State, Law, and Insecurity in South Sudan

By Jok, Jok Madut | The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

State, Law, and Insecurity in South Sudan


Jok, Jok Madut, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs


Between 2005 and 2011, when South Sudan was preparing for separation, foreign analysts, journalists, and human rights groups had various predictions about what was about to become the world's newest country: that it was going to be a "pre-failed state," in the words of The Economist; that it was going to exemplify the classic definition of what political scientists call a weak state; or that it would simply become another oil kleptocracy, incapable of transforming itself into the democratic state for which its citizens had yearned and died. Others pointed to the history of militancy and ethnic violence that had engulfed the country throughout the 1990s, speculating that if these conflicts were not addressed properly and quickly, South Sudan would most likely implode. There was indeed no shortage of challenges that could derail every promise the idea of independence represented for the people of this young nation. But violence, ethnic-based or militia-inspired, was the issue many commentators cited as the single most important concern for the citizens. It was also the greatest consideration for those who predicted the demise of the state, especially because ethnic fault lines often lead to the disintegration of states, even though causes of disintegration may be rooted in the many political, economic, and historical complexities of colonialism, wars of liberation, local competitions, or disregard for the rule of law by some institutions, including the security organs and the nation's army.

These predictions outraged many of South Sudan's leaders, who dismissed them as nothing more than the wishes of the country's enemies or of doomsayers who probably knew very little about the resilience of the South Sudanese and their determination to build a country. The leaders shared a vision of taking their people to the promised land, in spite of the destruction of a fifty-year war, tribal conflicts, and ill intentions of the rump state, the Republic of Sudan. Indeed, the leaders of South Sudan were admittedly aware of, and had gone on record to say that, the biggest challenge they would face would be the efforts of the Sudanese government to undermine South Sudan, so long as the governing National Congress Party of Sudan remained in power. The rest of the issues-such as local ethnic violence, armed militias, concerns about development, and basic social service delivery-were surely gigantic but not insurmountable.

Today, still less than three full years from independence, it is fair to ask whether the predictions of "doomsayers" and optimistic leaders have held true. This paper attempts to present a nuanced answer, weighing the arguments on each side. By alerting the country's leadership and civil society to the possibility of anarchy given the combination of weakness of institutions, corruption, history of violence, and political disunity, the critics could have saved the country. By taking the criticism as a useful basis for reform, the leaders could have shown the political maturity that it takes to build an inclusive and open democratic system, which is, in turn, a recipe for prosperity. Instead, the recent months have revealed a crumbling security apparatus, slow security sector reform, a weak judiciary, and skyrocketing crime rates, particularly in urban centers, due to economic problems.

The following sections of the paper will review what has been said, written, and contested about the state of physical safety, access to justice, and the role of the state as provider of protection, or, alternatively a source of insecurity and impunity. Based on interviews with many citizens' groups, this paper will describe the sources, dynamics, and impact of insecurity on the state, on the social order, and on the whole society and nation. It will also highlight some major policy actions that can rectify this situation. It will consider both urban and rural insecurity, as well as that caused by civilians and the armed forces. …

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