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State Capacity in South Sudan

Info: 8153 words (33 pages) Dissertation
Published: 11th Dec 2019

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Tagged: International Studies


State-building is not solely a modern concept, but one that is studied much more heavily in the overlap of political science, economics, and sociology. When a fragile state works to consolidate state capacity, it is creating institutions from scratch or building upon the institutions left behind by colonial powers and failed governing structures. South Sudan has been considered a failed state since its inception, but how can it even be considered a state when it lacks the capacity to function like one? Further investigation into indicators of state capacity is necessary to determine if the state is failed or can even be considered a state at all. To better conceptualize the process of enabling a state to build up its capacity and its potential for stability, I will focus on the development of civil and economics rights, as well as political institutions in South Sudan.


The people of South Sudan have been unable to find peace since the creation of the state in 2011. Six years later, the legitimacy of the state is somewhat in question as the consideration of state capacity is brought to the forefront of the conversation. A transitional constitution has been adopted and should outline all of the necessary actions of the state to build capacity, but it It is assumed that a state will be able to protect its citizens and encourage economic growth, thus leading to a stable governance structure and more peaceful interactions amongst different societal groups. However, in South Sudan, civil war has consistently stunted growth and led to diminished human security. The limited ability of the state to properly provide adequate political institutions to protect economic and civil rights leads to a power vacuum, in which state capacity can be negatively affected. This is also evident through the de facto application of the rights and protections outlined in the current South Sudanese constitution. These negative effects are evident through civil rights violations, limited protections of private property, and corrupt electoral policies.

The purpose of this research is to shed light upon the extent to which South Sudan is an incapacitated state and provide a policy prescription that might encourage positive change. Through a qualitative study, indicators of state capacity will be measured within the economic, political, and social dimensions. This will contextualize the role of state capacity in state fragility. The fragility or failure of the South Sudanese state will be determined through the definitions of state classification in the existing literature. By applying Mann’s methodological breakdown of state capacity into despotic and infrastructural means, the state of South Sudan’s government, failed or fragile, will be resolved.

Literature Review

State Capacity

The conceptualization of state capacity is reflective of the literature of countless social scientists, who have approached the subject from viewpoints ranging from comparative politics to sociology. Many authors begin with the state formation process and then work towards defining state capacity as a function of concentrated state power (Sekeris 2015; Olson 1993; Besley and Persson 2009). The state formation process, to loosely apply Olson’s terminology, creates “stationary bandits” out of “roving bandits,” and, thus, centralizes state power with the ruling elite within the bandit group (Olson 1993). State power can be defined alongside the state itself, in a Weberian sense, such that it possesses the claims to “the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force” within its territory (Gerth, Mills, and Weber 1959). Mann goes a step further and posits that a state also possesses a “differentiated set of institutions,” political centrality, and a  “territorially demarcated area, over which it exercises a monopoly of authoritative binding  rule-making, backed up by a monopoly of the means of physical violence” (Mann 1984). His argument goes one step further, considering state capacity to be “infrastructural power, the capacity of the sate actually to penetrate civil society, and to implement logistically political decisions throughout the realm” (Mann 1984).   As Besely and Persson argue, state capacity can only be developed once the “stationary bandit” amasses state power (Besley and Persson 2009). This leads to the definition of state capacity itself, utilizing its coercive abilities, the state is able to raise tax revenues and enforce property rights, exemplifying a combination fiscal and legal capacity through the use of political institutions (Sekeris 2015).

The basic functions of a state are evident through despotic and infrastructural power (Mann 1984). Despotic power is defined as “the range of actions which the elite are empowered to undertake without routine, institutionalized negotiation with civil society groups” (Mann 1984). As Mann alludes, this is necessary for the state to act autonomously from its people. For example, the leader of a state with strong despotic power can directly negotiate with allies regarding a dispute or treaty, without intervention of the populous. There is also infrastructural power, which is “the capacity of the state to actually penetrate civil society, and to implement logically political decisions throughout the realm” (Mann 1984). A clear example of this would be the state’s ability to collect taxes and allocate income in the form of a budget. These functions of state capacity are essential to maintaining the basic Weberian structure of statehood. However, If a state is unable to maintain the capacity necessary to carry out these basic functions, then the state is considered a failed state.

State failure is classified according to where a state falls along a scale of failure. The distinction between failed and fragile state classification is crucial to understanding the indicators of this weakened capacity of the state (Ezrow and Frantz 2013). Rotberg operationalizes the definition of a failed state along a similar vein of the Weberian definition of the state. When a state no longer has a legitimate monopoly over the use of force and the territory is no longer controlled by a centralized government, the state is considered to be failed (Rotberg 2004).  However, Englehart and Simon present the five tenants that constitute state failure which include the Weberian definition of Rotberg as well as the inability of a state to defend itself externally and internally, enforce laws and deter corruption, and provide basic services to its citizens (Starr 2013; Tusalem 2016). State fragility is a function of their failure to provide security, social welfare, and legitimate institutions, and the existence of a “severe internal political crisis” ( Patrick and Brown 2008). This translates to state fragility being one step away from failure. To determine if state failure has occurred, state capacity must be measured by indicators of these abilities of the state directly.

