Version classiqueVersion mobile

Decentralisation Hybridized

Annina Aeberli

2. Decentralisation as a tool for service delivery and development

Texte intégral

  • 1  The government in South Sudan is almost synonymous with the SPLM/A at the moment as there are only (...)
  • 2  It is important to note that by “local government officers or administrators”, I am referring to o (...)

1In this chapter, I analyse the government’s1 understanding of decentralisation, accompanied by a short discussion of the international community in South Sudan. The Local Government Act of 2009 is the main legal document that reflects the GoSS’ current approach to decentralisation. As early as 2003, local government officers or administrators2, in collaboration with the UNDP and GTZ, began developing the initial framework for the Act. In addition to arguing that decentralisation is mainly understood by the government as a tool for development and service provision (2.2), I also show that decentralisation is not created ex nihilo. As the Local Government Act 2009 was drafted by local government officers who have past experience with local governments, the current understanding of decentralisation must be traced back to said officials’ experiences in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. These past experiences with local government are particularly relevant with respect to those who developed the legal framework on decentralisation in South Sudan (2.3). In their opinion, local governments must be rebuilt, not built. The South Sudanese government’s understanding of decentralisation also influences the international community in South Sudan as they attempt to adapt their state-building objectives to the local context (2.4). Before analysing the various understandings of decentralisation, however, the basic structure of decentralisation in South Sudan must be discussed (2.1).

2.1. The decentralised structure of government

2The current legal framework on decentralisation effective in South Sudan at the time of writing, the Local Government Act 2009, was developed in the context of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), and the Interim Constitution of Sudan (ICS), or of South Sudan (ICSS), in 2005. The CPA, signed by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), ended the war between the North and the South. It also provided the legal framework for a six year Interim Period, which witnessed a Referendum on Southern independence in January 2011, and ended with the release of the South into their chosen independence on 9 July 2011. As the Interim Constitution of Sudan closely follows the CPA, I discuss them together. Although these two documents are no longer legally binding, following the foundation of the Republic of South Sudan, they formed the legal framework at the time of my research, and strongly informed the Local Government Act 2009.

2.1.1 The CPA and the Interim Constitutions

3The CPA not only guarantees an autonomous status for the South by promising that “the people of South Sudan have the right to control and govern affairs in their region” (CPA, The Machakos Protocol, 1.2), but also stresses the general principles of “decentralisation and empowerment of all levels of government” beyond the GoSS (CPA Power Sharing, Preamble). Similarly, the Interim Constitution of Sudan stresses the commitment “to establish a decentralised democratic system of governance in which power shall be peacefully transferred” (ICS, Preamble). Articles 1 and 24 of the same document refer to Sudan as a “decentralised State”. The CPA states further that “[t]here should be a decentralised system of government with significant devolution of powers” ( The CPA (Power Sharing, 1.3.2–1.3.4) and the Interim Constitution of Sudan (Article 24) establish, with almost identical phrasing, four levels of government: the national level of government, the Southern Sudan level of government, the state governments, and local government. Each level of government should respect the others’ autonomy and cooperate accordingly (CPA Power Sharing; ICS article 26). Local governments are clearly defined as a competency of the state level (ICS and CPA Power Sharing schedule C, 3), which also implies that a certain amount of autonomy is constitutionally guaranteed to states, but not to the local governments.

4With this understanding of the broader, Sudanese legal framework in mind, we may focus on the situation within South Sudan itself. The Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan frequently stresses the principle of decentralisation as the basis of governance (see, for example, the Preamble and Articles 1, 39, 50, 167, and 179), and establishes in the spirit of the principle of subsidiarity, wherein “[g]overnance in Southern Sudan [...] shall be guided by the principles of decentralisation and devolution of power to the people through the appropriate levels of government where they can best manage and direct their affairs” (Article 39). The Interim Constitution, further, references the same levels of government as the CPA and the Interim Constitution of Sudan (Article 50), but goes further to delineate ten states within the territory of Southern Sudan (Article 1, 167). The ten states are each given the power to adopt their own constitutions (Article 167). Moreover, the executive of each state is headed by a governor, surrounded by ministers (Article 169). The legislative branch of government is referred to as the “State Legislative Assembly” (Article 170).

  • 3  The County Court is actually called “C” Court in the Local Government Act (please refer to Figure  (...)

5The highest court at the state level is called the “High Court”, positioned below both the superior Supreme Court of Southern Sudan and the Court of Appeal, and above the County Courts3 and other local courts or tribunals such as those relating to customary law (Articles 127 and 171). Finally, the states are given the authority to “promote and empower local government” (Article 168) in form of rural and urban councils (Article 173). Policy guidelines are to be provided by the Local Government Board, which is created by the President (Article 173). The structure of local government consists of three levels – the highest called County, followed by Payam, and finally Boma, the lowest level of local government (Article 173). The Interim Constitution also acknowledges the role of traditional authorities, in accordance with customary law, and transfers the responsibility for their integration with local government to the states. It calls for the foundation of Councils of Tradition Authority Leaders (COTAL) at the GoSS and state levels (Articles 174 and 175). These traditional authorities form the lowest level of local government – the Boma – exclusively, coexist with administrators on Payam level and share power with the legislative and executive on County level as will be further explained later in this section.

6The Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (GoSS 2011c) entered into force in 2011 in the context of independence. With only one exception, no significant changes, in comparison with previous legislation, have been made with regard to decentralisation – the president is now empowered to remove a state governor or dissolve a state legislative assembly in case of a crisis (Article 101r). Consequently, the power distribution changed to the disadvantage of the lower levels of government. This marks a step away from decentralisation to the opposite process of centralisation.

2.1.2 The Local Government Act 2009

7The Interim Constitution (and the Transitional Constitution) establishes the structures of government at the GoSS and the state level, but, as previously mentioned, the local government level is left to the states for further clarification. That said, the Local Government Act of 2009 was developed by the GoSS-created Local Government Board to provide a framework for the establishment of local governments. Whereas the Interim Constitution classifies all local governments as either urban or rural councils, the Local Government Act adds a third category, the “industrial councils” (Section 16). These, however, play only a minor role in the actual implementation. The dominant form of council, at time of writing, in South Sudan is the rural council. It is also called the “County” and forms the highest level of the three tiers of Local Government, followed by the Payam and the Boma. The urban councils have three forms, City, Municipality or Town, and are followed by Block Councils and Quarter Councils (Section 15). However, one must be conscious of the fact that the first urban council, Juba, was only just being established at the time of my field research in April 2011 (and even then it seemed to be introduced as a level of government below the County, which, if true, would contradict the Act wherein cities are presented as corresponding with the County in urban areas). Due to the nascent and ambiguous status of urban local government, the following explanation will focus on the dominant rural structure. Figure 1 shows the current decentralised nature of government.

