Who are the civilians in the wars of South Sudan?

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This longitudinal study explores the place of the civilian populations in the wars of what is now South Sudan. Using a broad range of empirical evidence, the authors trace the evolution of conflict practices and norms from the 1800s to today. Two main insights stand out: First, since the initial colonial incursions, local residents have been strategic assets to be managed and exploited, and thus populations are not just legitimate targets in conflicts but also key resources to capture and control. Second, violent governance structures and practices have been created and reformed through these generations of coercive rule and civil wars. These two issues have undermined, and redefined, the distinction between military and civilian actors. This analysis does not excuse the massive and systematic violence against the general population of these countries. However, without due consideration of these deeply engraved historical systems and logics of violent governance, today’s brutal conflicts become incomprehensible, and there is a significant risk that international approaches to mitigating this violence – such as Protection of Civilians camps – become incorporated into these systems rather than challenging them.

Link to publication

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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