State capacity gauges allow social scientists to determine the extent to which a state has collapsed into fragility or failure. Hendrix chooses to measure state capacity through “military power, bureaucratic/administrative capacity, and the quality and coherence of political institutions” (Hendrix 2010). This research draws upon a handful of failed state indicators, as hypothesized by Rotberg, to measure state capacity more effectively when accurate data is not readily available (Rotberg 2003). The protection of civil rights, strength of political institutions, and provision of economic rights are the indicators considered in this research, which are derivative of the political goods Rotberg explores as fundamental functions of a strong state.

Social Dimension

Within the observable indicators of state capacity is the social dimension, which includes the state’s ability to provide and protect citizens’ civil rights. Civil rights, when considered outside of the context of the United States, are often referred to as legal rights, as the state guarantees protection of them through the legal system and systemic definitions of these rights (Coleman and Kraus 1986). The state is considered to be the one that awards rights and, thus becomes responsible for protecting citizens from violations of these rights, by either the government itself or other citizens.  Within modern states, civil rights have become a way to protect minority groups, based upon race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, from direct discrimination (Bernstein 1997).  The ability of the government to protect minority groups from violence and discrimination is evidence of state capacity in that the state itself proves its maintenance of a legitimate monopoly of violence, disallowing other groups within the state to gain a foothold in dissemination judgement (Gerth, Mills, and Weber 1959). Civil rights are the liberties afforded to citizens of a state, but it is ultimately the responsibility of the state to protect these rights through legal means. This protection is evidence of state capacity as it represents that state’s ability to uphold its own laws with minimal interference.

Political Dimension

In order to maintain state power and successfully translate it into state capacity a state must possess prowess in a political dimension, through the creation and maintenance of institutions. Political institutions in the context of African states are not entirely comparable to Western political institutions. Most African states have been under some form of colonial rule in the past and rely on those structures to frame institutions, post-independence. Thus, there is a great divide between the formal and informal institutions within the state. This can be exemplified through the differences in legal frameworks and the customary and traditional laws which govern the society. Political institutions, in and of themselves, set the rules of the game by which a legal system and electoral system will function, as well as the enforcement mechanism to uphold the law of the land (Sandberg and Lundberg 2012). Although these institutions maintain a certain overlap with economic and legal institutions, they are also considered a separate entity as they address the methods of choosing the leadership and what values will comprise the constitution (Besley and Persson 2009).

The legitimacy of a political institution is called into question when the way in which the laws are made or leaders elected is not representative of the desires of the people and breaks the social contract between the citizens and the state (Doyle 2011). Once legitimacy is called into question, the decision-making power of political institutions begins to erode and leading to the breaking of the social contract. This can manifest itself through civil war (Sobek 2010). When the legal system of the government and the laws of the people clash, the legitimacy of the state becomes destabilized, leading to further skepticism regarding other political institutions, such as the electoral system. If the state is no longer able to maintain this monopoly on representation of its citizens, then the political institutions are unable to properly harness state power and lose their capacity to effectively function.

Economic Dimension

The political institutions of the state must be coupled with a viable source of funds as well as economic growth, which can be measured through the economic dimension of state capacity. When determining the legality of taxation, economic rights such as property rights and voluntary and compulsory taxes are considered. The literature suggests the observable implications of an effective taxation system are the level to which resources become available to the citizens of a state and if the government enforces laws regarding private property (Baskaran and Bigsten 2013; Besley and Persson 2009).  The resources procured from taxation can range from investment to infrastructure, all of which are included in the gross domestic product (GDP), providing another effective indicator of the level of economic freedom within a state (Besley and Persson 2009).

However, some sub-Saharan African states rely upon the profit of natural resources to fund their governments, therefore neutralizing the incentive to implement an effective collection agency, and simply continuing to use the outdated instructions put in place by previous colonial powers (Baskaran and Bigsten 2013; Ross 2001). The role of private property is to ensure that citizens are able to control their own wealth, creating an incentive to work with the government and not against it, which promotes fiscal capacity and builds upon the social contract between the state and the people (Besley and Persson 2009). Economic rights are representative of a combination of property rights and proper collection of taxes for the greater good of the state, these translate into fiscal capacity, which is a measurable indicator of state capacity.

Research Methodology

South Sudan has been considered a failed state since its inception, this would imply that it lacks the state capacity to function in a stable way. Further investigation into indicators of state capacity is necessary to determine if the state is failed or can even be considered a state at all.  To understand the inability of state capacity to flourish within a newly formed state, this paper will utilize qualitative methods and the data itself will be comprised of news reports, government documents, and scholarly research regarding these groups within a state. However, if more time and funding were available, there would be an opportunity to conduct more exhaustive research, including local historical records of conflict and the regional archival data regarding the groups themselves. Additionally, a qualitative analysis was chosen due to the lack of current statistical data available within the context of these independent variables.