The legislative and the executive at County level

8The Local Government Act establishes a legislative and an executive at the County level, called Legislative Council and Executive Council (Section 22). The Legislative Council consists of thirty-five members that are directly elected out of the voters of a Boma, the lowest level of local government (Section 26). According to the UNDP Project Manager (26), however, the Legislative Councils have just recently begun to be established, thus far in only the three states of Equatoria – Eastern, Western and Central Equatoria – and Jonglei, and based on appointments rather than elections. The Executive Council is headed by the County Commissioner, who is ostensibly elected by the citizens of the County (Section 48). Yet as elections have not taken place, the Commissioner is still appointed in reality. The heads of departments of the Council also hold seats on the Executive Council, along with the Chief Administrator (Section 46). The Administrator, referred to as the Executive Director on rural councils, is the head of the civil service of the County and is appointed (Section 59–61). Three types of employees work at the Local Government Council: Local Government Administrative Officers, defined as “professional officers of the Civil Service of the States and other institutions of local governance, who shall be recruited by the State and trained into the Local Government Administrative Cadre of Southern Sudan”; Law Enforcement to work in the Local Government Councils (Section 66, 125); and the staff hired by the County itself (Section 68). Significantly, Local Government Administrative Officers may be transferred by the State Ministry of Local Government, and the “State Authorities may also second their departmental staff to the Local Government Councils to manage the corresponding departments of the Councils” (Section 67). There are thus many opportunities for staff to move between the various levels of government.

Figure 1: Decentralised structure of government

Figure 1: Decentralised structure of government

Source: own production based on Local Government Act and ICSS.

9The County is intended to generate resources through “government grants, locally generated revenues, community contributions, grants and donations from organisations and individuals and loans” (Section 73). However, as indicated by the Project Manager of the UNDP (26), there is a need for clarification on the taxation and fee responsibilities and rights of the various state levels. The government grants, which came into being in 2008 (26), have the potential to become an important instrument for distributing oil revenues and building up local administrations in a context where economic productivity, the theoretical basis of taxation, is severely limited. Similarly, the importance of international aid should not be underestimated.

The role of the traditional authorities

10The executive and the legislative are complemented by a third organ as the traditional authorities also hold executive competencies “determined by local legislation and regulations”. The executive bodies of traditional authority are called Chiefdoms in general and, more precisely, Paramount Chieftainship at the County level, Head Chieftainship at the Payam level, and Executive Chieftainship at the Boma level. Such terms vary depending on local forms of organization, such as Kingdom or Chiefdom, as do the subsidiary structures (e.g. Sub-Chieftaincy and Headmanship) (Sections 112, 115, and 116). Chiefs are meant to be elected according to traditional practices (Section 117). All eligible voters in a Boma form the Boma Assembly (Section 5). The Boma is the only level that is the exclusive domain of the traditional authority: “The Boma shall be the main domain of the traditional authority where traditional leaders perform their administrative and customary functions” (Section 19). The Payam, on the other hand, “exercises delegated powers from the County Executive Council” (Section 5). The governmental administration is headed by the Payam administrator, whom I observed in Juba County, Torit County and Magwi County, though the position is not mentioned in the Local Government Act. There is no legislative or executive body at the Payam level aside from the Head Chieftainship. The role and the competencies of the Chiefdoms, however, are highly unclear. In addition, the Local Government Act further specifies the role of the Council of Traditional Authority Leaders at the GoSS level – it should, inter alia, “provide a forum for dialogue [...] on matters of customs and traditions”, “intervene to resolve inter-tribal disputes” and “advise all levels of Government on matters of traditions and customs” (Section 121).

  • 4  “Chief” is here a specific legal term referring to a leader above the Sub-chiefs but below the Hea (...)

11Traditional authorities have not only executive power in form of chiefdoms, but also form the judiciary on local government level. This customary law applied in the courts of the Bomas, Payams and Counties are meant to be regulated by the Customary law Council. The Local Government Act, further, provides for a Customary Law Council “which shall be the highest Customary Law authority in the County” (Section 93). It consists of the County Paramount Chief as the leader, all Head Chiefs, the Secretary of the Council, three community elders, three women, and one youth representative (Section 94). It is concerned with traditions and customs, and its task is to regulate customary law and recruit the Customary Law Courts’ staff (Section 95, 96). In reality, the Customary Law Councils do not yet exist. The Customary Law Courts, on the other hand, function and are given the competency to handle customary disputes, but not criminal cases. The Customary Law Court at the County level is called the “C” Court, and is the highest existing Customary Law Court. It consists of the Head Chiefs of the closest lower court, the “B” Court, and is headed by the Paramount Chief (Section 99). The “B” Court corresponds to the Payam level, and is made up of Chiefs4, chaired by the Head Chief (Section 100). Finally, the customary court of first instance is found at the Boma level, and is referred to as the “A” Court. It consists of Sub-Chiefs, with the Chief as chair (Section 101). The Head Chiefs are supposed to be elected by the Chiefs and Sub-Chiefs, and the Paramount Chief by the Head Chiefs and Chiefs (Section 105).

12So, the CPA, the Interim Constitution of Sudan, and that of South Sudan each stress the general principle of decentralisation, define the four levels of government in Sudan, or the three levels of government in South Sudan, respectively, and delegate the responsibility to deal with and develop local governments to the states. The Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan additionally specifies the functions of the state level and sets guidelines for the establishment of local governments. Finally, in the Local Government Act, the structure of the local government level is developed and the various competencies of the different levels of local government – County, Payam and Boma – and organs of the Executive, Legislative, Chiefdoms, and Judiciary, are established.

2.2. Service delivery and development as the primary goal of local governments

13The first section of this paper has shown that “decentralisation” as understood in South Sudanese and Sudanese legal documents primarily refers to the establishment of different state levels and the devolution of certain powers among them which also corresponds with scholarly definitions of decentralisation as described in the previous chapter. Correspondingly, the principle of subsidiarity is also stressed several times (LGA Section 13, ICS & CPA Schedule F, 3). In the words of local government officers, decentralisation implies “the relinquishing of powers from the centre [...], devolution to allow other levels to function”(3) or “deconcentration or delegation of powers from the centre to the lower structures, so that services are nearer to the people, so that people can easily reach the centre of administration” (4). The two other local government officers (1, 2) do not speak of devolution to lower levels of government, but they also stress the element of “bottom-up and distributing the power down to the people. The latter also call the local government the “government of the people” (2) or state that the “local governments are about the people” (1). My interview partners from different state levels (from GoSS down to the Payam) also emphasize the element of bringing power down to the people via decentralisation and local governments (5 to 11). The Executive Director of Magwi county (9) explains, for example, that the “Local Government is the government of the people, for the people, by the people”. Interestingly, one Payam Administrator (10), did not know the term decentralisation, but used the term “local government”, which he defined as “a department consisting of local people who form a local government”. This statement reinforced my general impression that not all people working in the decentralised structure of South Sudan are familiar with its legal basis. The local government officers, however, definitely are.

14It is not surprising that decentralisation is described as devolving power downwards, as this is probably quite universal. Responses become more interesting if one asks about the goals and rationale behind decentralisation, what “transferring the power down” actually means, and how the powers and competencies should actually be distributed. This line of questioning reveals a certain mind set behind the legal documents and the people who wrote them. I argue that, in their understanding, decentralisation is closely connected to service delivery and development.

