South Sudan: Where are the Anchors for People Centred Security?


Photo credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy

by Abraham Kuol Nyuon · February 20th, 2023.

In 2022, ISSAT published a report on People-Centred Approaches to Security and Justice Governance and Reform on behalf of the Dutch, Swedish, and Swiss Ministries of Foreign Affairs. This report included four case studies, one of which was the South Sudanese context. Several interviews and exchanges were conducted with South Sudanese civil society organisations, scholars, government staff, academics and traditional leaders. Out of all their analysis, 10 lessons emerged as necessary to make a fundamental shift in security and justice related programming. These lessons reflect the south Sudanese reality but could be applied globally.

The ‘Gun Class’

The formation of the dominant ‘Gun Class’ in South Sudan traces its origin to war and slavery, when, in 1821, Mohammad Ali Pasha, the Viceroy of Egypt, conquered Sudan with the chief objective of capturing slaves to provide manpower for the Vice Regal Army. The concept ‘Gun Class’ was coined by the former South Sudanese Deputy Minister of Defence, Majak D’ Agoôt, and refers to the fusion of security leaders with political power, class, and ethnicity that became part of a predatory governance system that has taken root in South Sudan. Still today in South Sudan, social mobility depends on five key endowments: guns, wealth, religion, education, and tribe, which often exist in a recursive feedback loop. Changing this trajectory will require a redefinition and delineation of the roles of political and military elites in the country.

The Cluster-based Approach

The cluster-based approach used by Saferworld in its programming and operational set-up in South Sudan aims to deepen the impact and sustainability of peacebuilding outcomes at sub-national level to reduce insecurity. In practice, this approach means zoning in on geographic areas with shared conflict issues and developing integrated interventions. Such interventions respond both to local-level and cross-community peace and security issues for inter-communal conflicts, cattle rustling, disputes over land, and administrative boundaries. This approach contributes to broader systemic change, by bringing together peace actors at the sub-national and national levels to implement more coordinated and conflict-sensitive responses.

Surpassing the Rule of Law towards Social Justice

Social justice is a term which goes beyond the Rule of Law to include social injustices such as gender inequality, exclusion of certain groups, lack of access to services, unequal livelihood opportunities, and violation of land rights, which can fuel insecurity and violence. An understanding of the social injustices at the local level could help ensure that SSG/R programming caters to these people-centred concerns, which are inherently linked to broader security and justice dynamics at the national level.

Understanding Conflict Dynamics

Conflict sensitivity must be embedded in any security and justice intervention if it is to achieve sustainable outcomes. This entails, among other things, understanding the underlying conflict drivers and dynamics. It also needs to ensure that programmes are based on a thorough understanding of drivers and dynamics and the impact they may have, both positively and negatively. Failure to acknowledge that risks exacerbate existing tensions and may result in the implementer being seen as a conflict actor.

People’s Security Experiences

Conducting a human security survey allows the collection of people’s security experiences, knowledge, and perceptions. This helps address local problems, sometimes improving “locally-grown” solutions. In many instances, people learn to address their concerns without resorting back to the State. International partners need to understand these “shadow” practices and decide whether they build on, improve, or aim to reform them.  PAX has developed a methodology for its Protection of Civilians (PoC) work in South Sudan, which has been very insightful. The intended purpose is 1) to increase the understanding of local security dynamics and trends; 2) to enhance the ‘claim-making capacity’ of civilians to identify their priorities and hold security providers and decision makers accountable; and 3) to inform evidence-based advocacy that enables international stakeholders to design and implement protection activities that reflect local realities.

Security Threats and Physical Security

In the context of South Sudan, security threats deal with people’s fears from the local circumstances exacerbated by of the lack of State presence and the fulfillment of its constitutional mandate to protect people and their properties. On the other hand, physical threats are the availability of small and light weapons among the civil population, leading to continuous communal violence, robbery, cattle raiding, rapes, and the abduction of women and children. A people-centred approach to security should recognise the different types of insecurities experienced by people and analyse the possible remedies to each.

Community Security Dialogue Forums

In South Sudan, a country that has experienced years of conflict and insecurity, community security dialogues can play a vital role in promoting peace and stability. It is a process that involves bringing together members of a community to discuss security challenges and identify possible solutions. Many international partners have supported these processes across the country, through logistical and technical support, as well as training of facilitators. It is a complicated set-up for a country that is politically volatile and unstable. The benefits of continuing these efforts are significantly important. They could potentially absorb small-scale security and justice issues before they expand into community-level conflict.  In a country where the informal system is much more present than the formal one, these dialogues also contribute to a better understanding of local needs and the development of community-led solutions and initiatives that promote peace and stability.

South Sudan’s National Dialogue Process

The National Dialogue in South Sudan is a political process initiated by the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, in December 2016, with the aim of bringing together all South Sudanese stakeholders to find a peaceful and inclusive solution to the ongoing conflict in the country. The process involved consultations and dialogue at the grassroots level, as well as at the national level, and included a wide range of participants, including civil society groups, religious leaders, women’s groups, youth groups, and political parties. It was introduced as a means to reduce the level of hostility toward the government and among the communities, as well as the various tribes within South Sudan. It has already positively contributed to national cohesion, in particular in Jonglei (Dinka, Nuer, and Murle). The National Dialogue concluded in November 2020 with the adoption of a final report, which contains a set of recommendations for addressing the root causes of the conflict and promoting reconciliation and healing in the country. The recommendations cover a range of issues, including governance, security, social cohesion, and transitional justice.

The Patronage System

The patronage system’s primary function in South Sudan is to safeguard national values and protect the Presidency, but it is also used as a survival safeguard for the elites and their families. A transformed patronage system away from elite capture, allowing the national security institutions to refocus on their original responsibility of protection at the national level, would ensure that security and justice concerns at the local level are adequately addressed. This would entail a restructured military institution, including its size, processes, management, training, sustainability, and readiness. Above all, the perceptions of people need to change from currently considering the army as undisciplined and self-centred. In terms of governance, this is done by for example developing democratic accountability, designing affordable public budgets, and maintaining the highest standards of personal and institutional discipline and integrity. A focus on ensuring that the State is prosperous and that there is sustainable economic and social development for the population would help tackle some of the drivers of conflict, such as poverty, social disparity, illicit economic gains, and scarcity of resources.

Community Policing

In South Sudan, community policing is a collaboration between the police and the community, through which community problems are identified and solved. The police are no longer the sole guardians of law and order, but all members of the community become active allies in an effort to enhance the safety and quality of neighbourhoods. The police and communities work together in reporting crimes and apprehending criminals, which comes out of mutual trust. Confidence building between these stakeholders is very crucial. The overall peace in the communities is viewed from the lens of the government and the communities interacting and exchanging ideas on the issues that concern their safety. Community policing is therefore a good entry point to increase collaboration between communities and security actors, as well as address local-level security needs.

Abraham Kuol Nyuon is an Associate Professor of Politics, Peace and Security at University of Juba and a renowned political analyst. 

This blog post was originally published by DCAF’s ISSAT link here