Making Markets: South Sudan’s War Economy in the 21st Century

From 2005-13, relations between competing elite actors in South Sudan were organized through a political marketplace in which payments derived from oil rents were used to purchase the loyalty of armed men. During the same period, marketization, urbanization, and the politics of state-building remade South Sudan’s underlying political economy. With the outbreak of civil war in 2013 and the collapse of the country’s oil revenues, it was this transformed political economy that enabled the state to maintain its grip on power, as the government distributed positions and licenses to local actors, who then used such prestations to tax, raid, and otherwise immiserate the populations under their control. A shift from a political economy predicated on the distribution of oil revenues to one based on the apportionment of positions and licenses has intensified inequality in South Sudan and enabled continued elite domination. Said otherwise: it is the emergence of a market economy that has facilitated the continued existence of a political marketplace, following the collapse of oil revenues in South Sudan. It is the market that has made the market. While this form of elite domination is likely to be durable, it will not be peaceful.

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