Who Is Ruling in South Sudan? The Role of NGOs in Rebuilding Socio-Political Order

By Volker Riehl | Go to book overview

mistakes of their predecessors. A base for understanding could be the persuasion of both sides that a ‘politicisation’ of the INGOinvolvement is not only necessary but inevitable. The SPLM-SRRA should realise that ‘powersharing’ with INGOs does not necessarily entail a loss of political authority, but rather an enhancement of political legitimacy. As INGOactivities are widely applauded and positively valued by the public concerning the quality of service delivery and provision, a tolerant supervision might contribute to a democratic acknowledgement of this grass-root opinion. De Waal's vision of a “rebel-humanitarian coalition” (African Rights 1997, 344ff) could therefore lead to an improvement of the humanitarian as well as the political preparation for self-determination.

The political institution-building process in South Sudan is perhaps more developed or advanced than many development experts might guess. It might have even passed the orthodox SPLA-position. This is a dangerous development as South Sudan is still being regarded as a war-zone. Embryonic institutional processes could quickly be either exploited or destroyed due to the absence of a binding legal framework. The various institution-building processes can be a result of a dynamic and lively civil society. In the case of South Sudan it is a survival response to a basic political order which is lacking.

I do not subscribe to African Rights' opinion that local institutions, due to their emergence through and support by INGOs, are bound to fail or are not sustainable at all. Founded for humanitarian and developmental reasons, streamlining and organising relief could ignite new initiatives. Many now influential and powerful organisations were founded in comparable environments (TASO in Uganda, OXFAM in Great Britain). That institutions fail can be evaluated as an unavoidable learning process, especially in the difficult societal terrain of South Sudan. The future of SINGOs does not merely depend on the existence of INGOs only but also on the peaceful development of South Sudan. African Rights' ‘pathological’ phobia about negative INGO-impact on indigenous institutions is ‘western-centric’, misleading, and undemocratic. Examples from other unstable regions such as Northern Uganda have proven that in a situation where INGOs had to leave a field of operation, indigenous institutions and NGOs did not automatically collapse.

The humanitarian international must recognise at the outset that humanitarian assistance cannot build authentic civil institutions in South Sudan. … A civil institution springs from a social contract between political authorities and the people. External organisations simply cannot be party to such a social contract: their relationship with the people is fundamentally different. (African Rights 1995c, 51)

African Rights should realise that the institution building and SINGO-emergence, which have taken place in South Sudan since 1993, were not a result of “humanitarian assistance” only, but rather a dynamic civil adaptation of a real and existing normalisation process ‘under-cover’. Due to the embryonic state of the civil-political administration and virtually non-existing democratic processes the new institutions made their ‘contracts’ not with the aforementioned “political authorities” but with the INGOs. While African Rights knows much about the conditions which lead indigenous institutions to die, they know little about how these institutions adapt to changing conditions in an extremely hostile and disadvantaged environment.

So, who is ruling in South Sudan? Prominent actors are many on the political stage but their repertoire is different. There are artists, actors, and subordinate parts. The GOS with no active direct participation in the rebel-held territories is still playing the role as ‘big man’ in the background with the power to cancel any agreements made with OLS. This can only happen by sacrificing the recently regained international credibility and is unlikely. The SPLM/A-SRRA? Their present role reflects that of a permanently offended playwright who is irritated that his/her play is not being performed due to the permanent interventions of the consortium of directors (INGOs) which pays for the whole show. The main actors presently and for the future, if peace prevails, will be SINGOs and local institutions both of which will remain responsible for the establishment and maintenance of civil society, having in mind that the one who blows the horn sets the tune - but the ‘melody of development’ can be differently interpreted.

The SPLM/A-SRRA has not realised up to the present day (Baak and Ogwaro interview) that despite the lack of a peace-treaty, politicaleconomic development, and political consolidation as second best options are nevertheless viable and existing processes of civil organisation.

-16-

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Who Is Ruling in South Sudan? The Role of NGOs in Rebuilding Socio-Political Order
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  • Contents 3
  • Abbreviations and Acronyms *
  • Acknowledgement 4
  • Introduction *
  • Analysis *
  • Discussion 15
  • Summary 17
  • Bibliography and Sources 18
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