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Forgotten South Sudan tangled in factionalism and failed politics

3 September 2014

Jonathan FisherJonathan Fisher’s research is focused on the relationship between Western aid donors and developing states. He is particularly interested in how donors construct perceptions of foreign governments and key concepts, and the extent to which these knowledge construction processes are influenced by external actors and bureaucratic structures as well as by policy-makers themselves. He is particularly interested in Africa and wrote his doctorate on the Ugandan-donor relationship between 1986-2010.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Largely knocked out of the news by the crises in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria and Gaza (to name a few), a civil war has nonetheless devastated South Sudan since December 2013. It has left thousands dead, and more than a million have been internally displaced or forced into refugee camps.

The recent shooting down of a UN helicopter briefly restored the country to the international headlines – but this isolated incident is just the latest outrage in the short history of the world’s youngest country, which still faces a deeply uncertain future.

Journalistic accounts of the conflict’s origins, where they exist, usually highlight historical rivalries between president Salva Kiir and his former vice president – now rebel leader – Riek Machar, and ethnic warfare between the Dinka and Nuer people.

This narrative is a highly simplistic way of explaining what’s been happening in South Sudan. But it does at least point to the ultimate source of the problems: the interplay of complex historical identity politics and shameless, short-term elite politicking. This toxic blend is what makes South Sudan’s current crisis so difficult to explain.

The helicopter incident, which killed three crew members and seriously injured another, nonetheless demonstrated just how inadequate most current analysis of the South Sudanese situation really is.

Another faction

The received wisdom is that South Sudan’s independence was won by a single, united movement, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), whose protracted war against the government in Khartoum over several decades led to a peace agreement in 2005, and then the 2011 independence referendum.

The violence that broke out in December 2013 was an internal SPLA conflict between factions loyal to Kiir and Machar. This echoed an old and traumatic rift in the movement in the early 1990s, which took a decade to undo and which has left deep scars on the Juba elite.

But the faction apparently responsible for the downing of the UN helicopter is formally independent of both Kiir and Machar (though at present pragmatically aligned with the latter), and consists of the remnants of a separate rebel movement, the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA).

Its leader, Peter Gadet, was originally a member of another rebel group, the South Sudan Defence Force. He joined the SPLA in 2006 but left to found the SSLA in 2011, claiming to be dissatisfied with the Juba administration’s narrow division of the spoils of war along ethnic lines, and its favouring of powerful allies.

Gadet’s SSLA was re-integrated into the SPLA (by then the South Sudanese military) later in 2011 – but last December, it mutinied, and in alignment with Riek Machar’s rebel soldiers, its members seized the town of Bor in oil-rich Jonglei state.

Rebels everywhere

Gadet is not the only rebel leader to control a swathe of South Sudan without being a formal part of either warring faction. Nor are his troops the only active militia to have grown up outside the SPLA during the civil war, been integrated into the movement, and then left it in disgust at their meagre rewards.

The truth is that the SPLA was, and remains, just one of many military organisations in South Sudan; it is simply the largest and best resourced. Most of the country’s political difficulties stem from the Juba administration’s failure to bring these other myriad groups to the negotiating table.

That failure, in turn, reflects the regime’s abysmal record of cronyism. Keeping the short-term support of key allies by doling out state resources and offices to them, at the expense of outsiders, has been Kiir’s modus operandi ever since he took charge of the SPLA in 2005.

That has turned the nascent South Sudanese state into little more than a slush fund for rewarding and paying off particularist groups. Three years after winning independence, it is as far as ever from unity, peace and prosperity.

So much for the government, then, but Machar’s rebels, the principal opposition in the ongoing conflict, are doing little better.

Fractured opposition

I spent some time in the presence of the rebel delegation to the Addis Ababa peace talks in March-May this year. What was disquieting was not so much the disproportionate time spent by its members in swanky hotel bars and restaurants rather than the mostly empty conference rooms, but the rate at which splits visibly opened up both within the delegation and between it and the rebel leadership it represented.

Over the course of several weeks, I could see the rebel cause steadily fragmenting into ever-smaller pieces, with each faction becoming absorbed in grievances ever more removed from those of the people they claimed to represent.

The violence of recent months and the stagnant peace deliberations should not be seen as merely the birth pangs of a new nation. What is happening in South Sudan today is not inevitable; nor is it a painful-but-necessary part of the nation-building process. It is what happens when rebels fight for – and win – power without a post-victory plan.

