Since the outbreak of civil war in December 2013, South Sudan has endured one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern times. Still, amid the constant threat of war-related violence and economic hardship, South Sudanese activists are managing to launch and sustain nonviolent movements to address the social, political, and economic grievances that have fueled the country’s ongoing conflicts. Based on extensive interviews with South Sudanese civil society leaders, religious leaders, activists, and members of the diaspora, this report focuses on South Sudanese experience using nonviolent tactics and the formidable challenges they face to build large-scale nonviolent civic campaigns and movements to achieve a just and lasting peace.


  • Although the use of nonviolent collective action in South Sudan is typically overshadowed by violence and armed struggle, there are many historical and contemporary examples of South Sudanese youth, women, religious leaders, and others using protests, vigils, sit-ins, and other nonviolent tactics to advance social, political, and economic change.
  • South Sudanese civic leaders and activists view their most urgent priority as restoring peace and stability—through a permanent cease-fire, a revitalized peace agreement, and the restoration of law and order. Better governance and economic opportunities are important longer-term objectives.
  • In line with South Sudan’s history of nonviolent action, most activities in pursuit of achieving peace follow methods of protest and persuasion rather than noncooperation or direct intervention—methods that typically require high levels of organization and coordination.
  • Civil society and religious groups are taking over roles and responsibilities traditionally carried out by government, such as providing public services and resolving disputes. Many South Sudanese view these activities as a means of nonviolently protesting the state’s failure to serve the basic needs of the country.
  • While instances of local self-organizing are helping to fill the void left by the state, they have not yet coalesced into a national movement for better governance. They are, however, fostering trust and cultivating relationships that can be the building blocks for future collective action and national identity.
  • The South Sudan Council of Churches’ National Women’s Desk and the youth-led Anataban movement are two prominent movements attempting to connect bottom-up nonviolent collective action to South Sudan’s formal peace processes in order to ensure that they are just and sustainable.
  • South Sudanese activists and civic leaders involved in nonviolent collective action face a number of challenges, including repression by security forces, limited knowledge and skills relating to strategic planning for nonviolent action and movement building, and overcoming the economic and social breakdown of the country’s humanitarian crisis.

About the Authors

Moses John co-founded the Organisation for Nonviolence and Development (ONAD), which works with vulnerable people in South Sudan to promote nonviolent approaches and peaceful coexistence through training and advocacy. He is also a part-time lecturer on conflict management at the University of Juba. Philip Wilmot, a nonviolent action trainer, author, and activist based in Uganda, co-founded Solidarity Uganda, an organization dedicated to nonviolent action education. Nicholas Zaremba is a senior program assistant in the Program on Nonviolent Action at USIP.

About the Report

This report focuses on the use of nonviolent collective action by civil society leaders, religious leaders, activists, and other South Sudanese to address the social, political, and economic grievances that have fueled the country’s ongoing civil conflicts. Supported by the Center for Applied Conflict Transformation and the Middle East and Africa Center at USIP and based on extensive interviews, including with the leaders of prominent nonviolent movements, the report focuses on the formidable challenges to building large-scale and sustainable nonviolent civic campaigns in South Sudan.

Related Publications

Why the U.S. Needs a Special Envoy for the Red Sea

Why the U.S. Needs a Special Envoy for the Red Sea

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

By: Payton Knopf

The Trump administration has appointed four special envoys to coordinate U.S. policy toward key hot spots: Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Afghanistan. Yet in the Red Sea—one of the most volatile and lethal regions of the world afflicted by several interconnected conflicts and rivalries that pose significant challenges to American interests—U.S. policy has been rudderless in large part due to the absence of a similar post.

Global Policy; Conflict Analysis & Prevention

In South Sudan, the Trust Deficit Could Doom a new Peace Deal

In South Sudan, the Trust Deficit Could Doom a new Peace Deal

Thursday, September 20, 2018

By: Aly Verjee

On September 12, after nearly nine months of talks, the warring parties in South Sudan signed a “revitalized” peace agreement, superseding a 2015 accord and bringing an end to the High Level Revitalization Forum. But fighting has continued in the days since the deal was signed, and many remain skeptical that this agreement will succeed. USIP’s Aly Verjee discusses the deal.

Peace Processes

South Sudan’s Civil War and Conflict Dynamics in the Red Sea

South Sudan’s Civil War and Conflict Dynamics in the Red Sea

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

By: Payton Knopf

The five-year-old civil war in South Sudan is an unparalleled humanitarian and security crisis, causing the largest exodus of refugees on the African continent since the Rwandan genocide and leaving over a third of the population displaced and two-thirds severely food insecure. Beyond the human toll on South Sudan’s long-suffering citizens, the country’s unraveling underscores the shifting political and security fault lines in the Horn of Africa. This Special Report surveys the region’s various interstate hostilities and intrastate conflicts and suggests ways the United States can reassert its influence to begin contributing meaningfully to the resolution of South Sudan’s civil war and conflicts in the greater Red Sea region.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

View All Publications