Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 10/2013

Fragility and State-Society Relations in South Sudan

Kate Almquist Knopf

September 2013

Africa Center for Strategic Studies


It has long been recognized that the new state of South Sudan would face daunting challenges. The world’s newest nation is also one of its poorest—the result of negligible investment in its people and infrastructure over many decades by the erstwhile governing authority in Khartoum. War ravaged the country nearly continuously since 1955, costing over 2 million lives. South Sudan’s state-building effort, moreover, started from a rudimentary institutional base, having inherited few functional governance systems. What governance structures existed were confined to former garrison towns such as Juba, the capital, in a territory roughly equivalent to Afghanistan with a population of 11.8 million people. Adding to the difficulty is the very real risk of renewed conflict with Sudan and the chicanery on the part of the government there to stir up trouble in its southern neighbor. In short, South Sudan was bound to face struggles. Despite the steep road South Sudan must climb, the performance of the Government of the Republic of South Sudan (RSS) since independence in July 2011 has made it steeper still, disappointing citizens and international partners alike. President Salva Kiir himself has decried the diversion of public monies—perhaps as much as $4 billion—by leading government and military officials. Perceptions are widespread of senior government malfeasance, self-interest, and disregard for citizen priorities. Meanwhile, state authority remains heavily centralized within the executive branch, where decisions are often made opaquely and without consultation or oversight. This has been matched by regular reports of repression by the army and the police, conveying an impression that government officials see their role as one of self-enrichment and maintaining power rather than provision of services to citizens.