Category Archives: South Sudan

“The State of Post-conflict Reconstruction” in Juba, South Sudan by Naseem Badiey (Book Review)

The State of Post-conflict Reconstruction: Land, Urban Development and State-building in Juba, Southern Sudan. By Naseem Badiey. James Currey Press, 2014.

The title of this book hints at the convergence of several fascinating topics, and situates the work within a growing literature relating national politics to more localized experiences. The intersection of urban perspectives and broader political dynamics also gets at something that is a focus of this website, which is why I am posting this review in the blog. Southern Sudan, subsequently South Sudan after independence in 2011, offers a relevant site for case studies of state-building, given its various claims to fame as the newest, most underdeveloped, and perhaps among the most politically fragmented nation-state in Africa. This book offers a fascinating exploration of perspectives on state-building and development and situates urban politics within broader fields of power in its critique of “top-down” planning and state-building. However, the attempt to render generalizable conclusions and the brief discussion and development of the author’s specific case studies leave something wanting in the analysis.

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REMNASA, the Nyarango Boys, and the “non-existent” Western Equatoria Rebellion

The situation in Western Equatoria remains fluid and muddy, with diverse reports of what has happened over the past year regarding rebellion and the emergence of armed groups, particularly the Revolutionary Movement for National Salvation (REMNASA) – led by Major Losuba Lodoru Wango, who reportedly worked with the South Sudan Ministry of Defense before his defection – and the “Nyarango Boys” of the Mundri area – led by Wesley Welebe Samson, who is also a former government legislator. The two groups are apparently not linked; neither are they seemingly linked with SPLM/A-in-Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) rebels, although REMNASA leans in that direction while the Nyarango Boys have declared their loyalty to the government of South Sudan. The situation in Western Equatoria is still unfolding along with the broader political situation in South Sudan, but below is a summary of what has happened so far this year in Western Equatoria with regard to these two groups. Continue reading

Some Reflections on South Sudan’s Unhappy Fourth Birthday

I visited Juba for the first time during the month leading up to South Sudan’s independence in 2011. The main reason for my visit was my participation in a conflict assessment in eastern Warrap State as part of the Carter Center’s initiative to foster both grassroots and high-level dialogue targeted at ending the rebellion that was then going on in Unity State. At the time, Peter Gadet was leading a rebellion that appeared to draw on ethnic grievances and cyclical patterns of cattle raiding between Unity and Warrap. One week after our team visited Akop, over 50 people were reportedly killed in the town in a cross-border raid. On the eve of independence, South Sudan was faced with severe internal struggles, but the people we met were optimistic that with independence, they could resolve their differences.

Few initiatives in conflict resolution during the post-CPA period ever came to fruition, drowned as the work was in the broader downward spiral that characterized the infancy of Africa’s 54th sovereign state. This article reflects on my experiences in South Sudan and examines South Sudan’s independence through the lens of various capacities in which I visited the country, from an undergraduate researcher to a graduate assistant/conflict analyst to a guest of former diaspora returnees.


The view from 2009

My research on conflict in South Sudan had begun before my 2011 visit, during a month-long stay in Mundri, Western Equatoria in 2009, where I conducted undergraduate research and helped a water engineer with construction projects. At that time, the local branch of the SPLM was very popular, and people cheered the party as officials in Mundri presented the SPLM as the messiah of South Sudan at a local rally. Messianic themes carried throughout a political rally: “Let us remind ourselves of the objective: The Promised Land,” said one government adviser amid loud cheers. Another official said, “SPLM is the messiah of Sudan – it has changed the whole Sudan. Sudan cannot go back to what it was in 1956.” … “SPLM says the New Sudan is here. It is a matter of one last kick and the baby is out.”

One chief in Mundri told a story about three bulls and a leopard who tricks them into separating in order to eat them one by one. The idea was that the Arabs had tried to separate the different ethnic groups in South Sudan, but the chief argued that the Southern Sudanese could not be separated.

On the whole, the people in Mundri were hopeful, but vestiges of civil war remained as stark reminders of the past, and ethnic and military violence continued to haunt Western Equatoria. My time in Mundri came soon after Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had attacked some towns along the border between the DRC and Western Equatoria. While I was in Mundri, a contingent of SPLA soldiers returning from repulsing the LRA on the DRC border came into town and wreaked havoc, chopping up the desks and benches in the local school to use as firewood while cooking their dinner and generally harassing the civilian population. Yet hope remained that the undisciplined former militias that made up the SPLA could yet become a disciplined national army that promoted security and garnered support from South Sudan’s civilian population.

