The system of local governance in South Sudan (independent since 2011) comprises 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’. This was detailed in the 2009 Local Government Act (LGA), and retained after independence in the 2011 Transitional Constitution. The system comprises national, state and local governments – the latter subdivided into counties, payams and bomas. Provisions for public participation in local governance include the election of county commissioners and of county legislative councils and formation of citizens’ development committees.
- 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. In addition, states exercise considerable control over local governments, notably through the appointment of state governors and control of resources. Public participation and accountability provisions in the LGA have generally not been realised in practice. Local governments also face significant capacity and resource constraints. Public perceptions of local governance effectiveness are weak.
- 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. There are fears it will lead to increased localised conflicts, and exacerbate the capacity and resource challenges already facing local governments.
- Role of traditional authorities: Chiefly institutions vary in structure and selection procedure in different areas of South Sudan. During colonial rule, the British adopted a system of native administration which entailed decentralisation and use of traditional chiefs, notably for tax collection and conflict resolution. Traditional authorities continued to play that role after independence, including during the north-south civil war. They act as intermediaries between communities and local governments. They are included in the system laid out in the 2009 LGA, though their role is not precisely defined. There are contradictions between modern values and traditional governance.
- 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. Where traditional chiefs were retained, they were forced to do the bidding of armed groups/the government and faced severe punishments if they failed to do so. 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 – provisions for these are laid down in the constitution and relevant legislation – their effectiveness is limited, and it is unclear how much public legitimacy they enjoy. This is particularly given the lack of public participation in local governments. By contrast, traditional authorities have in the past enjoyed both public legitimacy and been seen as effective, particularly in conflict resolution. But their legitimacy has been undermined by the effects of the north-south civil war.
The review found no literature looking at local governance in South Sudan specifically from the gender perspective or from that of people with disabilities.