2.2.1 Bringing development and services to the people

15Before analyzing the main document, the Local Government Act, I will shortly review the CPA, ICS, and ICSS in order to illuminate their underlying logic. The articles that establishes the different levels of government in the CPA (Power Sharing, 1.3), and in the Interim Constitutions of Sudan (Article 24) and Southern Sudan (Article 50), also delegate the provision of public services to the state level, but further specify that they should be delivered through the “level closest to the people”, which is in turn identified as the local government. Within the context of these articles, the three legal documents do not mention any other functions of the local government. In addition, all three documents provide schedules which distribute competencies between the different state levels concerning foreign policy, service delivery, security, and so on. Interestingly, although the GoSS and the state governments (as well as the Government of Sudan) are meant to share the competencies of “Economic and Social Development” and “Delivery of Public Services” (CPA Power Sharing and ICS, Schedule D, 1 and 7), there is some specification of competencies within those fields. The GoSS, for instance, is responsible for planning services and providing norms, standards, and coordination in areas such as health, education, and welfare (Schedule B, 6 and 9), whereas the states are in charge of their actual establishment (Schedule C, for example, 15 and 22). Finally, the principle of subsidiarity is anchored in both documents (Schedule F, 3). In sum, a close reading of these three documents indicates that service delivery is the main function, or goal, of the local government under the supervision of the state. More generally speaking, decentralisation is closely paired with service provision in the understanding of the government that signed these documents. Of course, as many different people, inter alia international experts, contributed to these documents, they may not be understood as solely reflecting the GoSS’ position, but the latter at least agreed to it.

16With this established, the balance of my analysis will focus on the local government officers who, as mentioned previously, developed the Local Government Act with the support of international legal experts. Whereas the local government officers seem to share a common understanding of decentralisation that is strongly shaped by their historical experience with the local government system in South Sudan, I cannot identify a clear and common “governmental” understanding of decentralisation. When one considers the different positions these people are in, this follows; I talked to people from the Payam up to the GoSS levels. I was not able, however, to speak with a sufficiently representative number of people from each level or in each function to allow me to distinguish different types of governmental understanding. Most importantly, I could not access the core of the GoSS in Juba, and am thus unable to depict the discourse within that group.

17My interview material (interviewees 1 to 4) and the Local Government Act provide rich material for understanding some of the core topics in the understanding of local government officers. This is complemented with references to a predecessor of the Local Government Act, “The Local Government Framework for Southern Sudan” of 2006, wherein many features of the succeeding Act were already found, with additional explanations and historical references. The Framework was developed by the Local Government Board and its predecessors. This document thus allows for further conclusions concerning the intentions and motivations behind the current legal framework.

18The objectives of the locales government, as stated in the Local Government Act (Section 12) and the ICSS (Article 173), as well as the principles mentioned in the former (Section 13) – each virtually identically paraphrasing the Local Government Framework (2.2.2) – establish the main topics for analysis. First of all, the local government should be guided by various principles commonly associated with good governance, such as efficiency and effectiveness, accountability, transparency, and the rule of law. Many of my interview partners (2, 3, and 4) went one step further, saying that local governance should not only be guided by these principles, but that decentralisation actually improves governance or accountability of the government. Another principle (and objective) that arises repeatedly is some variant of participation. On the one hand, participation is a goal in itself, and is named in combination with self-governance. On the other, participation is meant to be used as a tool to provide services based on actual needs of the people, in form of “responsiveness”. Service delivery, supplemented by the objective of economic development, is also a reoccurring term. Finally, peace and reconciliation is another objective mentioned, which seems to be of particular relevance to South Sudan. It is interesting how much the latter of these topics – participation, self-governance, and peace as well as service delivery and development – reveal about the understanding.

Service delivery

  • 5  However, a closer look at the real competencies distributed in the appendix of the document (Appen (...)

19The Local Government Act establishes concrete responsibilities for the County, but not for the Payam and Boma levels. It says that the primary responsibilities of the Local Government Councils consist of the “maintenance of law and public order”, the “provision [...] of services to the people”, the “promotion of local development”, “land administration and environmental management”, and finally, the “protection of the rights of the people” (Section 24).5 In the preceding Local Government Framework, the only responsibilities mentioned were public order, service provision, and development (7). This strongly indicates that they lie at the core of the local government officers’ understanding of decentralisation and, as a result, also of the Local Government Act. The public order function is explained as relating to “the protection of life and property and the maintenance of public order” (7.1). Local government councils are, moreover, referred to as the “leader of development at the level of government nearest the people”, which should then “promote economic, infrastructural and social development” (7.3). Finally, service provision is described as “the hallmark of local government, as it is the level of government closest to the people” (7.2).

  • 6  Whereof this total includes seventeen uses of the phrase of “service delivery”, and ten of “servic (...)
  • 7  An evaluation conducted in 2004 led to the conclusion that “most local government councils are non (...)

20The special importance of the function of service delivery is stressed at various times throughout the preceding Local Government Framework, with greater and lesser degrees of explicitness. In one section of the paper, “Service delivery planning, Programming and implementation” is the only specifically mentioned responsibility of the local government council (1.4). Furthermore, the word “service” occurs 162 times6 in the 92 page document, compared to only four mentions of “public order” and six of “law and order”. Furthermore, it is an? interesting note that the success or failure of past experiences with local governments and decentralisation are exclusively measured by their ability (or not) to provide services.7 Critiques are also levelled that the only function of the local governments in the time before the second war was “maintenance of law and order”, and not service delivery (2.1). In sum, service delivery is clearly the dominant topic in the document, and is perceived as the main function of local governments.

21The statements of the four local government officers further underline the importance of this topic. All connect service delivery to local government or decentralisation (1, 2, 3, and 4). One officer (1) explains, for example, that the local government needs to provide services to the people in areas of health, education, water, and so on. He judges the non-provision of these services, and the non-implementation of the structures as foreseen in Local Government Act, as the biggest contemporary gaps in local government. All the people working at one of the state levels (5–11) also at least mention service delivery in the context of decentralisation and local government.

“Taking the towns to the people”

  • 8  John Garang was the founder of the SPLM/A and its leader during the war. He represented the South (...)
  • 9 Despite the popularity of this phrase, I was unable to identify its precise date and source. Everyo (...)
  • 10  “Take the Towns to the People” is the subtitle of the Local Government Framework for South Sudan.

22This component of service delivery is actually closely connected to another objective of local governments – development. The Local Government Framework (2.2.3) cites John Garang8 on the vision for Local Government as “[s]elf rule for the people of Southern Sudan, by taking the towns to the people”. The latter half of this vision is known throughout South Sudan9 and is regularly referenced. The GoSS perceives “taking the towns to the people” as synonym for decentralisation; it equates the implementation of decentralisation with this statement on the GoSS official website (GoSS 2011a) and chose this statement as the subtitle for the Local Government Framework10. The latter (2.2.3) further specifies the aim of this vision – “The transformation of local government from a rudimentary colonial system of local administration to an integrated viable system of local government authorities that is relevant to meet peoples’ aspirations for self rule and basic service delivery needs”. In that case, there is a close connection between “taking towns to the people” and “service delivery”.

23The three local government officers with whom I discussed Garang’s statement (2, 3, and 4) all equated it to decentralisation, and connected it to development and/or service provision. In their eyes, “taking the towns to the people” means that services such as schools or boreholes, or development more generally, should be taken to the less developed villages. As a result, decentralisation is seen as a tool for service delivery, development, and, importantly, equitable development. Most of my interview partners from the various levels of government also equated “taking the towns to the people” with decentralisation (5, 6, 7, and 9). They all (5, 7, 9 and 10) interpret it in the same manner as the local government officers – a way to bring development and/or services to the rural areas. The only exception to this trend was one individual (6) who only expressed that the phrase stands for the “vision of power to the people”, and mentioned neither development nor service delivery. As we will see in chapter three, this connection of “taking the towns to the people” with decentralisation and service delivery or development in rural areas is also mostly shared by non-governmental people.