Bombed-out buildings in Mundri left from the Sudanese Civil War

Bombed-out buildings in Mundri left from the Sudanese Civil War

Warrap conflict assessment and the visit to Juba and Wau in 2011

After landing at the airport in Wau on the morning WFP flight in early June 2011, my boss and I rode in a Land Cruiser along the paved road from the airport – until the pavement turned to go up a hill in a residential area. The road leading to the center of the city became a bumpy gravel track. “Why does the paved road go into that neighborhood?” I asked the driver.

“That’s where the governor lives,” he replied.

Uneven development, corruption, and social fracturing became the themes of the three visits to South Sudan that I made between 2011 and 2012. As a conflict analyst working with the Carter Center, I visited embassies, consulates, and NGO offices in Juba for about two weeks in June 2011 and again in December. My experience there inspired the article which I later co-authored with my MA adviser Richard Grant, on how the Development Complex drove spatial fragmentation and the development of fortress architecture in Juba amidst the insecure environment in South Sudan. Richard was an invited contributor to the issue of Local Economy, and despite our primary focus at the time on Johannesburg, we decided to review recent literature and data on Juba for the contribution on urban development in Africa. We found that between the 2005 CPA and South Sudan’s independence in 2011, at least 700 development organizations had flocked to Juba. The city was filled with “expats” (I use the term with some irony, in agreement with a recent piece in the Guardian as to its hierarchical connotations) and government officials, all of whom seemed divorced from the contexts inhabited by South Sudan’s citizens on a day-to-day basis. In fact, relations between international development workers and government officials merely seemed in my experience to reinforce the distance between these upper-level groups and the majority of Southern Sudanese. Most “expats” that I talked to had never been very far outside of Juba, and many had never even been to some of the poorer areas on the outskirts of the city. The UN would regularly issue security updates banning its workers from patronizing certain venues. Ironically, one of the venues that was flagged during my stay was literally next door to Logali House, which was one of the most popular expat hangouts in the city.

Our assessment of conflict conditions along the Warrap-Unity border in June 2011 also revealed the stark disparities between Juba and other areas of South Sudan, which were seemingly being compounded by the inability of aid and government finance to escape the “Juba bubble”. In Juba we could pay $250 US for one night in a dirty hotel room and $10 for breakfast; in Tonj and Marial-Lou, we slept in a tent or in a tukul and paid a couple of Sudan Pounds (SDG) for food. Development workers were taking hefty salaries and shocking per-diems in Juba because of the price bubble there (unfortunately for me, I was on contract as a graduate assistant with a flat monthly stipend).

Cattle camp in the toich of eastern Warrap, June 2011.

Cattle camp in the toich of eastern Warrap, June 2011.

The officials in the villages along the Warrap-Unity border accused Peter Gadet’s SSLM/A faction of causing all of the problems in their areas. But when Peter Gadet was offered amnesty in August 2011, the fighting continued. The Government of South Sudan’s strategy of offering amnesty and creating government positions for former rebels/warlords seems to stem from both international pressure to respect the human rights, even of rebels, and the legacy of the SPLM/A as former rebels themselves. Fast forward to 2014 and Salva Kiir’s creation of the Greater Pibor Administrative Area and appointment of David Yau Yau as the administrator… Yau Yau certainly had legitimate grievances, but the appointment of rebel leaders as government officials has continued and seems to encourage more violence in the country.

Another side of Juba: 2012

In September 2012 I returned to Juba in a very different capacity, as the guest of a friend that I had made in Johannesburg who was returning to South Sudan for the first time since independence in order to obtain his ID card and passport and to attempt to pave the way for some investors from South Africa to establish businesses in South Sudan. I took a bus from Kampala with a group of SPLA officers who were returning to Juba after military training in Uganda. We arrived at the South Sudan-Uganda border before sunrise in the morning and waited in line with hundreds of Ugandans and Kenyans waiting to gain access to South Sudan in order to do business in the cash-flooded markets of Juba. In Nimule, South Sudanese merchants were buying and selling clean, 2006-issue hundred-dollar bills to travelers.

I stayed in a small but clean mud-and-thatch hut in Buluk and got to see a different side of Juba as I walked the streets or took motorcycle taxis to different parts of the city. At the time, rumors said that bank officials were making a killing in the black market by taking US dollars and selling them on the streets. You could get about a 20% higher exchange rate for a hundred-dollar bill on the street than in an official setting.


