The SPLM and state extraversion in South Sudan

Playing the ‘fragile state’ card:
the SPLM and state extraversion
in South Sudan*
Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Trento, Via
Verdi , , Trento, Italy
Email: [email protected]
Southern Sudan’s past crises have mobilised consistent flows of humanitarian
assistance. Recalling the humanitarian catastrophes and international interventions of the s–s, the war that exploded in South Sudan in  has
been no exception. This paper shows that the SPLM/A political elite promptly
incorporated these flows of external resources into its extraverted strategies of
state-building. Similar to the current situation, it did so by appropriating not
only material assets but also discourses, playing the ‘fragile state’ card and
raising fears of governance failure and state collapse. This paper analyses two
specific aspects of international support to Southern Sudan in the s–
s: the political legitimisation of the movement through the negotiation
of relief delivery, and direct support to rebel local government structures.
These two aspects contributed to the creation of a state that substantially
overlapped with the SPLM/A structure, thanks to the movement’s capacity to
capitalise on external resources, a subject worth analysing in future research.
In , the framing of South Sudan’s new independent state as a
success story came to an end with the explosion of large-scale ethnopolitical violence and the beginning of a new civil war. With over
* This paper is part of my PhD thesis, written under the supervision of Prof. M. Cristina
Ercolessi of the University of Naples L’Orientale and Prof. Johanna Siméant of the
University of Paris  Panthéon-Sorbonne. Further work on the paper was conducted with
funding from the Gerda Henkel Foundation and advice from Prof. Roberto Belloni of the
University of Trento. I also wish to thank Andreas Hirblinger for having shared the adventure
of consulting the huge and messy Local Government Board Archive, and Simon and the many
other South Sudanese friends who made my research in South Sudan possible.
J. of Modern African Studies, ,  (), pp. – © Cambridge University Press 
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three million displaced people and an unknown number of victims, the
situation has been depicted as a humanitarian catastrophe that has
mobilised the humanitarian community. In –, South Sudan
was back in the top ten of aid-receiving countries, having dropped out
of it from  to .
Analyses of the current political and military turmoil can be divided
into two categories: on one side, there is a tendency to blame the international community for having supported a state-building project that
was doomed to fail due to its poor timing or South Sudan’s excessive
ethnic fragmentation (The Guardian ..; Dowden ).
These arguments have been advanced from an International Relations
scholarly perspective on peace-building and state-building, emphasising
the alien and artificial character of reforms supported by international
actors in post-conflict contexts (Lemay-Hébert ; Bliesemann de
Guevara ; Richmond ). On the other side, these analyses
have been criticised for their excessive victimisation of local actors.
Indeed, others maintain that internal political dynamics play a major
role, particularly in regard to unresolved political cleavages within the
ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), and
the lack of centralised control over the Sudan People’s Liberation
Army (SPLA) (de Waal ; de Waal & Mohammed ; Johnson
; Rolandsen ; Brosché & Höglund ).
Both of the interpretations outlined above – the one looking at the
international community’s faults and the other looking at internal political dynamics involving the SPLM and SPLA – capture a partial truth but
do not provide a satisfactory explanation of how the South Sudanese
state started functioning and then collapsed. To fill this gap, this
paper suggests focusing on the intersections between external and
internal actors and strategies. More specifically, it looks at the SPLM/
A’s capacity to turn external resource flows to South Sudan into assets
for power accumulation and state capture.
As such, it is useful to adopt the concept of extraversion popularised
by Jean-François Bayart with reference to the African state (Bayart
). This concept provides an interpretative lens with which to
analyse the rebel movement’s interaction with external resource-providers in the late s and early s, a decisive time in the construction of state institutions in Southern Sudan.
There is a rich literature on the unintended consequences of humanitarian aid, both in general (de Waal ; Lischer ; Narang ),
and specifically in South Sudan (Bradbury et al. ; Duffield ;
Maxwell et al. ). However, the links between SPLM state-building
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by foreign donors and the nature of the South Sudanese state that
imploded in  have not been examined as fully as they might have
been. Building on Bayart’s work on extraversion, this paper will contribute to the analysis of the nature of the South Sudanese state born out of
the  referendum, emphasising not only the mechanism of resource
capture but also that of state capture by the former rebel movement. It
will argue that state-building in South Sudan resulted in a state structure
that significantly overlapped with the movement’s structure, making the
reproduction of war-time power accumulation strategies possible even
after the end of the war.
The paper is divided into five sections. The first introduces the concept
of extraversion and shows how the SPLM used it during the war to establish a state-like structure in its controlled territory. The second illustrates
how the rebel movement’s involvement in Operation Lifeline Sudan and
the ensuing humanitarian agreements contributed to its political legitimation. The third section provides an overview of the first donor-funded
project aimed explicitly at strengthening SPLM government structures,
providing material and symbolic resources that fed into the movement’s
extraversion strategy. The fourth section illustrates the synergies
between the SPLM and the donor community in the creation of state
structures based on the movement’s own administrative structures.
Finally, the fifth section links the legacies of South Sudan’s state-building
process in the s and s to the current crisis.
This analysis is based on field research conducted in – as well
as on documents concerning the exchanges between donor agencies
and the SPLM/government of Southern Sudan in – stored
at the Local Government Board in Juba.
Extraversion can be defined as the capacity of individuals or groups to
profit from their situation of dependence upon external resources, strategically using these resources for the pursuit of their own goals (Bayart
; Tull ). In other words, it is the process by which individuals or
groups ‘employ their dependent relationship with the external world to
appropriate resources and authority’ (Peiffer & Englebert : ).
In opposition to the idea of the marginalisation of the African continent,
Bayart argued that Africa has always been part of the world system.
