South Sudan’s success as a nation depends on getting its many distinct ethnic groups to promote, teach, and celebrate a shared cultural heritage. In this new Special Report, USIP Senior Fellow and former South Sudan government official Jok Madut Jok urges concrete steps toward creating a national identity.

287

Summary

  • The government of South Sudan and its development partners appear to be heavily focused on state building and less so on nation building: the question of how to turn the young state into a nation in which all South Sudanese can see themselves represented.
  • Whatever projects a new country conceives, it has to view nation and state as inseparable components of the same project, not focusing too much on one without investing in the other.
  • Most South Sudanese interviewed for this project assert that the most obvious impediment to national cohesion is exclusion from the national platform, especially exclusion along ethnic lines. Corruption, nepotism, and exclusion from access to government jobs were also raised as issues that the government will need to address directly for citizens to have pride in their nation.
  • There is a widespread sense of worry about the viability of South Sudan as a nation due to insecurity, especially insecurity rooted in the current ethnic conflicts occurring in seven out of the ten states.
  • Both political leaders and ordinary citizens recognize the importance of national unity and the equitable display and celebration of cultural diversity as a national asset; representation of all ethnic nationalities and creation of a broad-based government is central to South Sudan’s transition to nationhood. The immediate challenge involves creating programs that promote citizenship in the nation over ethnic citizenship. The opaque climate of the transitional constitutional review process has not earned the government much trust from all sectors of society, and this has made for a bad start toward national consensus.
  • As a multiethnic society, South Sudan also is confronted with the question of a language policy. To speed up the process of nation building, the government will need to transform current discussions on language into practical decisions regarding the development of anational language. Identifying five national languages that represent the three greater regions of the country would be one way to approach it.
  • Ultimately, a viable South Sudan has to stand on four strong pillars: political unity, a disciplined military, quick and equitable service delivery, and a vibrant civil society.

About the Report

This report, part of a series of U.S. Institute of Peace reports on state building in South Sudan, focuses on how the new state will manage its cultural diversity with a view to bringing all its ethnic nationalities together, forming a national identity that can reduce the level of suspicion and ethnicity-based political rivalry. The information and analysis in this report have their roots in the author ’s academic research and interests, as well as his background as a civil servant in the government of South Sudan. Much of the information was generated through interviews and group discussions over a long period in the context of other studies and evaluations. Many of the opinions expressed here are a combination of newspaper editorials, news coverage in the local media, debates on Internet discussion forums, public lectures and debates, government policy briefs, and a host of other government documents pertaining to its vision, development plans, and programs aimed at addressing the myriad security challenges that confront South Sudan.

About the Author

Jok Madut Jok is currently a Jennings Randolph senior fellow at USIP. In 2010 and 2011 he served as undersecretary in the government of South Sudan’s Ministry of Culture and Heritage. He is also a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute and a professor of African studies in the department of history at Loyola Marymount University.

Related Publications

The South Sudan Peace Process Archive: A Window into Mediation

The South Sudan Peace Process Archive: A Window into Mediation

Monday, March 29, 2021

By: Zach Vertin; Aly Verjee

As part of its commitment to learning from peace processes, the U.S. Institute of Peace is pleased to launch the South Sudan Peace Process Archive, which aims to provide South Sudanese citizens, mediators, policymakers, academics and other interested readers a window into the 2013-2015 negotiations that attempted to end the conflict that began in South Sudan in late 2013. Documents for this archive were first assembled and organized in 2016. Now, archive curators and former peace process advisers Zach Vertin and Aly Verjee discuss their motivations for assembling and organizing the documents and what they hope the archive can contribute to future peace processes.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue; Peace Processes

South Sudan: From 10 States to 32 States and Back Again

South Sudan: From 10 States to 32 States and Back Again

Monday, March 1, 2021

By: Matthew Pritchard; Aly Verjee

Last year, South Sudan reintroduced 10 subnational states in South Sudan, in place of the 32 states controversially created in 2017. Far from being an obscure matter of administrative organization, the initial, dramatic redivision of territory in the midst of protracted violence and large-scale displacement had a significant impact on representation, as well as social, economic, and political relations throughout the country. In 2018-19, researchers commissioned by USIP sought to better understand the decision-making process behind the creation of the 32 states in South Sudan. Researchers Matthew Pritchard and Aly Verjee discuss their findings in light of current developments.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

In South Sudan, the Hope and Pain of Nonviolence

In South Sudan, the Hope and Pain of Nonviolence

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

By: Yeng Lambo

After 3 a.m., my cellphone rang with the voices of relatives shouting that South Sudan’s spasms of violence had struck our family. In the night, armed youths of a rival community had ambushed a cattle camp of my clan, killing my cousins and other young cowherds as they slept, and stealing more than 400 cattle. Men from of my clan were gathering guns to race into the darkness to counterattack. If my country is ever to have peace, we must break such cycles of vengeance. So, I pleaded with my elder aunts and uncles to prevent that battle. I still do not know if we have truly succeeded.

Type: Blog

Nonviolent Action

In South Sudan, Civic Activists Take On COVID

In South Sudan, Civic Activists Take On COVID

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

By: Nelson Kwaje; Nicholas Zaremba

For South Sudan, COVID-19 is simply the newest plague. The world’s youngest country already faces civil war, repression, displacement, economic collapse, climate change, hunger—even swarming locusts. South Sudan’s people enter the fight against COVID under nearly the worst conditions of human development, and with 39 percent of them displaced by warfare. With a government that has been unable to provide even basic services, South Sudanese must rely on their emerging civil society, and international partnerships, to organize much of their response to the pandemic. Yet COVID now threatens vital international help for such grassroots campaigns.

Type: Blog

Nonviolent Action; Global Health

View All Publications