≡ Menu Search


South Sudan

South Sudan, the youngest country in the world, continues to struggle with the legacy of decades of civil war and marginalisation and faces profound governance, security and development challenges. Since December 2013, the country has also seen a resurgence of serious internecine violence that has splintered the national army and pitted troops against well-armed militia.

Saferworld has been working on conflict prevention in South Sudan since 2002 and established an office in Juba in 2007. We are encouraging an integrated approach to security-building which emphasises improving community security, strengthening small arms controls, and advocating on policy issues such as conflict sensitivity and China-South Sudan engagement. In the wake of the December 2013 outbreak of civil war in South Sudan our programmes have become more relevant and pressing than ever.

Creating safer communities

In South Sudan we are implementing a community security programme to support communities at the grassroots level to address security challenges they face. Operating in seven of South Sudan’s ten states, we are working with local partners to improve safety and security for local communities and build relationships between communities and local authorities and the police. Based on our community security approach Saferworld and partners are supporting communities to form community security working groups (CSWGs), helping them to identify, prioritise and address the main sources of violence and insecurity they experience at the local level. These include cattle-raiding, lack of basic resources, ethnic tension, and domestic violence.

In 2014 we conducted community security assessments across all the programme locations. The findings are informing focus of the programme in each location and our policy and advocacy work at the state, national and international levels. An external review of our community security work found that despite the overall security situation in South Sudan, CSWG members have mobilised and taken action to improve safety and security in their localities, often in very difficult circumstances. Their work has increased communities’ safety, strengthened relationships between communities and the police and begun to constructively engage ‘hard to reach’ non-state security actors such as the galweng (cattle protectors, in Dinka).

Images from communities from programme locations in South Sudan were featured in the Guardian.

Influencing policy

At a policy level, we promote and support civil society engagement to ensure that aid supports peacebuilding within South Sudan, including by engaging in bigger development reform processes such as the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States. We are promoting a conflict sensitive approach to working in South Sudan by donors, the Government of South Sudan, aid agencies, UN and the private sector. Over the past year, we have undertaken a peacebuilding and reconciliation scoping study in the most conflict-affected states, and carried out research into the conflict sensitivity of proposed private sector investment projects. We developed research and analysis on the role of non-state actors, violence against women, and civil society participation in the IGAD-led peace process.

Tackling arms proliferation

We are supporting the Government of the Republic of South Sudan to develop comprehensive policy, legislation and regulations that meet international standards to control small arms and light weapons. Additionally we are supporting the government and civil society to raise awareness on the dangers of small arms and light weapons, conducting a community-level campaign in two of our programme locations in Warrap State.

Chinese engagement in South Sudan

With our China programme we have been researching how China’s engagement in the development, infrastructure and extractive sectors in South-Sudan can be more conflict sensitive. Engaging with Chinese commercial actors with operations in South Sudan we are raising awareness of how and why they should adopt conflict-sensitive approaches through research, trainings and seminars. We have also brought South Sudanese civil society actors to China to engage with Chinese policy actors on issues related to China’s engagement in South Sudan, and, following the outbreak of hostilities in South Sudan in December 2013, to discuss China’s potential future role in helping build peace in the country.

This work has been supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, the Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Humanity United, the Open Society Foundations and the Swedish International Development Agency.

In July 2011, South Sudan seceded from Sudan to become the world's newest state, marking the last stage of a five-year interim period following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, a peace deal signed in 2005 to end decades of civil war between Sudan and South Sudan. However, many major cross-border issues and tensions remained unresolved when South Sudan seceded in 2011, including demarcation of the new international border, the sharing of oil revenues, citizenship issues and the status of Abyei, a disputed region that straddles the disputed north-south border. ‘Popular consultations’ required by the CPA to determine the future of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, just across South Sudan’s border in Sudan, did not take place.

In December 2013, long-standing tensions between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar spilled over into outright conflict, after fighting broke out among elements of the Presidential Guard in Juba. Fighting between government troops and rebel linked to Riek Machar quickly spread to northern parts of the country, and within weeks the conflict had killed thousands and caused widespread displacement. The renewed conflict has had a devastating impact on the new state. While the exact death toll is unknown, it is estimated that tens of thousands have been killed since December 2013, homes and property have been destroyed, and over two million people have been displaced. Oil production has fallen drastically, leading to a worsening economic situation and rising inflation, which has driven rising food prices. The IGAD-led peace process has been severely challenged, with the latest round of talks in Addis Ababa collapsing in March 2015 without an agreement.

At a local level, conflicts in South Sudan have often resulted from disputes over land and access to water resources, particularly among pastoralist communities. Local politics has often fed into and aggravated these conflicts, as has the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and a rise in rebel militia activity that followed national elections in 2010. Inter-communal tensions in the sub-national states of Jonglei, Unity, Western Bahr el Ghazal, Lakes and elsewhere have also been exacerbated by abuses committed by South Sudan’s security services against civilians during forceful disarmament drives and ‘counter-insurgency’ operations. Justice for abuses committed by South Sudanese troops has been largely unforthcoming.

As South Sudan seeks to move out of the current crisis, a major priority will be to ensure that the longer-term reform challenges underpinning the current crisis are not allowed to fester and are addressed through an inclusive national dialogue process. Re-building trust between South Sudan’s security services and the populations they serve, reconciliation among the country’s divided communities, justice for abuses, and steps to strengthen democratic norms and processes will be essential ingredients of a sustainable peace.

This map is intended for illustrative purposes only. Saferworld takes no position on whether this representation is legally or politically valid.

more features

Understanding South Sudan's informal armies

As South Sudan’s civil war enters its fourth year, Saferworld explores the mobilisation and transformation of the country’s many ‘informal armies’. Community defence groups have long played an important background role in South Sudan’s security scene, as protectors, makeshift defence units and sometime aggressors.

Community voices

These case studies from two of our programming locations in Western Bahr el Ghazal and Warrap states help to give voice to community members affected by differing forms of insecurity.


Photos: Communities First

This collection of photos by award-winning photographer Marcus Perkins, featured on The Guardian website, highlights the safety and security challenges faced by people in South Sudan.