Criticising dependency theorists, he showed that Africa was not a
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victim of its subaltern position vis-à-vis the world economy: in many
instances, ruling elites took advantage of their dependence, turning it
into an asset to pursue their own ends and to strengthen their grip on
power. Extraversion strategies evolved over time: if the colonial and
immediate post-colonial years were dominated by trade relations
between Africa and the rest of the world, development aid and the discourse of democracy gained increasing importance in the s
together with migration flows (Bayart ), followed by state-building,
security and counterterrorism (Hagmann ).
South Sudan was no exception: its incorporation into the political
economy and the territorial jurisdiction of the colonial and post-colonial
state happened through strategies of extraversion that enabled the southern political elite to play on its marginalised position to attract external
support and to extract rents from the struggle to reduce Southern marginalisation (Johnson ; Leonardi ). This section illustrates how the
SPLM/A harvested this heritage of extraversion and managed to intercept
external resource flows not only to sustain the war effort but also to
effectively occupy power nodes and establish a state-like structure, strictly
controlled by the movement itself, to rule over the ‘liberated areas’.
After eight years of socialist sympathies relying on the support of the
Derg regime in Ethiopia, the movement changed its orientation. In the
s, it undertook a process of internal reorganisation, motivated
partly by the need to seek new allies after the fall of Mengistu and
partly by the split of the movement caused by divergences in the leadership (Johnson ; Rolandsen ). Between  and , the
SPLM established the Civil Administration of the New Sudan (CANS).
The CANS increasingly took the shape of a ‘state-within-a-state’: an
entity that ‘imposed effective control over a territory within a larger
state and [had] an impressive array of institutional structures that,
among other things, allow taxes to be collected, services to be provided,
and business with other international actors to be conducted’ (Spears
: ). In spite of the extreme geographic variation in the establishment and functioning of local governance structures, the SPLM
managed to collect taxes, provide limited services to the civil population – including security and, to some extent, education and primary
healthcare – and to conduct ‘business’ with international actors, primarily in the form of negotiation with donors. It was a state-like form of
control of the territory that required more than mere coercion,
though the latter was never completely absent. Through mechanisms
limiting the use of violence, the establishment of administrative practices
and the delivery of some public goods and services, the SPLM also came
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to acquire a certain degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the local population. It is not the aim of this paper to discuss in detail the mechanisms
through which the SPLM was able to have its authority recognised by
people in the areas it controlled through means that went beyond coercion: this has been done elsewhere (Rolandsen ; Mampilly ).
Rather, this paper will focus on the resources that were used to establish
the conditions for the legitimisation of the rebel movement, which
remained relatively strong throughout the interim period between the
signing of the peace agreement and the referendum for independence.
The emergence of the SPLM/A as the hegemonic actor on the
Southern Sudanese scene was only made possible thanks to the support
of the international donor community. Since the mid-s, its relations
with international actors strengthened as Western countries increasingly
sought strategies to destabilise the government of Sudan, accused of
having ties with global terrorist networks. For its part, the SPLM leadership showed an impressive capacity to appropriate a donor-friendly
lexicon revolving around democracy, decentralisation, good governance
and service delivery. Peace through Development, a pamphlet published by
the SPLM in , represents the most comprehensive endorsement of
this kind of discourse, not only supporting democratic institutions but
also linking democratic governance with development and peace.
Indeed, aid to the Sudan increased dramatically towards the end of the
s, rising from US$ million in  to US$ million in .
Of these funds, over % consisted of emergency aid, much of which
was directed towards the southern region (Lehtinen ).
In his essay, Bayart identifies six modes of extraversion: appropriation,
coercion, trickery, flight, intermediation and rejection (Bayart ).
The SPLM/A was able to employ many of these in the construction of
a stable relationship with Western countries and international organisations. Appropriation and trickery, understood as what ‘allows individuals
and groups to make a living by circumventing the law, policies or rules
imposed by foreign authority’ (Hagmann : ) were the primary
strategy of the SPLM in dealing with material assets delivery, as has
been widely documented by several authors (African Rights ;
Johnson ; James ). Another example of trickery was the way
in which the SPLM leadership convinced the donor community, at
least partly moved by genuine humanitarian concerns, to directly
target the movement’s local government structures.
International relief programmes thus contributed – both willingly and
unconsciously – to the creation of ‘proto-government’ structures, as the
SPLM Governance Cluster defined them in its final report (SPLM
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Governance Cluster ), within the rebel movement’s controlled areas.
This process was characterised by a fundamentally different understanding of the aim of creating such structures. The donor community had a
Weberian legal-rational ideal type of state in mind, characterised by functioning institutions capable of maximising efficacy and effectiveness for
the sake of good governance. The SPLM’s political leadership, for its
part, readily adopted the reforms and policies that were required to
secure a stable inflow of foreign aid resources (Awet Akot  Int.),
while the movement started developing its own state-building project
aimed at maintaining control of these resources (Achol Deng  Int.).
The two state-building projects shared the language of the modern
democratic state, with its charge of universalism and legitimacy and its
emphasis on development and service delivery. Whether or not this commitment was only a façade, it allowed the movement’s politico-military elite
to be increasingly involved in the distribution of aid resources to the areas
under the SPLM’s control, allowing it to extract considerable rents from
the political economy of state-building. In the s–s, the SPLM
had access to two kinds of rent: one was the flow of aid resources in the
form of humanitarian aid and direct support to local governance; the
other was formed by state-levied resources such as taxes, licences and revenues of various kinds (including oil revenues since ). The SPLM’s
capacity of appropriating the second kind of rent grew in time (Reno
) together with its legitimacy in doing so (Mampilly ; Leonardi
). Indeed, the state structure emerging from the donor-sponsored
state-building effort in SPLM-controlled areas concealed a fundamental
bias: it was the rebel movement, rather than an abstract state object,
acting behind the legitimate mask of statehood.
