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. South Sudan is a very young country with little capacity, coming out of decades of conflict. Post-independence economic crisis, renewed civil war, and the president’s decision to treble the number of states have made the implementation of local governance programmes harder still.
Evaluation of donor programmes in South Sudan is in itself difficult. A 2016 ‘meta-analysis’ of some 30 evaluation reports found that: very few addressed impact, with most only evaluating projects/programmes on the basis of stated goals; most expressed the need for better baseline information and documentation to assess outcomes, since paucity and quality of data remain problematic; underdevelopment, violence and political crisis affect both programmes and their evaluation – rigorous data collection is difficult and comparison of data sets over time could be meaningless because of these issues; development programmes and evaluations remain centralised in Juba (NORAD, 2016: 8-9).
General issues with donor programming were highlighted in two significant ‘meta-evaluation’ of development interventions in South Sudan (in 2010 and 2016). Key among these 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 (even though ‘cocooning’ and setting up parallel systems) 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 – restoring basic functionality of the government is central to long-term recovery, but this will require donors to manage a high degree of political risk.
Lessons from individual governance programmes are as follows:
Involve traditional authorities in local governance: An assessment of two UNDP programmes to support decentralised democratic governance in South Sudan, one focused on the role of
traditional authorities and the second on empowering women, stressed the need to incorporate traditional authorities in local governance because of the historical legitimacy they enjoy. This
would require donors to build their capacity to understand and participate in local governance, as well as support government to work with traditional authorities. Donors were also urged to
provide guidance and resources to promote gender mainstreaming, and to document interventions and share lessons.
Take phased, standardised capacity-building approach through on-ground presence: Funded by the European Union, Technical Assistance for Subnational Capacity Building in
Payroll and Public Financial Management (PFM) or EU-TAPP was a three-year project which prioritised lesson learning. Six main lessons identified by the project were: use state-based
teams to build capacity; use a standardised PFM manual and capacity building approach; take a phased approach to payroll reform (be pragmatic) and prioritise getting the right people in the
system; create simple, easy to use accountability and transparency systems; seek opportunities to collaborate and share information with other implementing partners; and be flexible 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. Examples of this in WWS implementation included the decision to change
Community Accountability Committees (CACs), which were functioning effectively but had no official sanction, into Boma/Payam Development Committees which are provided for under the
Local Government Act of 2009.
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.