Failure to launch

The SPLA is only the latest insurgency to become a government in this part of the world; Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Eritrea, for instance, are all ruled by former guerrilla movements. What distinguishes those groups from the SPLA, though, is that they all had a vision for government while “in the bush”.

That meant that once in power, each movement aimed to use its new-found authority to tackle the political, religious and especially ethnic divisions that had driven them to rebel in the first place. Though these regimes have since reneged on many of their founding principles – particularly regarding democracy – they at least remain theoretically committed to building new societies and states rather than just preserving themselves and their allies.

Their counterparts in Juba, however, failed to agree on their vision for the country during much of the war against Khartoum. Eventually, they were able to unite around the most basic one: independence. Now the country has it, South Sudan’s elite needs to look beyond itself to the people it seeks to govern for a sense of what the country wants – and needs.

And as this year’s negotiations have shown, that cannot be done from luxury hotels in Addis Ababa or mansions in Nairobi.

Jonathan Fisher has previously received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council. He also held an Honorary Research Fellowship in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Africa Directorate between 2013-2014. He has participated in several rounds of regional workshops on Eastern African security relationships funded and facilitated by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES)’s Addis Ababa Office since October 2013 and part of this article’s analysis is based on insights garnered during a trip to Ethiopia partly-financed by FES.

This article was originally published on The Conversation – read the original article.

Bags of gold as an anti-corruption strategy?

6 August 2014

Originally posted on Dr Heather Marquette:

My colleague, Laurence Cooley, and I have just finished a book chapter on ‘Corruption and Post-Conflict Reconstruction’ for a forthcoming collection, and we wanted to compare three cases to see if any specific lessons can be drawn about what worked, what didn’t and why. We chose Bad, Worse and Rock Bottom as our cases – Liberia, Iraq and Afghanistan, partly because we thought they’d be of interest to the most readers, but also because if lessons on corruption can’t be drawn from these, well, heaven help us…

The literature on the relationship between corruption and conflict is pretty contradictory, as anyone who’s waded through it can tell you. While corruption may very often be a driver of conflict, there is evidence to suggest that, in certain circumstances, it may also have conflict-mitigating properties. Post-conflict reconstruction efforts can inadvertently present new opportunities for corrupt practices, leaving international attempts to fight…

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Masters students on Kenya study tour 2014

18 July 2014

Freyja OddsdottirFreyja Oddsdottir is Research and Communications Support Officer in the GSDRC.  She is responsible for communicating research outputs to partner organisations, implementing professional development activities, and maintaining the GSDRC’s online library.

For the past couple of years, the IDD has organised a field research trip to assist IDD Masters students with the logistics of field research, which is an optional component of their MSc degree. Last year, the destination was Kerala in South India. In June this year, a group of 16 students travelled to Nairobi, Kenya, along with Dr Jonathan Fisher and Freyja Oddsdottir, where they stayed for three weeks to conduct field research for their dissertation.

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The research topics were as different as they were many, ranging from affordable housing to police corruption and the LGBT community in Nairobi. Each student organised their own agenda depending on their research interests, and their interviewees included NGO staff, politicians, university professors and human rights activists. The research took the students to different parts of the widespread city of Nairobi, and one of them even travelled to the town of Kitengela outside Nairobi to spend a few days with the project staff of a women’s empowerment programme.

2014-07-02 14.29.17As a group, the students got to meet the Horn of Africa Project Director at International Crisis Group to receive input from him about current events in Kenya as well as their research topics. We also visited UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), where we learnt about the refugees that have come to Kenya from nearby countries such as Somalia and South Sudan, the options they have when they are unable to return to their country, and the challenges they face.

The IDD is fortunate enough to have a strong alumni community in Kenya, from which we received a warm welcome at our IDD alumni reception. One of them had even boarded a two hour flight to be at the event to meet the ‘IDD family’, as we often describe it. During our stay, the alumni were also very helpful in connecting the students with appropriate people to interview and collect their data. IDD alumnus Kenneth Okwaroh has been particularly generous with his time and contacts, for which we are very grateful.

IMG_6196Field research aside, Kenya had plenty of extracurricular activities to offer to the students such as patting baby elephants at the Elephant Orphanage, bargaining for local handicrafts at the Maasai Market, a boat trip amongst hippos and a safari in the Maasai Mara.

All in all, it has been a great opportunity for the students to experience the rewards and challenges of field research, and what it might be like to work in the development sector.

Politics shape services; and services shape politics

24 June 2014

Richard BatleyRichard Batley is Emeritus Professor at the University of Birmingham’s International Development Department. His research focuses on state/non-state relations in service provision, and on the politics of public services in developing countries. He has researched particularly in Brazil, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Mozambique, and the UK.