This produced a process of ‘dysfunctional state-building’, as
Hagmann () calls it in the case of Somalia: a process based on
the strengthening of unaccountable SPLM structures that made it
extremely profitable to occupy government institutions. Humanitarian
aid, and the aid that was delivered with the aim of strengthening local
governance during the war and immediately after, fed into the political
economy of state-building, ultimately contributing to this process.
Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), the biggest UN-coordinated humanitarian operation ever, was negotiated between  and , following
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the devastating famine in Bahr el Ghazal. It was signed as a tripartite
agreement between the UN and donor governments, the government
in Khartoum and the SPLM/A. Despite the efforts of the Southern
Sector coordinator, UNICEF’s executive director James P. Grant, to
make it clear that the UN did not intend to give any official recognition
to the SPLM/A while dealing with it only for humanitarian purposes, it
was the first time that a UN-coordinated operation openly engaged with
a rebel movement to access areas under its control. This was extremely
innovative at the time and has been described as a ‘pragmatic victory’
(Pegg ), preventing – or at least reducing – mass starvation and
gaining access to many areas that would otherwise have remained
completely off-limits (Scaramella  Int.).
OLS has been strongly criticised for several reasons, ranging from its
influence on local power balances providing resources for patronage
(African Rights ; Duffield ) to its lack of neutrality when supporting capacity-building and institution-building projects for the SPLM,
providing a non-state armed rebel movement with diplomatic recognition (Bradbury et al. ; Washburne ; Maxwell et al. ).
Indeed, from the very beginning of the operation, ‘humanitarian recognition’ resulted in a de facto political recognition of the movement,
enabling it to negotiate with international actors for the sake of civilians’
protection. This section illustrates how its direct involvement in OLS and
in consequent humanitarian agreements contributed to the political
legitimisation of the SPLM as a local counterpart for international
actors and as a government-like actor in the eyes of the local population
(Akol : ), and how this strengthened the movement’s capacity for
performing state-like tasks.
The SPLM’s internal reforms of the s and its rapprochement with
the West coincided with the strengthening of its claim to control the relief
effort in liberated areas through its relief wing, the Sudan Relief and
Rehabilitation Association (SRRA). When OLS began, the SRRA
became its major southern counterpart in the field, even though it was
under strict military control: due to a lack of expatriates and staff in
many areas, data collection and food distribution relied upon the
SRRA, and were therefore often biased by military concerns (Riehl
). While appropriation and diversion of relief aid was a constant
feature of all parties’ war strategies, it became particularly intrinsic to sustaining the rebel movement. This tactic figures prominently as a form of
trickery among Bayart’s modes of extraversion, but the SPLM/A was also
able, to some extent, to control food distribution and to take part of it in
the form of taxation (Johnson ; James ).
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Donors were at least partially aware of these forms of trickery and
appropriation. Nevertheless, the SPLM/A’s donor-friendly rhetoric
made them turn a blind eye to the movement’s actual practices, its
poor human rights records, its diversion of relief aid, and even its
scarce commitment to ensuring protection to humanitarian workers
on the ground. In , the killing of four humanitarian workers led
OLS to negotiate the Agreement on the Ground Rules with the
SPLM/A, the SRRA and two other rebel movements. The agreement
marked another step forward in the international credibility of the
SPLM leadership (Bradbury et al. ) while increasing its capacity to
officially perform state-like tasks such as taxation and work permit
releases (Mampilly ).
The Ground Rules Agreement has been described as a form of
‘humanitarian governance’, an expression employed to indicate the
use of humanitarian principles to influence the behaviour of state and
non-state actors (Maxwell et al. ). Its seven sections determined
the reciprocal property rights, responsibilities and obligations of the
INGOs working within OLS as well as the rebel movements and their
humanitarian wings. The effectiveness of the Ground Rules
Agreement has been debated (Rone ; Autesserre ); nevertheless, there is some evidence that the SPLM/A’s attitude towards civilians
did improve (Rone ). This might also have been a consequence of
the growing number of opportunities to control the territory. These
included the creation of local NGOs as a channel of service provision
to the population and the strengthening of bureaucratic procedures
of administration within the CANS.
In the early s, the ‘civil society-building’ approach encouraged
John Garang to form the first secular indigenous NGO in SPLM/Aheld areas, the Cush Relief and Rehabilitation Society (CRRS). It was
the first of a number of local NGOs created around the mid-s, providing new channels for relief aid and international funds. Most of them
were ‘briefcase NGOs’ run by former SPLM/A members based in
Nairobi or Kampala. Capacity building workshops for local NGO
members were organised within the framework of OLS, who gave the
SRRA the authority of selecting the participants and, consequently,
those who would be eligible for foreign funding (Reno ).
Local NGOs were not only supported within the framework of the
humanitarian operation for relief supplies distribution. From the mid-
s, USAID, one of the most generous donors behind OLS, claimed
that it was time to start ‘doing relief developmentally’ (Dembowski
: ), and started supporting development projects such as seed
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production, road rehabilitation and market establishment. In , the
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright expressed the US’s solidarity
with the movement’s objectives and the will to provide it with direct
support. With a total of US$ million in aid assistance to Sudan,
USAID decided to channel US$. million to more flexible non-OLS
NGOs such as Norwegian People’s Aid (Autesserre ).
The continued flow of aid funds and relief items to the rebel-held
areas through the SRRA and the web of local NGOs allowed the rebels
to easily access supplies without distraction from the fighting. At the
same time, it had the effect of fulfilling one of the basic functions to
which the CANS committed itself: the provision of basic services to the
population under its control. Moreover, continued interaction with
international NGOs brought a decrease in the level of violence for
extractive purposes towards the local population, and an increasing bureaucratisation of the civil administration established in . For
example, taxation practices became less violent towards the end of the
s. Reports from WFP quoted in Food and Power in Sudan suggest
that households included in follow-up visits after food deliveries often
reported SPLA taxation on the food delivered (African Rights ),
rather than violent appropriation from the military.