Admittedly, I was and remain uninitiated to the ins and outs of family and tribal ties in South Sudan, but I watched the process of attempting to do business in South Sudan’s capital city. The guys with whom I was staying were somehow distantly related to government administrators and managed to ply some connections in order to get a meeting with a security official who also served as a businessman for a very high-level official. We were offered a major road contract if we brought South African investors into South Sudan. At the behest of our would-be investors, we went about the complicated process of trying to secure raw materials (in other words, buy a mountain on the outskirts of Juba to crush in order to create asphalt). After numerous visits to chiefs, villagers, county commissioners, etc., we managed to get no clear idea of how we could secure rights to the mountain that were satisfactory for the investors in South Africa. It was as if everyone thought that they didn’t need to give investors satisfactory terms, because if these investors declined, someone else would come along to bring business to the South Sudanese. During this time, I was basically just along for the ride, and I gained a lot of (worrying) insight into the business environment and the social dynamics at work for people trying to do business in Juba and its surrounds. As a Westerner, I was offered a large site for agricultural investment in Upper Nile, among other opportunities.

People were optimistic about South Sudan’s prospects over the coming years. My friend truly believed that South Sudan was ripe for investment and heading toward a peaceful future, despite signs of continued unrest throughout the country. Juba was booming, with hundreds of foreigners arriving every day to do business in the city. During 2011 I had noticed that most of the hotels and restaurants were owned by individuals who were not of South Sudanese heritage; now this was true of many of the smaller businesses and motorcycle taxi drivers (though the government of South Sudan later cracked down on foreign motorcycle drivers, and government officials have repeatedly complained that the motorcycle traffic in Juba prevents them from getting to meetings in a timely manner).

On the other hand, it surprised me how wealthy some of the people living in shacks near Juba were. Perhaps the case of my friend’s uncle was an exceptional circumstance. The man sent his sons to Uganda to import cattle, which he then sold in Gumbo, on the east bank of the Nile just across from Juba. When we visited his shack in Gumbo, he pulled out a thick wad of US $100 bills and counted off a thousand dollars to give to his nephew. The man was a capitalist who put little value in immediate consumption, instead keeping his wealth circulating between cash and cattle.

South Sudan’s Fourth Birthday

Today as I sit in my office in Atlanta after my return from fieldwork in Ethiopia, I continue to follow the news in Sudan and South Sudan. The headlines have hardly changed since the rebellion broke out in December 2013: violated ceasefires, a president’s refusal to consider change or to own up to any faults, a degree of local and international support for a rebel leader past his prime who has twice been involved in tearing the country apart along ethnic lines. The people of South Sudan are suffering at the hands of a prideful, selfish and corrupt style of leadership on both sides of the rift, and from the militarization of society that has gone on for decades. Localized discontent and increasing inequality have scaled up into large-scale social divides and conflict that spirals out of control.

I wish South Sudan a return to peace. I hope that some true leaders will step up who can get over their personal interest and serve their country rather than their pride or their pockets. The same goes for the international community and the development community, where people need to work for real transformation rather than taking the benefits they can get while working in a country riddled with poverty and conflict.

Will Federalism Solve South Sudan’s Issues?

Will Federalism Solve South Sudan’s Issues?

Federalism in South Sudan has arisen as a major political issue over the past two months from Equatoria to Upper Nile as numerous politicians have proposed a federal system of government as a way forward in the current crisis in South Sudan. Of note, Riek Machar of the SPLM/A-In-Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) proposed dividing South Sudan up into 21 states (from the current 10) based on old British district boundaries. Simultaneously, governors and MPs, most prominently from Equatoria, announced their support for federalism. President Salva Kiir accused the Equatorians of being set up by Machar to support federalism; some analysts have turned this assessment upside down and accused Machar of emphasizing the issue of federalism in order to garner support in Greater Equatoria. Local media outlets have debated the issue of federalism, and undoubtedly Federalism in South Sudan is on the forefront of everyone’s mind. The debate over federalism has deep roots in South Sudanese political history, and means different things to different people in the country. Continue reading

Map created with data available for download.

Download GIS data: Sudan and South Sudan

To download Sudan GIS data or South Sudan GIS data (shapefiles), click “download” below or visit our Sudan or South Sudan pages. This package includes:

  • Sudan counties shapefile (with state attribute data to allow for clean visualization)
  • South Sudan counties shapefile (also with state attribute data)
  • Sudan and South Sudan roads shapefile
  • Sudan and South Sudan rivers shapefile
  • Sudan and South Sudan lakes shapefile
  • Sudan and South Sudan railroads shapefile

Boundaries do not imply endorsement by Map East Africa or any of its affiliates (click to download GIS data Sudan/South Sudan: 5 MB). 

