. What choices and possibilities do people have for self-development? How are these opportunities controlled and manipulated, and by whom? Who is trapped into being simply resilient and who can seek opportunity and challenge the terms of this often coercive and dangerous economy?

Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, like much of South Sudan, is in a protracted state of social and economic crisis, rooted in generations of armed conflict, forced resettlements, and a shift towards a cash and market economy. Since the 1980s, family units and livelihoods have been destroyed, displaced or reworked by conflict and most people have been forced to engage in precarious work for survival. Many residents have been drawn into patterns of labour migration to Sudan, trade and markets in often dependent or exploitative relationships, which have built on much older histories of conscription and enslavement. Political-economic systems have developed that exploit these processes of commodification, labour exploitation and basic insecurity.

The report uses the concepts of stress, risk and precarity as a frame of reference for understanding the fragmented and contingent futures that people in the borderland are navigating. What choices and possibilities do people have for self-development? How are these opportunities controlled and manipulated, and by whom? Who is trapped into being simply resilient and who can seek opportunity and challenge the terms of this often coercive and dangerous economy?

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Nicki Kindersley

Ms. Kindersley is researcher and research manager at the British Council in South Sudan.

Ms Kindersley completed her PhD at Durham University on the political activity of Southern Sudanese residents in Khartoum, 1969-2013, based on research conducted with returned ‘IDPs’ from Khartoum in rural Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Aweil, and Juba.

The PhD thesis is a history of alternative South Sudanese political thought, debate, and resistance/rebel activity in Khartoum during the second civil war. The focus is on the nation-building and nationalism work within Southern communities’ own “civil society”: the local self-taught educators and community organisers, running nationalist civic education programmes, youth work and cultural activities – without NGO intervention – in the face of Sudan state violence and community displacement.

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