Lessons from Local Governance Programmes in South Sudan

21st November 2017
Author: Idris Iffat

Donor-funded (governance) programming in South Sudan has been hampered by numerous challenges, notably renewed conflict and economic crisis. The literature points to a general failure by donors to appreciate these challenges and to donors’ overestimating state capacity, leading to overambitious programmes. Donors are urged to be flexible, integrate political and development interventions, and work through rather than bypass government in order to achieve long-term development. Key lessons from individual governance programmes include: the need to work with traditional authorities; the importance of having an on-ground presence (state-based teams) in project implementation; taking a phased approach to capacity building; and working with existing state structures rather than setting up alternatives. Since there were few evaluations specifically of local governance programmes, the report also gives relevant lessons in relation to donor programming in general in South Sudan. Key findings of the review are as follows: South Sudan presents a very challenging environment for donor-funded governance programmes; Evaluation of donor programmes in South Sudan is in itself difficult; General issues with donor programming were: donor failure to understand local power relations and drivers of conflict; overestimation of the state capacity to deliver services, leading to overambitious, unrealistic programmes; lack of an overall strategic vision for development, and specifically to support decentralisation; prioritisation of getting donor projects done rather than focusing on outcomes; and taking ‘orthodox’ approaches to capacity building that were unsuited to the complex environment of South Sudan; General lessons for future donor programming include: donors need to build their own capacity for coordination and greater flexibility to engage differently in different parts of the country; there needs to be better integration of political and development interventions; while responding to emergency situations, donors should not lose sight of longer-term development needs; and bypassing government will have negative consequences. Lessons from individual governance programmes are as follows: Involve traditional authorities in local governance; Take phased, standardised capacity building approach through on-ground presence and Work with existing state structures. A 2015 brief by Oxfam on its Within and Without the State (WSS) governance programme identified six key lessons. The one most relevant for local governance programming was the first: work with existing state structures rather than inventing parallel systems. This literature review drew largely on programme documents from South Sudan. Some documents referred to gender, but on the whole the literature was gender-blind, and made no mention of the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

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Suggested Citation

Idris, I. (2017). Lessons from local governance programmes in South Sudan. K4D Helpdesk Report 236. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies


21st November 2017


Continent: Africa

Country: South Sudan