Salva Kiir’s militia – the president’s “Private Army” in historical perspective (a short note)

Hopefully more details will emerge soon regarding President Kiir’s militia – the group Sudan Tribune called a “private army” (Sudan Tribune) that Kiir allegedly admitted to having organized. However, Salva Kiir would by no means be the first to organize such a private army, and while his admittance of the fact is striking, the fact itself is not so surprising. Taking a historical perspective it makes sense why President Kiir would not see this as a reasonable approach to state (and personal) security. This does not by any means justify President Kiir, but to indicate that the problem of personally loyal militias is not President Kiir’s problem that will be fixed by dismissing him as president, but a systemic problem that needs to be addressed seriously. The SPLM/A in fact started out as a loose coalition of private armies, most notably those of Kerubino Kuanyin Bol and William Nyuan Bany. Continue reading

Cattle Raiding in Warrap and Unity, South Sudan

Cattle Raiding in South Sudan, particularly cattle raiding in Warrap and Unity, has long been associated with rebel movements; in fact, P.A. Nyaba asserts in his 1997 book The Politics of Liberation in South Sudan that historically, many soldiers who joined the military or rebel groups did so with the motivation of acquiring weapons which could be used for cattle raiding or to settle local disputes. Media sources recently reported the deaths of 42 people on Friday in what appeared to be a cattle raid in Warrap as well as an attack on civilians, and local sources attribute the raids to heavily armed militias, likely associated with Unity State rebels.

Conflict Dynamics along Warrap-Unity Border, January 2014

Map copyright 2014 Daniel Thompson, Map East Africa,

Map copyright 2014 Daniel Thompson, Map East Africa,

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South Sudan Rebellion Maps: The December 2013 Rebellion in 6 Pictures

South Sudan Rebellion Maps as of January 2014: A six-map time series showing areas affected by the South Sudan rebellion, December 15, 2013-January 30, 2014

Please note that areas displayed on the South Sudan rebellion maps as areas under rebel control are based on media reports and (often propagandist) claims by both sides of the conflict, and therefore may not portray exact areas over which rebels had complete control. All events, descriptions, and locations reported below are based on media reports and other publicly available sources. This is not a comprehensive list and does not necessarily reflect every event that has occurred on the ground during the time frame. Events, descriptions, locations, and mapped boundaries do not reflect the views of or imply endorsement by, those who manage the site, or any of its affiliates.

1. December 15-21: SPLA defections, former rebel leaders involved

What exactly prompted the fighting in Juba on the night of December 15 remains unclear to most observers. What is clear is that there was either a misunderstanding or an order for disarmament of certain Tiger Force (presidential guard) soldiers, and the issue took an ethnic dimension. By December 21, Riek Machar (former Vice President and also leader of the 1991 “Nasir Coup” attempt to oust John Garang from SPLA leadership) claimed to be in control of the predominantly Nuer areas of Unity, central and northern Jonglei, and southern Upper Nile. Gen. Peter Gadet Yak, former commander of the SSLM/A rebels of Unity who returned to the SPLM/A fold in mid-2011, led rebel forces in attacking Bor. Somewhat ironically, Matthew Pul Jiang (who formerly served in the SSLA under Gadet and took over command of the SSLA rebellion in mid-2011 when Gadet accepted Kiir’s amnesty) and the former SSLA rebels largely aligned themselves with SPLA forces in Unity to fight against the rebels who followed Machar and James Koang Chuol. Gadet’s forces captured Bor and established forward posts along the road to Juba within the first week of the rebellion.



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South Sudan Crisis Map and Analysis – Ethnicity IS Political

(Scroll down or click here for interactive South Sudan Crisis Maps of events so far in January)

The watch-phrase for international groups in South Sudan is “ethnic conflict,” something that is viewed as worse than a political conflict and something that both sides of the current conflict accuse each other of instigating. Unfortunately, the crisis that has unfolded in South Sudan since December 15 continues to provide reason for strong reminiscences about similar events 22 years ago, in which a “political conflict” degenerated into years of “ethnic conflict”. Can it be prevented? I think South Sudan needs the will to initiate something like the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation proceedings in South Africa or similar post-conflict measures in Rwanda. For now what we can do is to raise awareness of the issue, the dynamics, and what is at stake. Thus our continued effort map the 2013-2014 South Sudan crisis.

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January 13 map update and article: Three historical notes on South Sudan’s crisis.

Maps of reported conflict are available for December (click here) and January (click here).

Click the map for a description of the conflict at that location. (Analysis below.)

The crisis in South Sudan continues as Riek Machar’s negotiators continue to insist that the political detainees in Juba are released prior to any type of agreement. Salva Kiir and his delegation refuse to release the detainees until they are tried. Some commentators have expressed discouragement with Machar’s approach, which has implicated the detainees in the “coup” attempt of December 15, which U.S. diplomats (along with plenty of other people) have said was not a coup attempt at all. Continue reading