At the same time, however, the relationship between relief organisations and the SPLM/A was contentious, and always characterised by
suspicion from the rebels, who saw international agencies as too complacent about government conditions and too independent from the
movement’s directives (Man et al. ). The increasing demands of
coordinating and controlling the relief aid and the activities of aid agencies led the movement to sometimes adopt extreme measures such as
the expulsion of the French NGO Action Contre la Faim in  upon
vague allegations that it was threatening security in rebel-held areas
(Mampilly ). In , the SPLA forced OLS and international
NGOs to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, declaring it could
no longer guarantee the security of those deciding not to sign it. The
MOU was considered an unacceptable and illegitimate imposition,
and provoked the withdrawal of many organisations (Mampilly ).
Despite never officially claiming to be a separate government – though
it was de facto referred to as such by many local chiefs and the general
population – the MOU contained typical ‘state’ demands: payment of
fees to the SRRA for issuing work permits, payment of taxes on NGO
assets, permission to enter SPLM-held areas. In William Reno’s words,
‘Travelling to rebel-held parts of Sudan at that time was like travelling
to a new country, with SPLA travel permits, registries, and other
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administrative paraphernalia typical of a sovereign state’ (Reno :
). Not dissimilar to recent attempts at imposing a greater degree
of control over international NGO operations and consequent tensions
with the donor community (Hamsik ), the MOU was an attempt at
enforcing the movement’s decision-making capacity over external
resource providers.
In spite of contradictory analyses of the actual impact of the MOU
(Riehl ; Mampilly ), it seems likely that it contributed at
least in part to the empowerment of local rebel administrative structures
that were used to distribute relief and development funds. The channelling of at least part of aid funds through the movement’s structures also
allowed it to nurture its political project of winning hearts and minds in
non-Dinka areas, where its presence was often contested despite the
common goal of defeating the ‘Arabs’ (Mampilly ).
In the late s, the SPLM was not only an active partner in relief distribution, but also became the major target of donor-funded capacitybuilding and institution-building efforts. Several projects aimed at
strengthening the SPLM government capacity were implemented,
justified by the need to make local institutions more effective in managing relief flows. This section will provide an overview of the first of
such projects, showing how it provided both material and symbolic
resources that fed into the SPLM/A leadership’s strategy of extraversion.
The Sudan Transitional Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) project
was the first capacity-building project explicitly targeting the SPLM civil
It was not the first time that the SPLM/A had been directly supported
and involved in capacity building: in the second half of the s,
UNICEF funded organisational development workshops, office equipment and even the construction of office facilities for the SRRA
(African Rights ; Riehl ). These activities were always
justified as part of the work needed for the sake of humanitarian effectiveness: it was in the interest of the humanitarian operation to increase
the organisational and coordination capacity of the SRRA, because it was
de facto controlling territory and the actual delivery depended on it.
The STAR project was conceived immediately after the first visit of
the US Secretary of State to John Garang in Kampala in , when
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US–Sudan relations were deteriorating, and represented exactly the
kind of ‘non-lethal support’ that Washington was willing to offer to
the SPLM/A besides relief food (Autesserre ). The democratic
and developmental ideals to which the rebel movement was increasingly
paying lip service in the second half of the decade looked like steps in
the right direction to improve the movement’s poor human rights
records. A report commissioned by USAID on its activities in Southern
Sudan between  and  praised the establishment of the CANS
and maintained the need to acknowledge its control of wide regions,
while at the same time strengthening its democratic nature and its capacity of protecting human rights. The US Congress earmarked US$
million for the three-year programme, with the overall goal of increasing
participatory democracy and good governance practices in oppositionheld areas of Sudan while reducing heavy reliance on relief (Salinas &
D’Silva ). More specifically, it aimed to expand participation in
community-level administration, rehabilitating dwellings and infrastructures, promoting local economic development and increasing accountability, transparency and respect for human rights among civilian
The STAR project had three major components: a national-level component providing training to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA),
the umbrella organisation of political opposition parties to the
Khartoum regime; a county/regional-level component providing training to local administrators, delegated to UNICEF-OLS; and a local/community-level component to promote economic recovery and
development, targeting Sudanese civil society organisations and delegated to Catholic Relief Services (CRS). While the first was not implemented, the second and third components can be considered part of
the donor-sponsored state-building project. They targeted two fundamental aspects of state functioning: the creation and strengthening of
a non-violent institutional apparatus working through bureaucratised
procedures and practices, and the delivery of basic services.
The Civil Administration Training (CAT) component only absorbed a
small percentage of the total STAR funds (US$ million out of US$
million), yet it was remarkable at least from a symbolic point of view:
for the first time, it provided direct support to SPLM members,
helping them to develop local administrative capacities and structures.
This component was delegated to UNICEF and implemented within
the framework of OLS until , despite UNICEF’s scepticism over
the training of rebel administrators as part of a humanitarian operation.
The organisation repeatedly made clear that its role could not go
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beyond the ‘empowerment of grassroots level communities and … the
promotion of efficient administration in local governance’ through
the strengthening of universal good governance principles such as the
recognition of ‘grassroots communities [as] the legitimate holders of
political rights and entitlements and … local government administrators
[as their] representatives’ (UNICEF : ).
