South Sudan is entering an extremely dangerous phase

In a WPF policy briefing of March 24, 2016, Alex de Waal warns that South Sudan is entering a dangerous new phase. Below is from the introduction to briefing.

Access pdf of the full briefing.


This policy briefing provides an analysis of the risks that South Sudan faces given the current convergent economic, security and political crises on the eve of the overdue establishment of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU).

South Sudan today is a collapsed political marketplace. The country’s political market was structured by competitive militarized clientelism for access to oil rents. Those oil rents have almost disappeared but the structure of competition is unchanged and the price of loyalty has not reduced to a level commensurate with the available political funding. The result is that political loyalty and services are rewarded with license to plunder. This is inherently self-destructive. South Sudan’s political economy is being consumed to feed its political-military elite.

The convergent economic, security and political crises mean that South Sudan is entering an extremely dangerous phase.

This policy brief provides tools for analysis rather than recom-mendations for action. The dominant political discourse on South Sudan is framed in ethnic terms: this briefing seeks to provide alternative political-economic concepts and language.

It points to the need to stabilize South Sudan’s political marketplace before there can be any prospect of sustainable peace, let alone a transition to an institutionalized political order. Policymakers need to attend particularly to the options for modest increases in political funding (notably through the renegotiation of the transitional financial arrangements and oil pipeline fees with Khartoum) and measures to reduce political uncertainty.

Access a pdf of the full briefing.

Alex de Waal is a Research Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and leads the WPF research programs on African Peacemaking and Mass Starvation.

Considered one of the foremost experts on the Horn of Africa, his scholarly work and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, pandemic disease, and conflict and peace-building. His latest book is New Pandemics, Old Politics: Two Hundred Years of War on Disease and its Alternatives. He is also author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine and The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa (Polity Press, 2015) Following a fellowship with the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard (2004-06), he worked with the Social Science Research Council as Director of the program on HIV/AIDS and Social Transformation, and led projects on conflict and humanitarian crises in Africa (2006-09). During 2005-06, de Waal was seconded to the African Union mediation team for Darfur and from 2009-11 served as senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan. He was on the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009 and is the winner of the 2024 Huxley Award of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Professor de Waal regularly teaches a course on Conflict in Africa at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.  During this course, students should gain a deeper understanding of the nature of contemporary violent conflict in Africa. Students will be expected to master the key theoretical approaches to violence in Africa, and to become familiar with a number of important case studies. The focus is on the origins and nature of violence, rather than policy responses and solutions. The course is inter-disciplinary and involves readings in political science, international relations, and social anthropology, while also touching on economics, environmental studies, and history. 

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