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Rule of whose law? The geography of authority in Juba, South Sudan

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 March 2019

Nicki Kindersley*
Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 1RF, UK


This study asks: in the general absence of a functioning and effective civil administration in Juba's huge suburbs, how have people negotiated personal disputes and neighbourhood management since conflict began in 2013? Who arbitrates in Juba, and on what terms? This study challenges top-down analyses that see political-military elites managing their ethnic enclaves of followers and fighters through nepotism and gifts. Such patronage requires the complex negotiation of responsibilities and rights, including over community safety and order. In Juba, the local authorities who mediate this have been built by men and women with extensive expertise and connections in South Sudan's long history of ‘civil-military’ governance systems. These local authorities have established lasting institutions by negotiating rights to residence in, arbitrating over, and knowing the human geography of their neighbourhoods. Their authority is rooted in this deep politics, drawing on their detailed knowledge of topographies of power in these multi-ethnic, highly military neighbourhood spaces.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

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The author gratefully acknowledges funding and support from the British Council in South Sudan for this research, which was conducted under a European Union Access to Justice project while completing a PhD with the Department of History, Durham University, UK. A version of this paper was presented at the Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, on 21 March 2018. The author wishes to thank the anonymous reviewers, the seminar audience, Cherry Leonardi, Peter Justin and Michael Comerford for invaluable comments and discussions on the ideas in this article.



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