UNICEF’s work under the STAR project consisted of the organisation
of workshops and conferences with various purposes. Besides several
workshops for the dissemination of the humanitarian principles contained in the Ground Rules Agreement, between May and June 
a civil society conference in Mapel was also held to discuss the root
causes of the famine that had hit Bahr el Ghazal the previous year. A preliminary document prepared by Mario Muor Muor, a senior SPLM
official, identified the causes of the famine as ‘chronic insecurity’ and
‘lack of basic services’ (Muor ). The unreliability of food supplies,
he argued on behalf of the SPLM, was due both to Khartoum’s war strategy of starving the ‘New Sudan’, and food being diverted by SPLA individuals beyond the control of the central command. The
individualisation and criminalisation of what was, in fact, a tactic of
the rebel movement as a whole allowed him to make a further point:
looting of food and other relief supplies happened because of weaknesses in local governance.
What happened in Ajiep during  is a case in point. Due to lack of viable
presence of SPLA and civil administration, food was stolen and looted at will
without anybody questioning the culprits. There was also widespread diversion of food by the chiefs who were given a free hand to distribute food, as
they liked. (Muor : )
To establish law and order was thus ‘imperative’ for the SPLM/A:
After all, those who loot and steal food are unruly soldiers of the SPLA and
armed militias. SPLM/SPLA is legally (sic) and morally obliged to protect
the civil populations from these criminals. It is not a policy of the movement
to divert, loot and steal food and other relief items, but for SPLM/SPLA to
allow these elements to continue to divert, loot and steal food and other
relief items with impunity can be construed otherwise by other people.
(Muor : )
With this apparent mea culpa, the SPLM was thus asking for its government and judicial structures to be reinforced, perfectly in line with the
purpose of the STAR project. Muor further suggested that it was time
for the ‘southern people’s friends’ to shift from an insufficient relief provision to development, if they were to ‘tackle the root causes of famine’
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rather than simply ‘cure its symptoms’. This point is reaffirmed in a conference document written by another SPLM official, complaining about
the lack of sustainability of relief operations, the risk of ‘emergencydependency syndrome’ and the fact that the systematic bypassing of
‘local structures, institutions, staff’ neglected local ownership and participation in processes controlled by NGO expatriates and the government in Khartoum (Leek ).
Consistent with the STAR plan of activities and with the SPLM’s
expressed needs, in July–September  UNICEF and the SRRA organised the first Civil Administration Training Course in Akot, Lakes State.
While initially planned for  payam and county administrators, the
number of participants was doubled following the high demand of
attendance that it generated. Participants were selected by county
Commissioners under the supervision of the Secretariat for Interior
and Public Administration, later renamed Secretariat of Local
Government, based on broad guidelines provided by the UNICEF
project implementation team. The workshop, as did similar other workshops following suit, aimed to improve democratic governance in the
administration, increase civilian participation, accountability, transparency and respect of human rights by civil authorities with particular
regard to property rights and the rights of children and women.
Besides the general rules of behaviour of a ‘good administrator’, the
training also tackled technical aspects aimed at developing the civil
administrators’ capacity to deliver services effectively: keeping
financial accounts, conducting general meetings, organising public elections of various popular organs, and maintaining law and order in civil
society were some of the topics addressed. In a training course held
shortly thereafter in Rumbek, administrators were even divided into categories in order to cover the different fields of social life they had to deal
with (UNICEF/OLS ). By , an indefinite number – ranging
from  to  – of payam administrators and deputy administrators
in Western Equatoria, Lakes and Bahr el Ghazal had been trained, covering approximately half of the payams in the three regions (Dembowski
The third component was designed to target the ‘community level’
through the Grant Making/Capacity Building scheme (GB/CM),
managed by Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Besides improving
people’s living conditions through the provision of grants for the startup of income generation activities and loans for the purchase of
capital equipment and supplies, the GM/CB component assigned a
central role to County Development Committees (CDC). The CDC
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came into existence in  as a liaison between INGOs, the SRRA and
the population, a core idea of US development cooperation, considered
as an outstanding means of achieving good governance and peace. They
were tasked with formulating development strategies and with implementing development programmes in their respective counties
(Dembowski ). CDCs were established in  counties; they drew
% of their membership from the civil authorities and % from
civil society institutions such as women’s organisations, cooperatives,
farmers, traders and disabled persons associations, though one could
question how genuine all these forms of community organisations
were. CDCs should have managed revolving funds when loans to
selected beneficiaries for capital supply were repaid, but, according to
the STAR programme evaluation conducted in , almost none of
the loans were repaid. CDCs thus functioned as a channel to distribute
external resources to local organisations and the local people, increasing the decision-making power of the civil administrators involved,
who were also in charge of identifying the beneficiaries. In fact, the
evaluation team noticed that the relationship between CDCs and the
county administrators remained fairly ambiguous, being described as
ranging from independent to consultative to a direct reporting responsibility (Dembowski ). Despite being presented as a ‘major achievement’ of the STAR project for bringing together representatives from
the private and public sectors with local residents and thus being
worth donors’ technical assistance, CDCs proved not to be sustainable
and disappeared shortly after (Anzai  Int.).
If we consider the objectives of the programme, STAR was not a
success. Besides the lack of sustainability of CDCs, the extremely low
rate of loan repayment and the short life of many of its initial achievements, many of the expected results of the CAT component – such as
the creation of legislative bodies in counties and payams, preparation
and approval of budgets, and keeping record of local administrators’
activities – were not achieved. Accountability and transparency were
not improved: planning, budgeting, revenue collection and expenditure
records continued to be poorly managed and kept secret if they existed
at all. The judiciary remained firmly under the control of the military,
and it was unlikely to act independently when events such as rapes or
requisitions of property occurred. The SPLM expressed support for
women’s participation in the public sphere, but the % of seats for
women in Liberation Councils at every level of the administration
went unfulfilled. Some women interviewed by the evaluation team
even claimed that they had been invited to public meetings only to do
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the cooking. Despite specific training and the provision of some infrastructure, no service delivery from local authorities was in place after
STAR had ended (Dembowski ).