In governance circles, service delivery is often discussed as if it raised common issues across service sectors as diverse as health, education, water and sanitation. Yet within sectors, debates about governance issues are quite distinct.

Is this just a matter of perspective or do different sectors really present different political problems and opportunities?

There are indeed common policy problems that run across services. For example, it is much more difficult to improve their quality than to extend access to them (by building schools, clinics, and water networks). Reviews of the political economy literature have found that services face common conditions for good performance. These include political commitment, good monitoring, effective sanctions, systems of local accountability, and strong political incentives to provide services.

But the profound diversity of issues between services is very striking.

In drinking water supply, for instance, a major policy concern is that badly directed subsidies lead to over-consumption by the least needy and to under-investment in water supply for the poorest.

By contrast, it is difficult to mobilise policy-makers and providers to address sanitation at all, although it is well known to be the most important contributor to personal and public health.

In health care, high cost treatments for some diseases are often prioritised while other diseases and more cost-effective measures are neglected.

In most countries education is a policy priority. Yet the quality of much public education remains poor and potential learners continue to be excluded.

Together with Claire Mcloughlin at the University of Birmingham and colleagues at ODI, I have been involved in research on why services perform differently even in the same political and economic context.

The outcome? That services themselves shape the incentives, power and accountability of the main actors, whether they be politicians, policy-makers, delivery organisations, or users.

Children in Sindh, Pakistan, play at a water pump in a village

Children in Sindh, Pakistan, play at a water pump in a village. Photo: Russell Watkins, UK Department for International Development.

The idea that services themselves have a political character may seem far-fetched. But consider how a service such as hospital health care raises different issues of politics and accountability compared to urban water supply. Patients place themselves individually into the care of doctors and nurses, often knowing little about their treatment, and unlikely to feel empowered to dispute it. On the other hand, water-users have a good idea of what they should expect from the supplier; they share their daily experience of the service with other users, and can represent their opinions at a neighbourhood level.

These differences are political in the sense that they affect relations of power between politicians, providers and users: patients are likely to feel less empowered than water-users.

Our research has developed a framework for comparison by piecing together the available evidence on the political effects of what we describe as ‘service characteristics’ – that is, the features that can be used to distinguish between services.

For example, services that are privately consumed (such as household water connections as against mains sewerage) will tend to enhance opportunities for political patronage. More visible aspects of services (such as the construction of clinics rather than staff training) are likely to attract greater political prioritisation.

Monopoly (as in piped water supply), inequalities of information and professional discretion (as in health care) can all strengthen providers’ dominance over users. On the other hand, the frequent and predictable use of a service (like schools) operating in a limited territory gives communities the opportunity to organise and make demands.

Such characteristics help to explain why some services for some people receive more attention. They also suggest possible policy responses and organisational reforms.

We put the service characteristics approach to the test in a series of consultations with sector specialists in education, health, water and sanitation. The broad conclusion was that the approach could help specialists both to make sense of sectoral debates and to discover opportunities for learning between sectors. For example, ways of enabling community participation can be shared between strongly client-oriented services like health centres and schools.

Start by recognising the experience of practitioners in health, education, water and sanitation. Our final assessment suggests that doing it this way round can help lever political economy analysis out of its ‘governance silo’.

It will encourage dialogue between governance and sector specialists, helping them to understand why different services present quite different opportunities and constraints.

And, by giving us a better-grounded diagnosis, it will also give us a fuller picture of the policy responses and organisational reforms that are likely to work in any particular service.

This blog post is an expanded version of the author’s opinion piece for ODI (28 May 2014).

Public service motivation: Love or money?

14 March 2014

Sumedh RaoSumedh Rao is a Research Fellow in the GSDRC, working on governance in situations of conflict and fragility, statebuilding and state fragility, political economy analysis, aid architecture, anti-corruption reforms, and civil service reform.

Ask what motivates workers, and the common response is a list of carrots and sticks. But offer a worker one of these carrots and they may just be insulted. When the Boston Fire Department replaced its policy of unlimited sick days with a 15-day sick day limit, ten times more firefighters called in sick on the following Christmas and New Years’ Day than the year before. When the Fire Department decided to cancel the firefighters’ holiday bonuses in retaliation, the firemen went on to claim almost twice as many sick days as before, apparently angered by the new system.

