State-building and local autonomy in South Sudan

African Arguments recently wrote about the semi-autonomous form of government granted to the Murle ethnic group in South Sudan, under the leadership of former rebel commander David Yau Yau.  It’s an interesting meditation on the micro-politics of state-building:

The ‘Murle secession’, although it is not always termed as such, is problematic from a state’s perspective because it implies the existence of a challenge to the dominion of South Sudan. So why and how did Yau Yau succeed in obtaining the sort of concessions that others failed to acquire?

A definitive answer is hard to come by, although several conjectures may be made: First, geographic concentration of the Murle is likely to have influenced and reinforced their separatist stance vis-à-vis the rest of South Sudan. Furthermore, the moment may have been opportune – given southern Jonglei’s strategic geographic location as a buffer between the Nuer-controlled Greater Upper Nile and the Equatorias, alienating the Murle on the advent of the newest civil war may have been perceived by the [goverment of South Sudan] as a bad idea…

As Yau Yau engages with communities within [the autonomous area] and transforms his militant group into an acceptable political entity, he has focused, sometimes by choice and often out of compulsion, on social welfare, economic development and building sustainable security arrangements. Schools have been renovated, agricultural activities restarted and health facilities re-introduced for the first time in a long time.

In September 2014, Yau Yau appointed seven commissioners, followed by additional ministerial appointments in December to kick-start local governance institution building. A selection process for the [regional] council is underway and Pibor town has emerged as the de facto center. As of November 2014, local authorities have also started implementing fiscal policies to compensate for budgetary shortfall, and Yau Yau’s group have begun levying taxes on traded commodities and goods being moved in or out of the area.

It will be very interesting to see if this leads to better development outcomes for the Murle, or if the area ends up drawn back into future conflicts.