Nevertheless, even if the commitment of the SPLM to good governance and democratic principles was only rhetorical, the ‘capture’ of
these programmes enabled the movement to acquire an increasing
coordinating and controlling capacity over goods and services from
external providers. On the one hand, this allowed it to position itself
as a credible political interlocutor both for the internationally sponsored
peace process and internally as the only force with governing skills and
the capacity to attract external resources. On the other hand, several
observers provided evidence that, since –, living conditions in
SPLM-controlled territory improved, with tax collection becoming less
violent and NGO presence turning increasingly developmental
(Dembowski ; Johnson ; Rolandsen ).
Since the mid-s, we can thus argue that the SPLM established a
state-like structure under its control, projecting its own authority in its
‘liberated areas’. War-making and its rents, mostly in the form of relief
aid flows, became a form of state-making in Tilly’s terms (Tilly ).
As the end of the war became increasingly likely with the signing of the
Machakos Protocol in , efforts at creating proper state structures,
laws and bylaws increased. The ‘peace brigade’ – as John Young called
it  years later (Sudan Tribune ) – became more involved in the
organisation of workshops and training for civil servants and would-be
government officials. A large part of this engagement was – and still is,
as suggested by an interview with a senior staff member of a USAID subcontractor (Dawson  Int.) – based on the assumption that the main
reason for formally existing institutions to remain on paper was a lack of
funding and capacity. While it is indisputable that South Sudan suffers
from historical weaknesses in its education system, the ‘lack-of-capacity’
and the ‘lack-of-resources’ have become mantras for justifying the SPLM
elite’s continued requests of support from the donor community to
strengthen the movement’s structures and presence on the ground.
These structures tended to conflate with state and government ones in
the post- period.
The signing of the ceasefire in January  marked a turning point for
Southern Sudan: the decrease in actual fighting left room to concentrate
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efforts on strengthening the structures of local civil administration
(Mampilly ). The Machakos Protocol made prospects for peace
between the SPLM/A and the government of Sudan more and more tangible, drawing a number of splinter militias back to the mainstream rebel
movement. The SPLM/A’s control of the southern territory consequently increased through the co-option of isolated military commanders (Young ).
While the peace negotiations tackled political arrangements at
national level and the creation of the government of Southern Sudan,
the establishment of local government structures was left to negotiations
within the southern elite and treated as an overall technical issue.
Organisational structures (number of seats/positions in the civil
service, number and kind of ministries, departments, commissions, committees, organisational charts, etc.), infrastructural and equipment
needs for newly established institutions and financial aspects (both
resource-raising and expenditures) were discussed as priorities. The
SPLM expressed a commitment to decentralisation, and replicated
each institution at all levels of the local government through decentralised or deconcentrated branches. This section addresses the synergy
between the SPLM and international development agencies in the creation – and capture – of South Sudanese local state structures.
References to the state as a whole are very rare in SPLM documents of
the early and mid-s, while those to local government and local administration abound. The Governance Cluster, one of the SPLM working
groups created in , was tasked with the formulation of recommendations on local government structures. These recommendations, together
with the SPLM’s pre-existing local administrative structures, represented
the basis upon which the South Sudanese state was built. In the words of
the Acting SPLM Chairman for Unity State in early :
Historically, SPLM imposed itself as the leading and majority party.
Everyone joined the armed struggle with us. Therefore, currently all the
commissioners are from SPLM. The National and State constitutions are
shaped by SPLM constitution. It is the Party that decides: for example on
decentralisation, on women quotas, etc. Most individuals in the government
belong to SPLM. Our Governor [in Unity State] is part of SPLM political
bureau. So there is an overlapping between the government and the
party. Some people say this is not true, and that the government is not
doing what SPLM wants, but this is not true. SPLM decides on everything,
through its members. (Lony  Int.)
The creation of state structures in South Sudan was treated as a technical
matter of finding the right institutional formula, but it resulted in an
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extremely exclusive exercise in which those who had proven to be
capable of exercising local control and of keeping relations with the
international community received resources, training and, ultimately,
political power.
‘Workshop’ is a word that became very common in the vernacular languages of South Sudan to refer to public meetings in which issues of
public interest were discussed and some sort of decision was taken – at
least in the form of the distribution of tasks or the creation of ad hoc
committees to address a specific problem. The frequent use of the
word ‘workshop’ comes from the extensive organisation of ‘consultative’
workshops by development agencies not only for assessing local needs
but also to engage local administrative and traditional authorities in
the creation of government institutions.
SPLM local government institutions were indeed involved in a wide
range of workshops organised with the support of several international
actors. UNDP, particularly, played a major role in the process of consolidation and development of SPLM local state-like institutions between
 and . This process received a major thrust in , when
the Secretariat of Local Government produced a number of ‘Laws of
the New Sudan’ addressing virtually every aspect of social, economic
and political life. In , the chairperson of the Secretariat of Local
Government appointed a Nairobi-based Focal Point on Local
Government and Civil Administration with the specific purpose of
coordinating with donor agencies – mostly based in the Kenyan
capital. UNDP promptly engaged with the Focal Point, not only providing it with office space in Nairobi (Focal Point on Local Government and
Public Administration ), but also discussing the way forward and
the formulation of a Local Government Framework and Act to
provide the forthcoming government of Southern Sudan with strong
local roots. By the end of , the Focal Point had produced a draft
Framework for the Development of the Capacity of the Secretariat of
Local Government and Public Administration in South Sudan, containing the core ideas upon which the SPLM wanted to develop its government structures, as well as detailed requests for the donor community,
addressing them in particular to UNDP.