24To sum up, decentralisation is mainly understood as a way to deliver services to the people and bring development to rural areas, all under the rubric of “taking the towns to the people”. As the previous discussion of the underlying principles has revealed, the role of participation in this context is based on the desire to make service delivery responsive to the needs of the people. The Local Government Framework expresses principle in its statement that the local government or decentralisation “allows the people to be involved in the process of service delivery” (2.2.1).

2.2.2 Self-rule for tribes

  • 11  “Self-rule” appears thirteen times in the document (eight times as “self rule and five times as “ (...)

25Participation, however, may also have a different meaning, referring to self-rule or self-governance. This brings us back to the first part of Garang’s vision of “[s]elf rule for the people of Southern Sudan, by taking the towns to the people”. “Self rule” is mentioned as an objective as well as a principle of the Local Government Act (Sections 12 and 13), and is referenced various times in the Local Government Framework11, wherein local government is described as “the most empowering and democratic tool of self rule” (2.2.3) and a way of “taking power to the people to rule themselves” (2.2.1). The four local government officers did not mentioned self-rule explicitly, but it was an underlying issue which they actually primarily criticized, on the basis of its potential for creating tension – a situation at odds with the understanding of service delivery as the main function of the local government.

  • 12  These chiefdoms take the form of Paramount Chieftainship at the County level, head Chieftainship a (...)

26“Self-rule” is an ambiguous term which may mean anything from superficial participation of the population to full independence. It seems that self-rule as a goal of local government has been incorporated into the legal framework mainly due to demands by the people. The findings of several field studies conducted from 2004 to 2006 by the forerunner of the Local Government Board “pointed to one main demand by the people, that of ‘self-rule’” (2.2.4).  Another key finding was that the “people resented the loss of power and the mistreatment of their traditional leaders and demanded the reinstatement of the traditional authorities for their self-rule” (2.3.3). The Local Government Act reveals how self-rule is understood by the South Sudanese government: Chiefdoms12, as “the traditional community authority” should be the platform “through which the people shall rule themselves”, and where they can “choose their leaders to administer themselves” (Section 114). This concept of self-rule remains abstract, however, as the “powers, functions and duties” of these chiefdoms “shall be determined by local legislation and regulations” (Section 115). The Act further stresses that “the Boma should be the main domain of the traditional authority where traditional leaders perform their administrative and customary functions” (Section 19). “‘Traditional Authority’ means the traditional community body with definite traditional administrative jurisdiction within which customary powers are exercised by traditional leaders on behalf of the community” (Section 5). The local government officers thus see the integration of the traditional authorities into the formal government structure as a tool with which to satisfy the people’s demand for self-rule.

  • 13  This understanding of self-rule will be further elaborated on in chapter three.

27There is potential for tension between the technical understanding of service delivery and the understanding of self-rule via traditional authorities. Traditional authorities and their chiefdoms are based on tribal categories – from tribe over clan down to lineages.13 The integration of both the technical understanding of the local government officers and the self-rule component of the people into the Local Government Act leads to inherent contradictions within the document. The self-rule component implies that administrative units are based on tribal categories, whereas the local government officers insist on technical criteria. The Local Government Act states that Counties (here, referring to rural councils as the criteria for urban councils differ slightly) should be established on the basis of the “size of the territory”, the size of the population, “economic viability”, and “administrative convenience and effectiveness”. It is further specified that a County should comprise between 70, 000 and 100,000 people; a Boma 5,000 to 10,000 people; and that a Payam should consist of three to four Bomas. A County is intended to consist of three to four Payams. There is also one final criterion mentioned, the “common interest of the communities”, which is complemented by “consideration of minority or majority ethnic group cases as may be decided by the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly” (Section 21, Appendix I, 1).

  • 14  Making claims based on these categories is very common in South Sudan, as I will explain in chapte (...)

28It is conceivable to believe that the initial group of criteria and the last may conflict in practice, as tribal groups of less than 5,000–10,000 or 70,000–100,000 members may wish to form their own Boma or County, respectively, to avoid domination by another tribe or clan. For the government, the latter criterion is intended to be an exception, as it must be approved by the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly, but it leaves the door open to demands for constructing administrative units based on tribal categories.14 At this time, all that remains to be said is that the local government officers expressed certain concerns regarding this development, as they understand it as laying the groundwork for a mushrooming of counties based on tribal categories. The Local Government Framework, as it stands, calls for a limitation of the numbers of councils (1.4.3). The three local government officers with whom I raised the subject (2, 3, and 4) insist that the number of counties should be limited or reduced, and that the current proliferation of counties needs to be stopped. They stress that there are official criteria and that, therefore, not everyone should be allowed to form a county of their own.

29The opinions of other people working for the government, interestingly, are less clear on the issue. Three persons working at three different state levels (6, 8, 11) also expressed their concern about this development, whereas two (9, 10) remained neutral and one (5) actually stressed the importance of self-rule based on tribal lines, judging that the potential conflicts arising from this principle are normal. At this point, the objective of peace and reconciliation becomes relevant. The expectations in this area go beyond securing public order and security, but include hopes and fears relating to the direct impact of decentralisation on peace and conflict. Out of the four local government officers, one (2) stated that decentralisation will solve conflicts. Another (4), in contrast, noticed that “it tends to divide people” because people keep demanding further division of territory. The third officer (3) combined the hope and the fear in arguing that decentralisation brings peace if services are actually delivered, but it brings conflict if it is interpreted on “ethnic lines”.

30To conclude, the government’s and, more specifically, the local government officers’ interpretation of decentralisation can be summarized by Garang’s famous aphorism of “taking the towns to the people”, which implies that services and development should be brought to the rural areas through decentralisation. In that context, participation is understood as a tool to better elaborate the needs of the population. This understanding is quite technical and may even be considered paternalistic, as it sees the state as the benefactor of the people. It also has the potential for conflict with the understanding of decentralisation as self-rule based on tribal identities which, due to the demands of the population, has already been incorporated into the Local Government Act. Prior to turning to the local understanding of self-rule, however, I first anchor the understanding of the government, and/or of the local government officers, in the historical experience of (South) Sudan.

2.3. Tracing the government’s understanding of decentralisation in history

  • 15  A chronology of the most important events in the recent history of Sudan is provided in Annex 6. I (...)

31It is often said of South Sudan that after 2005, a state had to be built “from scratch”. Whereas it is undoubtedly true that the war has left its mark, and little exists in terms of infrastructure, South Sudan still has a rich history, characterized by repeated experiences of attempts at decentralisation and local governments15. By 2005, though it was only partially implemented, a decentralised state structure existed. As a result, people, and especially the local government officers, already possess an understanding of how local governments have functioned over time, and the reasons for their successes and failures, with which to interpret and evaluate current processes. One member of the Local Government Board (1) expressed this strongly by saying that local governments used to further peace and economic development and many other things, but that they, unfortunately, do not currently have the necessary power and the money anymore to provide these things. This shows clearly that, from the perspective of some interviewees, local governments and decentralisation are not something to be introduced, but rather something to be rebuilt or modified. The Local Government Framework strongly emphasizes the need to learn from past experience in order to build “viable institutions of local government capable of serving and developing the people effectively” (2.1). Various historical events and legal texts have thus shaped the current understanding of decentralisation as presented in the Local Government Act and the images of decentralisation in the minds of the people. It is important to stress at the outset that the concept of decentralisation in South Sudan does not have a single moment of “birth”, but rather a continual history with multiple entry points.