Samuel Bowles, who looked at this case study, argues[1] that the result of the new system was that firefighters abused it and abandoned their previous ethic of serving the public even when injured or not feeling well. 

Carrots and sticks are messages and they can signal distrust in employees and encourage them to ‘game the system’ – to be more selfish instead of being altruistic or public-minded. Humans are not donkeys and need much more nuanced motivators. To achieve the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, delivering health, education and other life-sustaining public services, we need to find these motivators. This is why the UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence and the GSDRC are running an e-discussion[2] to find evidence and experiences on what does and doesn’t work for public service motivation.

Well, what about money as a motivator? Surprisingly, money doesn’t seem to be what attracts people to public sector jobs or what keeps them there. One study[3] found that people are attracted to these jobs because of greater opportunities to help people. Higher earnings, better job security and working hours aren’t the appeal, and can actually put off some health and education workers.  

This is good news, both for developing countries with tight resources but also richer countries having to cut budgets following the global recession.

So what are the key non-financial factors that motivate? Different studies and authors have different findings but there are common themes.

Three nonfinancial motivators emerged from a global staff survey[4]  across a range of sectors: praise and commendation from an immediate manager, attention from leaders, and opportunities to lead projects or task forces. These were found to be even more effective motivators than the highest-rated financial incentives.

Dan Ariely[5] argues that what’s important is seeing the fruits of our labour; feeling appreciated; knowing that we are helping others, even unconsciously; and positive reinforcement about our abilities.

Dan Pink[6] argues that for simple, repetitive tasks, money can be a motivator. But with more complex jobs, you need to pay enough for people to forget about compensation and focus on the work, and then allow autonomy, mastery and purpose. The work should satisfy the desire to direct one’s own life (autonomy), the urge to get better and better at something (mastery) and the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves (purpose).

It seems the key to maintaining public service motivation would be, in fact, letting people do public service – visible, appreciated work that helps others, and which they get better at over time. How do we best enable them to successfully carry out public service work?  

Civil services can face very challenging conditions. In some countries public sector jobs are sinecures – paid positions with little or no work – given as patronage. In other countries the public sector has to compete against other employers such as ‘project implementation units’ paid for by foreign donors who can offer better conditions.

While better-resourced countries struggle to maintain morale within their public sectors, how are developing countries to maintain theirs? And how do we ensure we cater to different people within different contexts, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach?

I’d like to ask you, the reader, to share your thoughts on what works. With the reminder, of course, that you are free to do so, it’s always good to improve your discussion skills, and that your comments will be helpful and very much appreciated.

Is that motivating enough?

[1] Bowles, S. (2012). Machiavelli’s Mistake: Why Good Laws Are No Substitute for Good Citizens. Draft for UCLA Legal Theory Workshop.’s%20Mistake.pdf

[3] Georgellis, Y., Iossa, E., & Tabvuma, V. (2011). Crowding out intrinsic motivation in the public sector. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21(3), 473-493.

[4] Dewhurst, M., Guthridge, M. & Mohr, E. (2009). Motivating People: Getting Beyond Money. McKinsey Quarterly, November 2009.

[5] Gross, J. (2013, April 10). What motivates us at work? 7 fascinating studies that give insights. TED Blog. Retrieved 13 March 2014.

[6] Pink, D. H. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Penguin.

Violence in South Sudan illustrates the perils of state building

14 January 2014

paul-jackson165x212Paul Jackson is a political economist working predominantly on conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. Core areas of interest include decentralisation and governance, conflict analysis, and security sector reform.

The Christmas period in the newest nation in the world, South Sudan, has been a violent one. More than 1,000 people are believed to have died (BBC) with more than 120,000 forced to flee ethnic clashes (BBC) in one of the least developed countries in the world. The President of the UN Security Council, Gerard Arnaud, has warned that this could lead to a fully fledged ethnic war in the country and around 7,500 UN peacekeeping troops have deployed to the country. In a country that is awash with guns and with a long history of violence between ethnic groups, populist political rhetoric along ethnic lines is dangerous.

The situation remains confusing. President Kiir claims it was a coup attempt by former Vice-president Riek Machar. Meanwhile, the authorities arrested 10 other senior political figures and said they were searching for 5 more. Machar himself denies the coup claim and the situation is far more complex than the official version.