Successive drafts of the framework were submitted for scrutiny to a
number of international experts on governance and the public sector
(Focal Point on Local Government and Public Administration ,
) and discussed in workshops organised by international donor
agencies. The Local Government Technical Team, established in early
, was charged with further revisions, while other members of the
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Secretariat of Local Government were charged with assessing local
administration in SPLM-controlled areas. They produced thematic
papers on subjects such as service delivery, democracy and participation,
natural resource management, traditional authorities, fiscal decentralisation, and food and agriculture. These topics went far beyond the
scope of establishing the structure of the local government and, together
with the process of constitutional formulation, contributed to setting the
scope and limits of would-be state policies. UNDP also contributed to the
assessment effort, commissioning a study on the situation of the local
government in three southern garrison towns, Juba, Wau and Renk.
Though its findings were limited to the (very few) government-controlled areas in the southern region, they reflected the image of fragility
that the SPLM’s documents had been advancing since the end of the
s (Kot Riak ) and strengthened the movement’s demands
for training and capacity building.
A comprehensive mapping of all the workshops, meetings and training
courses realised in the period – and immediately thereafter, as well
as a detailed study of the types of discourses they promoted, would be
extremely useful in tracing the influences of international approaches
to post-conflict governance on the SPLM’s internal discourses and institutional development. Indeed, others have looked at capacity building
initiatives as ‘points of interaction and spaces for dialogue between
donors and recipient governments’ (Bergamaschi : ).
However, the fragmentary nature of the available documentation and
the poor institutional memory of the international organisations involved
in such processes make it extremely challenging to produce a comprehensive picture of all the ‘negotiating tables’ (Hagmann & Péclard )
initiated in these years. With no pretence of providing a definitive and
complete analysis, it is possible to advance some general reflections on
how the SPLM co-opted the material and symbolic resources provided
by these workshops into its strategy of extraversion in the establishment
of local state and government structures.
First, from the analysis of the lists of participants to both institutional
and policy-design workshops and administrative training, an astonishingly complex pre-existing state-like structure emerges at the level of
local branches of the SPLM. When signing up as participants in a
certain workshop, people introduced themselves with very specific
titles and positions following the institutional structure of a state in all
its aspects: agriculture extension officers, child protection officers,
finance officers, syndicated organisations representatives, economic
commission, legal affairs and constitutional development secretariats,
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etc. These are only a few of the locally existing variety of SPLM-related
offices and departments, with the clear ambition of regulating every
aspect of life not only at the central level, but also in more peripheral
areas, where nuclei of statehood were reproduced loosely based on
directives from the headquarters. Of course, one could argue that
there is very limited evidence that these distinctions in the roles of
civil servants and public security forces were anything more than superficial or that they were more than local initiatives. The variance in titles
and groupings that people used to register themselves in the workshops
may indeed account for the difficulties in circulating information and
for a lack of actual coordination from the centre. Nevertheless, the
idea of how a civil service should be structured and of the division of
organised forces between the army and other ‘civil’ security forces
(such as police, wildlife, prison forces) was appropriated by the movement and clearly penetrated all areas under its control where interaction
with resource-rich international actors occurred.
This leads to the second point: these training programmes and workshops provided a valuable meeting opportunity for the SPLM’s people in
distant areas, and thus a tool for spreading the SPLM’s vision and modes
of governance. This would have been difficult otherwise, in a context
where both telecommunication and transport remain a challenge
even  years after the CPA. Provision of transport in the form of
flight tickets, fuel and road rehabilitation was always one of the main
concerns emerging from planning documents in preparation for these
Third, the involvement of SPLM civil administrators in the process of
establishing the local government and other state institutions, as well as
in training, meant the legitimisation of people appointed to public functions often with no merit other than being a loyal ex-combatant in the
movement. These people were trained in successive workshops organised by several development agencies on the basis that they lacked capacity to implement good governance, and therefore acquired an aura of
respectability as skilled local government officers in a society that places
great value on education and expertise (Ayod  Int.).
Considered singularly, workshops constituted negotiation tables in
which every move of the SPLM leadership regarding local government
establishment was shared and discussed with donors, organisers of the
workshop, NGOs and any other concerned ‘stakeholder’ – a word very
much in vogue in the framework of participatory approaches to development. However, the outcome produced by this process of discussion and
negotiation taken as a whole goes beyond that of each workshop and
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meeting, suggesting the existence of a ‘negotiation arena’ in the sense
that Hagmann & Péclard () attribute to the term. The outcome
of this negotiation arena involved, on one hand, the strengthening of
SPLM international legitimacy as a source of state-like power, and, on
the other, the consolidation of modes of governance based on external
resource-raising ultimately leading to the SPLM’s control of the state.
When in  the South Sudan success story of state-building collapsed,
the SPLM had been ruling for over eight years with the strong support of
the international community, which invested over US$ billion in international aid between  and .
 This period was characterised by
constant tensions in the leadership and among the lower ranks of commanders, who were co-opted into the politico-military elite through a
complex system of patronage, often organised along ethnic lines
(Schomerus & Allen ; de Waal ). The SPLM leadership’s
capture of state institutions guaranteed its strict control over state
resources, which mostly derived from oil revenues and foreign aid.
Because of its firm control of state institutions and of the legitimacy
deriving from statehood, the former rebel movement could count on
an unchallenged primacy on the political scene, since all its possible
competitors had no option other than being co-opted into the ruling
elite or going to the bush. The continued control over state rents
made it less urgent to work on more genuinely inclusive governance
systems, as well as on the actual separation – sometimes claimed on
paper – between party and state structures. Instead, keeping this
overlap was instrumental to maintaining control over resources.
With over  million displaced people and an unknown number of
victims, the outbreak of war in  regained the humanitarian community’s attention, mobilising approximately US$. billion per year from
 to  – a figure that increased following the declaration of
famine in parts of the country (de Simone ). There has been
some acknowledgment of the state-building roots of the current situation – for example, in an opinion article published in the Boston
Review (..), Mahmood Mamdani stated that: ‘The problem in
South Sudan did not spring from the society. Its genesis lay in the
proto-state, created in a hot-house fashion in the throes of the War on
Terror by the troika.’ However, there has been little in-depth reflection
on these legacies of state-building.