2.3.1 Sudan’s experiences with decentralisation

Historical Sudanese features

32The historical narrative of the local government officers typically begins with the end of British colonial rule. One of my interview partners (4) dated decentralisation back to a man named Marshall from West Africa who investigated the best system of governance for Sudan, suggesting decentralisation as means of coping with the country’s vastness and ethnic heterogeneity. This “Marshall” appears to refer to an Englishman working in Sudan in the early 1900s, and who had a great influence on the establishment of local governments. He wrote a report in 1949, entitled the Marshall Report, wherein he developed a vision of local governments with the aim of democratizing Sudan. Marshall saw the solution as not only in democratizing the existing structures of Sudanese government, but also in the replication of the British system and devolution of powers to a second, autonomous level of government, connected to the central government through a ministry of local government. His report resulted in the Local Government Ordinance of 1951, which called for the establishment of local councils (Woodward 1990, 77 and 120). This is the moment at which two of my interview partners (1, 3) situate the birth of the local government system in Sudan. At the time of independence, Southern Sudan was divided into the regions of Upper Nile, Equatoria, and Bahr-El-Ghazal (Badal 1994, 109). This system of local government designed by Marshall, with only minor modifications, strongly informed the structure of the local government system until 1971 (Woodward 1990, 77, 121). In the Local Government Framework, the local government officers call this period, from 1951 to 1971, the “deconcentration of power”, in contrast to the phase of real “devolution of authority” which began in 1971 (1.3.1 and 1.3.2).

33Both Rondinelli (1981, 599) and Mamdani (2009, 190–192) argue that the “native administration”, or the “native authority system/indirect rule”, respectively, inherited from the British, providing religious or tribal leaders and influential families with a fairly strong influence on local affairs, persisted largely unchallenged until Nimeiri’s socialist coup in 1969. Nimeiri opposed both the power of the traditionally dominant sects in the North and tribal politics, instead searching for technocratic solutions through institution-building (Woodward 1990, 146). Decentralisation was perceived as an important tool for the “government of the masses” as proclaimed by the new group in power (Rondinelli 1981, 600).

34Nimeiri’s People’s Local Government Act in 1971 tried to overcome native administration by replacing “the powers of the chiefs with that of bureaucrats” (Mamdani 2009, 190). The new system of government was based on three tiers – a central government, Province Councils, and 4,000 local councils. The Province Councils were headed by a Provincial Commissioner who was not elected by the people but appointed by the government. Local councils, called “People’s Local Councils”, were intended to be established by the Province Councils, and were categorized into districts, towns, rural areas, villages, and councils (for nomadic groups) (Rondinelli 1981, 601–603; Woodward 1990, 146). Rondinelli (1981, 604–607) and Woodward (1990, 147), as well as a committee employed by Nimeiri (Rondinelli 1981, 607), however, conclude that a meaningful devolution of power did not occur under the 1971 Local Government Act. Woodward (1990, 147) adds that although the official powers changed from traditional authorities to bureaucrats, this did not imply that traditional authorities actually lost their informal power in rural villages.

Southern Sudanese peculiarities

35The situation in the South was essentially the same, except that the 1972 Addis Ababa Peace Agreement created a semi-autonomous status for the South as a whole, which resulted in another tier of government between the central government in Khartoum and the Province Councils. For the first time in history, Southerners could govern themselves “in an institutionalised way” (Tvedt 1994, 71). Tvedt (73) describes the difficulty in establishing this new form of government, as “[w]hen the Provisional Government was set up in Juba on 22nd April, it lacked almost everything a government usually takes for granted: administrative personnel, office-buildings and administrative experience”. This added an additional challenge to the implementation of the flawed Sudanese local government system for the South. Given this lack of infrastructure and personnel, Tvedt (89 and 99) argues that most of the services began to be provided by NGOs, and not by the local governments, as intended. NGOs thus became substitutes for the state administration in many cases, incidentally hampering the development of a functioning regional government, in addition to local governments, in the South. The Local Government Framework judges the performance of the local governments at that time as limited, locating the cause of the problem in the “over centralisation of authority” in the headquarters of the three provinces, Equatoria, Bahr-El-Ghazal, and Upper Nile. The local governments were only meant to disperse socialist propaganda and did not engage in service delivery (2.3.6). An interview partner (1) also argued that the Commissioner was given too much power, and that his appointment led to a lack of accountability.

  • 16  Anyanya was the Southern rebel movement during the first civil war where Equatorians – including L (...)
  • 17  The debate around this redivision, often known as “Kokora”, will be covered in chapter three.

36Things began to change in 1980, with the inception of the Regional Government Act, which created five regions in the North. The idea was to devolve the authority of the central ministries to the regions, but this reform plan was foiled by the resistance of the civil servants working in the ministries (Woodward 1990; Collins 2008, 131). This was also the catalyst for a discussion on “redivision” in the South. During the late 1970s, some Southerners, particularly Equatorians under the leadership of Lagu, a former Anyanya16 fighter and Southern politician, raised complaints about alleged Dinka domination in the Southern Government, and called for further decentralisation as in the North – or even for the creation of a separate Equatoria Region. This group welcomed the establishment of regions in the North, taking it as an opportunity to demand further regionalization and/or decentralisation in the South. This was the moment when decentralisation entered mainstream discourse in the South. Decentralisation came not only to be seen as a tool with which to fight Dinka domination, but also as one to bring about development (Tvedt 1994, 82; Johnson [2003] 2007, 53–54). One of my interview partners originating from the Equatoria region (3) identified this as the starting point of decentralisation in South Sudan. The two Dinka local government officers, in contrast, see the evolution of this discourse in a negative light.17 Nimeiri, however, welcomed the demands for redivision of the South, and intended to replace the South with three regions, in order to neutralize and deprive it of power. Despite resistance to this plan in the South, three regions were introduced, but still under the control of a Southern Government, albeit a weak one. In 1983, Nimeiri finally split the South into three regions and dissolved the Southern government completely. As a result, the three regions had less power than the Southern Government before them (Johnson [2003] 2007, 53–54). Correspondingly, decentralisation as introduced into the South Sudanese discourse was characterized by two interpretations – the devolution of power to lower levels, and the dissolution of the Southern Government in favour of three regional governments (regionalization).

37While discussions around the redivision took place in the South, Nimeiri introduced a new People’s Local Government Act in 1981. It was meant to correct the strong concentration of powers at the provincial level and devolve some power to the next lower level of government, area councils consisting of several former local councils (Tvedt 1994, 83). Two of my interview partners (1, 4), supported by the Local Government Framework (2.3.6), perceive this Act as a key step towards real decentralisation. The councils in Juba, Yei, and Renk are even considered to be “success stories” in terms the exercise of legislative power, popular participation, and the competence of the staff in service delivery (Local Government Framework 2006, 2.3.6). Unfortunately, the new Act was not given much time for implementation, as war broke out in 1983 and large parts of South Sudan came under the control of the SPLM/A.

2.3.2 Decentralisation and traditional authorities under the SPLM/A

38In the following analysis, I focus on the situation in the South under the SPLM/A to the exclusion of developments in the North, such as the formal declaration of Sudan as a federal state in 1989 under Bashir (Awadalla Ali Gasmelseid 2008, 8–9), as such events had only a minor impact, in comparison to the SPLM/A, on current understandings of decentralisation in South Sudan. The only significant exception to this trend is the 11th Constitutional Decree of 1994, which established state councils (Awadalla Ali Gasmelseid 2008, 8) and thereby created the states in Southern Sudan as they exist today.

