International Relations
Online ISSN : 1883-9916
Print ISSN : 0454-2215
ISSN-L : 0454-2215
Africa at a Crossroads
South Sudan at a Crossroads: State-building Support and Domestic Governance Issues
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2023 Volume 2023 Issue 210 Pages 210_47-210_62


The Republic of South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, becoming the 193rd member of the United Nations. However, on December 15, 2013, armed conflict erupted in the capital city of Juba, further triggering a civil war. This marked the setback of the state-building that the Government of South Sudan, the United Nations, and the international community had worked together on. Subsequently, the mandate of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was modified from state-building to the protection of civilians. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union (AU), the United Nations (UN), and the Troika (United States, United Kingdom, and Norway) struggled to settle the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) in 2015 and the Revitalization of the ARCSS (R-ARCSS) in 2018. However, armed conflict continued even after the Transitional Government of National Unity of South Sudan (TGNUSS) was inaugurated on February 22, 2020.

Against this historical background, this paper examines why state-building has not progressed well in South Sudan despite massive support from the international community. It is noted that, even after the R-ARCSS peace agreement was reached, military and political elites continued to dominate South Sudan, tactically using both internal and external norms. The internal norms are cultivated through the military-political marketplace and have a significant impact on the state’s governance structures (i.e., oil money kleptocracy), favoring prolonged armed conflict. The external norms are responsive to the demands of the international community, but are not necessarily respected as superior to the internal norms. Historically, humanitarian assistance has also been embedded in government’s structures with these internal norms as part of state-building architecture, further sparking illegitimacy and absurd armed conflict. Without understanding these internal norms and the associated issues, no amount of large-scale international assistance, no matter how large, will successfully advance state-building in South Sudan. Moreover, people’s resentment is another fundamental issue, generated by the internal norms, which also explains why the armed conflict has dragged on to date. As the traditional chiefs and the Catholic community have indicated in this study, without understanding and reconciling these issues, there will be no conflict resolution and no state-building.

Nevertheless, this study concludes that a potential choice remains for South Sudan: returning to armed conflicts and corruption with the internal norms or re-engaging in state-building with diverse adaptive approaches. The latter may also conflict with existing practices of the internal norms. However, it has significant processes of legitimizing state-building, which requires people’s reconciliation and capability to respect every person and diverse communities, regardless of military, political or ethnic group. If the people of South Sudan are choosing the adaptive approaches, that is a further challenge for building a legitimate state in various ways, even if at a slower pace, the international community also needs re-examine how to support state-building in South Sudan.

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© 2023 The Japan Association of International Relations
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