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Such reflection is urgently needed, especially since many observers –
including Mamdani himself – have been calling for greater involvement
of the international community in South Sudan’s crisis (Sudan Tribune
..; Newsweek ..; Kindersley & Rolandsen ; Noel
; The New York Times ..). Even though the type of intervention advocated is primarily a diplomatic one, aimed at directly influencing the security situation, the donor community is again heavily
involved in providing support to the population affected by the war as
well as to government institutions that would otherwise arguably collapse. A recent paper published by the Humanitarian Practice
Network of the Overseas Development Institute analyses the features
of the current humanitarian intervention in South Sudan, drawing
some comparisons with OLS. The paper shows that South Sudanese
authorities are engaging in ‘predatory rent-seeking activities’ diverting
humanitarian resources such as vehicles, fuel, cash and phone credit
(Hamsik : ). Even though there are notable differences between
OLS and the current humanitarian operations – starting with the humanitarian community’s decision not to negotiate access with the rebels – this
kind of behaviour is nothing new among the southern elite.
Reminiscent of the s and s, the government of South Sudan
is also imposing increasingly restrictive regulations and forms of control
over international NGOs. The  NGO Bill gives the Relief and
Reconciliation Commission the power to develop policies and procedures to monitor NGOs, ranging from registration procedures, hiring
policies, movement clearance and asset ownership. Humanitarian assistance is one of the major sources of revenue in the country, especially
considering the insecurity around the oilfields that makes oil revenues
unreliable; it is therefore important to impose a strict control over aid
flows. Moreover, control over humanitarian actors gives the government
a powerful tool to direct relief only towards ‘loyal areas’, excluding rebelcontrolled zones (Hamsik ).
The diversion of humanitarian aid and the narrowing of NGO liberties are not the only ways in which South Sudan’s ruling elite is repeating
its strategy of extraversion and taking advantage of the extremely fragile
situation – which it arguably played a part in creating. Playing on its fragility, and on international fears of state collapse, since  the government of South Sudan has been asking aid programmes to pay salaries or
bonuses to civil servants to cope with inflation and currency devaluation.
This request was for the most part accepted for fear of worsening the
population’s living conditions with the total collapse of service provision
(Irin News ..), and much of its acceptability has to do with the
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fact that the SPLM now acts as the government of South Sudan, a legitimate state actor.
The available analyses of current interactions between South Sudan’s
ruling elite and the international donor community thus confirm the
SPLM’s use of extraversion as a strategy to maintain power and hegemony over its adversaries.
This paper has argued that South Sudan’s civil war cannot be fully
explained by interpretations looking alternatively at the international
community’s responsibility or internal political dynamics, but rather
needs to be analysed through an approach that looks at the intersections
between the external and internal dimensions. Relying on Bayart’s work,
this paper has shown that the SPLM/A’s leadership employed strategies
of extraversion to impose an increasingly state-like form of control over
the southern territory, ultimately capturing the rents deriving from
humanitarian relief flows and from the international community’s concerns for security and stability in the area. In particular, it has looked at
the interactions between international humanitarian intervention and
local political elites, with a focus on the latter’s capacity for exploiting
external material and symbolic resources for its own purposes.
The success of the SPLM/A ruling over a state-within-a-state and, later,
an independent state, was at least in part enabled by the capture of external resources through a number of strategies. These strategies included
coercion – the extraction of revenues and taxes from humanitarian
actors and the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid; trickery – the diversion
of relief, the infiltration of SPLM-selected members into training and
workshops for local government officers and local NGOs so as to increase
the legitimacy of their occupying such positions; and appropriation – the
adoption of a donor-friendly language, and the creation of structures that
corresponded with those expected by external observers such as the
distinction among different types of armed forces.
Even if the SPLM’s state-building project and that promoted by the
international donor community shared a common language, statebuilding was fundamentally biased by the political control of the
process that the SPLM elite managed to maintain. This role was strengthened by the conversion of the SPLM governance structures into South
Sudan’s local government, because its supporters underestimated continuities between rebel governance and post-conflict governance.
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Because of these continuities, the symbiotic relationship with aid, and
particularly with aid directed to the ‘governance’ sphere, is at play in
the current situation just as it was in the s–s. Even though in
the last  years the humanitarian sector has undertaken profound
self-criticism and reform, poor institutional memory and the very
nature of the extraverted state in Africa still make international aid
extremely appealing to rent-seeking elites.
. According to OECD data, international aid figures for Sudan in – were of US$
million spent as an annual average, while – speak of US$ million spent in South
Sudan and US$ million in Sudan. <>, accessed ...
. Even though other rebel groups were intermittently active during the – civil war, and
at least two of them might also have attempted to use extraversion to strengthen their position vis-à-vis
the others, the SPLM was definitely the most successful in the deployment of such strategy.
. The recognition of insurgent leaders in the negotiation of humanitarian space can be related
to a broader willingness to deal with insurgents among the international community, which led rebel
groups to invest in international relations (Tull & Mehler ).
. Similar support was also provided to the Relief Association of South Sudan, the relief agency of
the South Sudan Independence Movement/Army.
. Two other components, the Strategic Analysis/Capacity Building component and the Social
Organisation and Administrative Rehabilitation component were added in  and  respectively, but were only limitedly implemented (Dembowski ).
. They were: Law and Order, Social Services, Resources, Relief and Emergency, Cultural
Development, Representation and Policy.
. This is an ability that has acquired increasing importance in the capacity of accumulating and
holding on to power in South Sudanese society (Leonardi ).
. Copies of the ‘Laws of the New Sudan’ are stored in the Local Government Board Archive,
. In December , some of these papers were stored at the Local Government Board Archive,
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