Garang’s vision and the early 1980s

39Garang and the SPLM/A’s statements in the 1980s mainly focused on the whole of Sudan, and on changing the centre in Khartoum, rather than decentralisation in South Sudan. Garang developed the internationally recognized vision of a “New Sudan” based on secularism, democracy, unity, justice, and equality. Arguably, the SPLM/A, at that time, was not fighting for Southern independence but for a democratic renewal in the whole of Sudan. In his speeches of the 1980s, Garang, in the name of the SPLM/A, clearly calls for the empowerment of the peripheries of Sudan through an autonomous or federal form of government:

  • 18  He repeated this several times in his speeches, often in almost identical phrasing (Garang [1987] (...)

“We stand for genuine autonomous or federal governments for the various regions of the Sudan, a form of regionalism that will enable the masses, not the regional elites, to exercise real power for economic and social development and the promotion and development of their cultures. [...] We firmly stand for putting to an end the circumstances and policies that have led to the present uneven development of the Sudan, a state of affairs in which vast regions of the East, South, West and the far North find themselves as undeveloped peripheries to the relatively developed central regions of our country.” ([1987] 1992, 26)18

40In 1989, he even uses the term “decentralised form of rule” in his prescriptions for Sudan’s government (Garang [1987] 1992, 203). Overcoming the unequal development between urban and rural areas is a theme common to his speeches. He criticizes the cities for exploiting the rural areas, advocating for “rural development [...] rather than the fake artificial urban development and its export market orientation” (Garang [1987] 1992, 255–256). The vision of “taking the towns to the people” commonly invoked today is found in a of 1989 speech where he called for “the transfer of cities to the rural areas” which he equated with the agro-industrialization of the rural areas (Garang [1987] 1992, 256).

41Garang’s discourse is clearly influenced by both the centre-periphery/dependency paradigm and communism. It is interesting to observe, however, the continued resonance of his analysis, as it is adapted to fit the new paradigm of decentralisation. To conclude, Garang’s diagnosis of developed centre versus underdeveloped periphery across the whole of Sudan has been transferred to the South. Here, it has been used to legitimate a recent form of decentralisation which strongly focuses on the local levels like County, Payam, and Boma, rather than the regions of a unified Sudan as envisioned by Garang. Moreover, the current form of decentralisation also involves traditional authorities, a definitive deviation from Garang’s vision of the 1980s. Garang repeatedly stressed that he referred neither to the provincialism of late Nimeiri’s “policy of divide and rule” (Garang [1987] 1992, 22 and 27) nor tribalism (Garang [1987] 1992, for example 27, 125 and 246). He ([1987] 1992, 19) ridiculed expressions such as “Dinka Unity”, “Great Equatoria”, “Bari Speakers”, or “Luo Unity”. Due to several pressures in the early 1990s, however, his discourse on unity shifted to refocus on South Sudan and the development of a civil administration. Overall, however, for Garang decentralisation, or more precisely, federalism, was not specific to South Sudan, but a tool for achieving equality in a unified Sudan.

42Before turning to the 1990s and the focus on the South, it is important to briefly discuss the nature of civil administration in the areas controlled by the SPLM/A in the 1980s. De Waal and Rakiya (1995) describe in an African Rights’ publication the lack of civil institutions under the SPLM/A and the organization's unwillingness to develop them. Another publication of the same organization (1995, 314–328) states that the Nuba Mountains were the first and only region where the SPLM/A built a civil administration, with even this development occurring in the early 1990s. Kuol (1997), on the other hand, demonstrates the SPLM/A’s development of administrative oversight for elections of chiefs and the chiefs’ courts in 1984. Following this work, Johnson (1998, 66–67 and [2003] 2007, 105–106) argues that the negative evaluations of the SPLM/A’s work in the domain of civil institutions turns a blind eye to their achievements. The SPLM/A managed to subsume existing structures of traditional authority within their civil-military administration. Furthermore, he stresses that it is unreasonable to blame the SPLM/A for failing to develop and provide in times of war what no government had managed to do before them in times of peace.

The changes of the 1990s and the early 2000s

43Regardless of any tangible achievements concerning civil administration, the official discourse of the SPLM/A and Garang, until the late 1980s, primarily focused on reforming the power structures in Sudan as a whole, and particularly at the centre in Khartoum. Such discourse underwent rapid changes in the early 1990s, when the SPLM/A was forced to adapt its rhetoric to external pressures. Foreigners, particularly the international aid community, demanded liberalization of the SPLM/A. The loss of Ethiopian support meant that the SPLM/A was more reliant on other partners, resulting in a need to better legitimate its actions and policies (De Waal 1997, 316–317). Within the SPLM/A, the two SPLA commanders Riek Machar and Lam Akol from Upper Nile criticized John Garang for his unaccountable and undemocratic leadership. This provoked the split in the SPLM/A in 1991, and the birth of the Nasir Faction under the two named commanders (Johnson [2003] 2007, 93–94). The liberal rhetoric used by the newly-formed Nasir Faction put further pressure on the SPLM/A to liberalize its structures and to focus more on the situation within the South (De Waal 1997, 316–317).

44The first event in a series of meetings concerning restructuring of the SPLM/A and the development of a civil administration was the Torit meeting of 1991, during the turmoil following the breakaway of the Nasir Faction. Most Commanders of the Political Military High Command, the highest body of the SPLM/A, attended the meeting, which subsequently resulted in “The SPLM/A Torit Resolution”. The Resolution addressed much of the critique levelled by the Nasir Faction concerning the SPLM/A’s lack of civilian structures, lack of democratic culture, and unclear decision-making competencies. It marked a clear change in the official discourse of the movement away from militarism and towards civil administration and growing support for Southern independence (Rolandsen 2005, 55–57). Resolution No. 7 on “civil administration”, for instance, stressed the need for an “effective civil administration at the grass-roots”. It was to be based on “autonomous local government units” consisting of Counties, followed by Payams and Villages. The Payam and Village structures were intended to be completely separate from the army, though the county was to remain under military command as long as it was the site of military operations. With this Resolution, the base for the contemporary structure of decentralisation was laid in South Sudan.

45The next important event was the 1994 National Convention at Chukudum, Eastern Equatoria, which, attended by people from all over the liberated areas, became a “symbol of reform and liberalisation” of the SPLM/A (Rolandsen 2005, 81, 105–106). The Convention called for the replacement of the Political Military High Command with an elected civil legislature, the National Liberation Council, complemented by a National Executive Council headed by the SPLM/A Chairman. These bodies were to be reproduced at the regional, County, Payam, and village level. The function of traditional authorities was officially recognized in the court structures, supervised by “modern” courts, at the three lowest levels of government. As a result, the traditional authorities were officially introduced into the decentralised system of government, at the cost of subordination to the SPLM/A administration (Rolandsen 2005, 115–117).

46The Conference on Civil Society and Civil Authority in 1996 further specified the intended structure of the new local government system. The regions (Bahr El Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile within today’s South Sudan) were each to be administered by a military governor heading an Executive Council and a Liberation Council (Chol 1996). Similarly, each County and each Payam was intended to be chaired by a Commissioner or a Payam Administrator, respectively, supplemented by a Liberation Council. The village level was to be administered by a chief or a village administrator, supported by a council of elders. At this level, the role of the traditional authorities was thus strengthened. All such structures were subsumed under the umbrella Civil Authority of New Sudan or CANS.