South Sudan overwhelmingly voted to break from Sudan in 2011 in the midst of great optimism for its economic future, partly driven by access to oil reserves. However, ongoing disputes, both internal and with Khartoum, delayed production until April 2013. At the same time, the country has been subject to significant international support aimed at creating a new and functioning set of state institutions within a democratic framework.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA/M), which currently holds power in Juba, led the fight against the North that culminated in independence, but it was not the only armed group involved. At the same time, it was also a divided movement with factionalism so deep that the war became as much a fight between southerners as with the north. Peace has been affected by continuing dissent from localised militias opposed to the SPLA.

The deepest divide was between the largest group, the Dinka and the second largest, the Nuer. The leader of the SPLA during the civil war was a Dinka, John Garang, and Machar was one of three Nuer SPLA commanders to break away from the SPLA and oppose the ‘dictatorial tendencies’ of Garang. Many Dinka have never forgiven Macher for this and only accepted his Vice-Presidency as a price for peace with the Nuer.

This places Kiir and Machar as political and ethnic rivals jostling for position before elections scheduled for 2015. In July Kiir fired his entire cabinet, including Machar, as a pre-emptive strike against political opponents. Since then Machar has been increasingly critical of the President. Machar himself remains deputy chairman of the SPLA and has based his criticism on a lack of reform by Kiir, claiming that Kiir was preventing the transformation of the SPLA from liberation movement in to a political party.

What is interesting is the wide ethnic and regional range of those arrested. Kiir may have arrested so many prominent and senior SPLA/M figures because there was a genuine threat to his leadership, in which case this is clearly not a democratic move within a political party. Alternatively it could signal that Kiir is cleaning out his rivals, taking advantage of the violence perpetrated by military hotheads. Either way, Kiir appears to have unleashed a series of political and violent forces that endanger the fragile democracy of South Sudan, and the personal rivalry of Machar and Kiir places South Sudan, and thousands of people living in appalling conditions, in considerable danger.

A major part of the problem is that this infighting within the SPLA/M is not new. A ferociously brave resistance movement, the SPLA was frequently let down by poor organisation and this has continued in to the peace. With around 55% of the South’s budget allocated to defence, and a lack of progress with professionalization, the SPLA remains a corrupt grouping of local ethnic groups tied together with cash payments rather than a professional army. A spark could ignite a more comprehensive civil war in the south.

What can the international community learn from this? The US and UK, amongst others, have played a significant part in ending the civil war in Sudan and setting the south on to a democratic path. However, calls for respect for human rights, democratic government and a wider role for civil society are consistently ignored. This might be surprising given the high level of international support for the country, but the SPLA/M appears to believe that the international partners will not abandon a country where they have invested so much time and money, which is starting to produce oil, and which is effectively a bulwark against the ‘rogue state’ of Sudan to the north.

A peace agreement that excluded several ‘other armed groups’, relying on the SPLA/M to incorporate them into the new state when it has been unable to integrate ethnic groups itself, has proved extremely problematic. The resulting moves towards democracy have been taken on very shaky political ground that has remained largely unexplored by the international community, which has built a state infrastructure by the book, but on foundations of sand.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela 1918-2013

6 December 2013

A tribute to Madiba

We were deeply saddened, like much of the rest of the world, to read about the death of Nelson Mandela. When he began his ‘long walk to freedom’, both of us were teenagers, and his story – of strength, compassion, sacrifice, compromise and hope – inspired us on the paths that eventually led us to the Developmental Leadership Program.

DLP’s research over the years has inevitably looked at Mandela’s leadership – from Jo-Ansie van Wyk’s study of the ANC, business and development, to Monique Theron’s work on African heads of state. But Madiba was not just a ‘big man’ of history; he was the embodiment of what we call ‘developmental leadership’. He used his power and authority in order to mobilise people and resources for developmental ends, overcoming many deeply entrenched collective action problems. He didn’t simply rule but instead brought people together in coalitions for change and, in doing so, changed the world.

There are a small number of former leaders who we – as a global family – revere, rather than simply remember, for their willingness to fight long and hard to help end inequality. They privileged the poor and the disadvantaged, and they did so for as long as they could. They articulated the hopes of the millions.

Our current leaders could well learn this lesson. Inequality in South Africa is rising, a potential threat to Mandela’s legacy there; around the world, inequality has never been so stark and threatens existing progress on poverty reduction. Our leaders should celebrate Mandela’s life not through words but through deeds, and give us back the hope we all felt when we saw him leave prison almost 25 years ago. He deserves no less.

Heather Marquette David HudsonHeather Marquette, Reader in Development Politics at IDD, and David Hudson, Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at UCL, are directors of research for the Developmental Leadership Program (DLP).

Photo of Nelson Mandela courtesy of South Africa The Good News
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