Local Governance in South Sudan: Overview

13th November 2017
Author: Idris Iffat

The system of local governance in South Sudan (independent since 2011) comprises of both formal state structures and traditional authorities. The three tier local government structure faces significant capacity and resource constraints – manifested in weak effectiveness – which are being exacerbated by the government’s decision to increase the number of states in South Sudan from 10 to 32. Chiefs and similar traditional authorities were involved in local administration from colonial times, predominantly in tax collection and conflict resolution. But traditional authorities have been considerably undermined by the previous civil war (1983-2005), and there is lack of precise definition about the role of chiefs in the local government system. The literature does not talk about the impact of the current civil war (since 2013, ongoing) on local governance. Overall, South Sudan presents a mixed and very diverse picture of local governance – one which is failing to meet people’s needs. Key findings are as follows: Diversity of local governance: ‘The quality of local governance in South Sudan is highly heterogeneous as a result of diverse historical, cultural and ethnic characteristics, additionally complicated by decades of conflict and social dislocation. Moreover, the nature of ethnic and clan based social organisation and the role of traditional authorities varies widely across South Sudan’s regions’ (World Bank, 2013: 2-3). Formal local government structure: the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Interim Constitution of South Sudan (ICSS) laid out a ‘democratic decentralised system of government’. Challenges facing local governments: Since 2011 the government has been engaged in a process of ‘recentralisation’ to create a strong executive model of government. This has seen many powers moved from states to the centre. Creation of new states: In December 2015 the government announced it was increasing the number of states from 10 to 28, with a further 4 added in January 2017. The move was seen as aimed at securing a balance of power in favour of the President’s Dinka tribe and his supporters, strengthening patronage networks and undermining the opposition. Role of traditional authorities: Chiefly institutions vary in structure and selection procedure in different areas of South Sudan. Factors undermining chiefly authority: A number of factors, mostly related to the civil war, have undermined traditional authorities in South Sudan. Displacement led to new chiefs emerging; government and armed forces also appointed new chiefs in areas under their control. The appointment of new chiefs, the proliferation of appointments and the ‘humiliation’ of traditional chiefs by armed forces combined to weaken chiefly authority. Effectiveness and legitimacy: state structures vs. traditional authorities: While state local government structures enjoy legitimacy in law, their effectiveness is limited, and it is unclear how much public legitimacy they enjoy. By contrast traditional authorities have in the past enjoyed both public legitimacy and been seen as effective, particularly in conflict resolution. The review found no literature looking at local governance in South Sudan specifically from the gender perspective or from that of people with disabilities.

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Suggested Citation

Idris, I. (2017). Local governance in South Sudan: overview. K4D Helpdesk Report 235. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies


13th November 2017


Continent: Africa

Country: South Sudan