47Interestingly, the three degrees of decentralisation – delegation, devolution and deconcentration – were also mentioned in the Convention speech, along with typical advantages of decentralisation, such as “greater political participation”, “enhanced responsiveness from governmental institutions”, and better performance of governments. The accountability of the elected members of the councils was also mentioned. Two subsequently published statements, the 15-Point-Programme, a subsection of the SPLM Vision and Programme of 1998 (2.3), and the “Peace Through Development” of 2000 (Section IV), also briefly touched on the same structures. The lowest level of government, however, formerly called “village”, changed to the current term of “Boma”. Branch and Mampilly (2005, 8), at the Boma level, witnessed not the presence of either a traditional chief or a Boma Administrator as described above, but, the existence of both of them parallel. Interestingly, according to many of my interviewees, the term “Boma” seems to stem from a village in the East of South Sudan that was a stronghold during the war and one of the first places liberated by the SPLA (1, 3, 4, 16, 17, 23, 5, 7 and 9).

48Theoretically, these outlined structures were the basis of local government in South Sudan until the CPA in 2005. Practical reality, however, is another question entirely. Whereas it is undoubtedly true that most of the existing services during the 1990s and early 2000s were provided by international NGOs and organizations, evaluations of the SPLM/A’s civil administration achievements vary. Riehl (2001, 6) identifies a “paradoxical state of affairs where functioning administrative institutions [were] absent or barely in place in a relatively peaceful and secure environment”. Johnson ([2003] 2007, 106–107) and Rolandsen (2005, 166–167), on the other hand, identify a lack of change and implementation of the various provisions, conferences, etc., at the Southern and the regional levels of government, but each note advances at the local level. Rolandsen (2005, 167) explains though reforms at the local level were slow and varied widely over the liberated areas, they did indeed exist. In his analysis, the democratic institutions at the local level were not strengthened per say, but over time empowered the chiefs vis-à-vis the military administrators, which reduced abuse of the local population by militaries.

49Finally, in 2003, a team was appointed to develop a “policy framework for the establishment of a stable Local Government and Civil Administration in Southern Sudan”. Supported by the UNDP, the team developed five drafts that were followed by the Local Government Framework of 2006 which was analyzed under 2.2. The process included assessments of existing structures, study tours to other countries, and consultations and workshops with people working in local governments in the field (Local Government Framework 2006, 2.3).

50To summary, decentralisation was not originally a popular term within the SPLM/A, at least in the context of the South, but rather one it was forced to take up over time. The same is true for the integration of the traditional authorities, which, though in reality have always formed part of the administrative structure, only slowly began to be officially recognized in the 1990s. Additionally, all the terms currently used to describe the decentralised structure – state, County, council, Payam or Boma – in the Local Government Act can be traced back to specific moments in time. Some stem from the British, some from the North, and others were taken up during the time of the SPLM/A. Overall, the government’s understanding of decentralisation as a way of promoting development and service delivery, along with associated expectations such as participation, democracy and better government performance, are rooted in (South) Sudanese history, and are by no means unique to the present.

2.4. Adapting the Western state to the local context

  • 19  In addition to the above-mentioned organizations, the Swiss Political Division IV also works on de (...)

51The international community in South Sudan has also been involved in the development of the Local Government Act, and at least partly taken over the government’s understanding of decentralisation as service delivery and development. This engagement of the international community with decentralisation, however, must be seen in light of the general efforts to construct a (decentralised) state. This aim becomes evident when considering the programmes pursued by the international community – most organizations, such as USAID, the World Bank, and GTZ locate their decentralisation programmes explicitly in the areas of state-building or governance. The UNDP is an exception to this trend, as its programme operates under the mandate of poverty reduction, though their publications also regularly make connections between decentralisation and state-building.19


  • 20  Abyei was granted a special administrative status under the CPA, and the people of Abyei were mean (...)

52USAID’s projects are contained under the label of “local governance”, which in turn belongs to the broader programme goal of “good governance”. Their “decentralisation program” is meant “to build the capacity of state and local government to strengthen service delivery in states along the fragile north-south border”. They stress the importance of democratic governance and public service delivery in fighting “developmental and economic marginalization” (USAID 2011b). This indicates that, just as for the Southern government, decentralisation is closely connected to service delivery for USAID. However, their projects focus mainly on the disputed Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile,20 where USAID wants to “improve management and coordination of public service delivery by local government institutions, and support the harmonization of customary law and enhancement of the linkages between customary and civil laws” in order to “mitigate conflict” in (South) Sudan (USAID 2011a).

World Bank

53The World Bank is involved in South Sudan through the Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Southern Sudan, which is supported by many donor countries. The Trust Fund is intended to address state-building and peace-building simultaneously (The World Bank 2010a, 3). Although the Trust Fund has worked in state-building with a focus on service delivery, until recently decentralisation did not play a major role. The activities of the Trust Fund primarily focused on issues such as infrastructure, water, education, and on capacity building in the GoSS, rather than the state or local government level (The World Bank 2010a, 4–6). A recent report (The World Bank 2010b, 1–3), prepared in collaboration with the GoSS, however, indicates that decentralisation is becoming a priority of the World Bank in the context of a “second phase of reforms”. Decentralisation seems to be considered an important tool for the already repeatedly-mentioned “service delivery”. Service delivery is seen as an important means of increasing state legitimacy, especially in light of the Sudan’s size and diversity. The World Bank acknowledges that states and local governments should play an important role in service delivery in South Sudan, but that this should be at the expense of the strength of the central government. The World Bank’s overall goal is service delivery, provided by whatever mechanisms and institutions are capable of coping with the task. The World Bank hopes that decentralisation may prevent conflict, but fear that it may also hamper service delivery if local governments are not functional.

54Furthermore, the World Bank is sceptical about the integration of traditional authorities. It acknowledges their traditional importance, but at the same time expresses concern that they could “undermine the evolution of modern democratic systems of local government”. Decentralisation seems to be appreciated in so far as it brings South Sudan closer to the overall goal of state-building: a “capable” government able to deliver services, “respond to local needs”, and “maintain peace, security, and rule of law across its territory”. Or, in other words, decentralisation should “promote the emergence of capable and responsive government at all levels” (The World Bank 2010b, 23–24, 70–72). Thus, the World Bank has only recently integrated decentralisation into its state-building repertoire. It seems to be cautiously supportive of decentralisation policy and hopes that it will contributes to the overall goal of building an effective state capable of delivering services to its citizens.


  • 21  Interestingly, this project is classified under the category of “Governance Programme” on the Engl (...)

55The two organizations most closely involved in the development of the Local Government Act and its current implementation are GTZ and UNDP. GTZ operates a project called “Support for Administrative Reform and Decentralisation in Southern Sudan” (GTZ 2011c).21 The CPA’s emphasis on the principle of decentralisation for South Sudan, and goal of “a decentralised, citizen-oriented public administration” with a deeper involvement of civil society, is the basis of GTZ’s engagement. The Local Government Act, which GTZ supported by providing “policy advice and support during the drafting and passing of the Act”, is considered “one of the most significant milestones” of the programme. Thereafter, the GTZ contributed to the working plan for the implementation of the Act, conducting trainings and promoting the Act in relevant ministries and at state and local government level. Finally, GTZ contributed to the construction of a Local Government House as the seat of the Local Government Board and the centre for trainings (GTZ 2011c).


56Although local governance or decentralisation is commonly referred to as “democratic governance” within the language of the UNDP, in the case of South Sudan, it falls under the label of “Poverty Reduction and Achieving the MDGs”. The programme is titled “Local Government Recovery Programme in Southern Sudan”. As the name indicates, it is based on the Local Government Board’s understanding of decentralisation, which in turn is founded on the experience of rebuilding the local administration in earlier decades (UNDP 2011e). The Project Manager of UNDP (26) supported this point further by noting that although no documents on past procedures exist, the people working in that area have clear pictures in mind on the proper functioning and structure of local governments. The South Sudanese people thus already have experience with decentralisation, meaning that GTZ’s programme should help to rebuild and improve the local government system.

  • 22  The Project Manager is, of course, aware that there are some studies that question this orientatio (...)

57The UNDP supports the Local Government Board in implementing the Local Government Act by providing policy advice, training local government officers and other staff, and providing support in county planning and budgeting. Policy frameworks and strong local governments with sustainable financing systems able to provide basic services are the desired outcomes of their work. When I originally examined the website in February 2011, the website also contained an objective section, now omitted, wherein the programme is described as intending “to support the local government in Southern Sudan to play a leadership role in socio-economic development, thereby contributing to democratic governance and sustainable peace in the new era of Southern Sudan” (UNDP 2011d). These objectives clearly reflect the above-mentioned goals connected with decentralisation to a greater, and state-building to a lesser, degree – development, democracy, and peace. The Project Manager (26) stated that the UNDP has seen decentralisation as an important policy tool since the 1990s, and has correspondingly taken these connections for granted, especially that between decentralisation and poverty reduction.22

58The UNDP has been involved in decentralisation and the integration of traditional authorities in South Sudan for over a decade. From 2004 on, it was particularly involved in the different steps of the development of the Local Government Framework. The UNDP highlights the importance of traditional leaders because, as they have been the only constant in local governance, they enjoy certain legitimacy. The UNDP further believes that the GoSS has the opportunity to “create a common Southern identity around a grass-roots peace and democratization process” “by sharing governance responsibility at the local level with traditional authorities”. This common identity is hoped to unite the diverse tribes and thereby provide a basis for “successful state-building” (UNDP 2010b, 15, 17 and 21). Interestingly, while the UNDP (2010b, 15) believes the SPLM/A has always recognized the role of the traditional authorities in administration, the World Bank states that the SPLM/A has historically rejected the integration of traditional authorities into modern government (2010b, 24).

59Another international staffer (informal talk) working in the area of decentralisation and traditional authorities emphasized that the international community does not want to integrate the traditional authorities because it believes them to be great and progressive, but rather because they are accepted by the people. One has to work with what exists, even if it is not compatible with human rights. This observation shows that the international community in South Sudan is willing to adapt its understanding of decentralisation and the state to local conditions in order to create an indigenous form of the state and avoid paternalistic colonialism. That said, the state is still expected to function in the Western way – democratic, effective, capable of service delivery, the provision of law and order, and so on. This ideal of the state must be reached in order to meet the underlying goals of state-building and decentralisation, namely development/poverty reduction and peace and stability.


1  The government in South Sudan is almost synonymous with the SPLM/A at the moment as there are only very few alternative parties present which do not (yet?) have any political power.

2  It is important to note that by “local government officers or administrators”, I am referring to officials currently working in the decentralised system, primarily for the state ministries of local government (who may also be regularly transferred to local government) (interview partners 3 and 4) and also those who have worked in the local government structures in the past and now work on decentralisation at the national level (interview partner 1 and 2).

3  The County Court is actually called “C” Court in the Local Government Act (please refer to Figure 1 for further details).

4  “Chief” is here a specific legal term referring to a leader above the Sub-chiefs but below the Head Chief in the hierarchy.

5  However, a closer look at the real competencies distributed in the appendix of the document (Appendix II, schedule I) reveals that the protection of rights is a mere fig leaf, as there are few attendant tasks mentioned in that realm (with the exception of the “regulation [...] of working conditions”). Of course, the protection of rights may follow from some of the other responsibilities, such as service delivery which could ideally leads to protection of the rights to water or housing. The other responsibilities, however, are covered (the “provision of basic services”, “primary health care” or “primary education institutions” can, for example, be subsumed under “service provision”, the “enforcement of the provisions of this Act”, “regulation of business trade licenses, working conditions, hours and local holidays” and the “enforcement of By-Laws enacted under the customary law” under “law and public order” and “protection of Land Government Council Land and Natural Resources”, “acquisition of land” or “management, leasing and utilization of lands belonging to the Local Government Council” under “land administration and environmental management”). Although local development is also not designated with any specific tasks either, I will argue later on that it may be connected to the service delivery.

6  Whereof this total includes seventeen uses of the phrase of “service delivery”, and ten of “service provision”

7  An evaluation conducted in 2004 led to the conclusion that “most local government councils are non- functional, i.e. they do not perform the duties of the local council through which services are delivered to the people” (1.5). Furthermore, the war of 1983–2005 is identified as the cause of the “disintegration of the local government system in Southern Sudan” as it rendered “service provision” “non operational” (2.1).

8  John Garang was the founder of the SPLM/A and its leader during the war. He represented the South during the negotiations that led to the CPA in 2005, and became the first president of the autonomous region of Southern Sudan. He was killed in a helicopter crash in 2005. He was succeeded by Salva Kiir.

9 Despite the popularity of this phrase, I was unable to identify its precise date and source. Everyone I spoke with about this sentence had already heard it, and had an interpretation of its meaning. The general understanding of this statement by non-governmental South Sudanese will be discussed in chapter three.

10  “Take the Towns to the People” is the subtitle of the Local Government Framework for South Sudan.

11  “Self-rule” appears thirteen times in the document (eight times as “self rule and five times as “self-rule”) and “self governance”, twice.

12  These chiefdoms take the form of Paramount Chieftainship at the County level, head Chieftainship at the Payam level, and Executive Chieftainship at the Boma level, as explained in section 2.1.

13  This understanding of self-rule will be further elaborated on in chapter three.

14  Making claims based on these categories is very common in South Sudan, as I will explain in chapter three.

15  A chronology of the most important events in the recent history of Sudan is provided in Annex 6. It is intended to help readers understand the events and laws analysed here.

16  Anyanya was the Southern rebel movement during the first civil war where Equatorians – including Lagu – played a more prominent role than they would in the later conflict fought by the SPLA which was led by the Dinka (Branch and Mampilly 2005, 5).

17  The debate around this redivision, often known as “Kokora”, will be covered in chapter three.

18  He repeated this several times in his speeches, often in almost identical phrasing (Garang [1987] 1992, 43 and 125).

19  In addition to the above-mentioned organizations, the Swiss Political Division IV also works on decentralisation, but focuses exclusively on the integration of the traditional authorities.

20  Abyei was granted a special administrative status under the CPA, and the people of Abyei were meant to vote on whether they wanted to belong to the North or the South. However, this vote never took place, with the result that Abyei is now claimed by both sides. Though the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile belong to the North, the SPLM/A has always had a stronghold there.

21  Interestingly, this project is classified under the category of “Governance Programme” on the English section of the website, but as “Programm zur Unterstützung des Staatsaufbaus” in German, which refers to the term of “state-building” (GTZ 2011c).

22  The Project Manager is, of course, aware that there are some studies that question this orientation of the UNDP.  

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Decentralised structure of government
Crédits Source: own production based on Local Government Act and ICSS.
Fichier image/png, 196k


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search