The dependent variable will be state capacity, expanding upon the traditional definition, in which the state uses its coercive abilities to exercise fiscal and legal capacities. This research will consider indicators of economic rights as an indicator of fiscal capacity and civil rights and political institutions as indicators of legal capacity. This will conclude in a viable measurement of the extent to which the South Sudanese government is able to provide effective security, equality, and opportunity for economic growth. State capacity will be measured by the independent variables: civil rights, political institutions, and economic rights. The civil rights afforded to citizens and legally protected by the government will be measured by the protection of legal rights by the constitution of South Sudan. The violation of these rights is evident through a disregard for the constitution and the rulings of the presiding judicial body, supported by the government. Political institutions will be defined as established governing entities operated by the government for the sole purpose of ensuring protection, equality, and growth, as these are the previously stated obligations of a successful state.  Economic rights are basic legal rights that afford citizens to act freely in the market without fear of loss of property. This variable of economic rights can be operationalized through the levels protection of private property rights by the government and the ability of citizens to own land.

Statistical data regarding these variables is limited due to the brief time the state of South Sudan has existed and the inability of researchers to collect ample data within the midst of the ongoing civil war. Thus, a scale has been created to indicate the level of compliance within the context of each independent variables. Each variable will be measured as accurately as possible, although, as previously stated; data is scarce on this topic as well as for these nations. The independent variables will receive a rating ranging from low to medium to high, to describe the level of state power that can be translated into state capacity. This will be an ordinal measure, as it does not properly provide intervals between the finding, but ranks them respectively. The “low” score denotes that the state has not worked to overcome the negative outcomes of a lack of empowerment of the population and has laws in place that are not properly enforced. The “medium” score signals that the state has an active problem with failing to address threats to state capacity, but is making some effort to right the problem. The “high” score signals that the government is either actively involved in the growth of state capacity through supporting initiatives to ensure strong political institutions, civil rights, and economic rights. For the sake of time, each variable will be broadly addressed and specific examples of the current condition will be given to justify the score assigned.

Why South Sudan?

As previously stated, South Sudan, as an independent state, is only six years old. There has been limited research on its burgeoning attempts at legitimate statehood. Much of the available research focuses on the events leading up to the referendum granting the southern region of Sudan independence (Ahmad, Sørbø, and Chr. Michelsens institutt 2013; Leach 2013; Ali et al. 2014).  In order to focus mainly on the discussion of South Sudan and the issues regarding state capacity in the present, the creation of a contextual and historical background surrounding the civil war within post-colonial Sudan will be kept to a minimum, with the exclusion of the social and cultural norms of South Sudan. To further clarify, the Darfur region of western Sudan will not be thoroughly covered, as the ethnic cleansing is not directly related to South Sudanese independence. In 1956, Sudan received colonial independence from the joint rule of Great Britain and Egypt.

Immediately following this independence, the groundwork for the first civil war was laid by an onslaught of attacks by the Sudan Armed Forces against the southern section of the country (Arnold 2012). After several years, by the early 1960s, the call for southern succession was made and the First Civil War officially began, known as the Anya-Nya (Arnold 2012).  Throughout the first civil war, the entire nation of Sudan agreed with the succession of the southern region, although bloodshed and continuous warfare continued for over ten years, ending with a simple agreement for regional rule.

In 1983, the Second Civil War began, with the northern Sudanese and Sudanese government were both less supportive of succession and instead promoted a model for a new united and democratic Sudan. In the mid-1990s, New Sudan was created and led by a cult personality, who supported the continued oppression of the southern region, as oil had been discovered and changed the political arena (Arnold 2012). In January of 2011, a referendum was presented to voters regarding the succession of the southern region, where it was passed with over a 98% approval, forming the new nation of South Sudan (Hale 2012). Then, a ballot initiative was to be presented to the west-central region of Sudan, the South Kordofan State, instead, both the Sudan Armed Forces (Sudan’s military force) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (part of the South Sudanese militarized succession movement) began to attack the region to gain control (Hale 2012). Throughout the three phases of South Sudanese independence, women did not play a significant role, as the traditional gender roles of Sudan do not allow for women to be politically inclined or participate politically in the public realm.

There is currently an internal power and military struggle within South Sudan by different ethnic groups as well as a civil war between the current government and opposition forces. A ceasefire was demanded by the rebel leaders in 2014, and has since been broken as many as fifty times, so it seems as if there is no end in sight for this civil war (Reuters 2015).

A historical lens is crucial when considering a post-colonial state. The influence of a former colonial ruler is still much alive in a society that was dominated for so long. Western rule is something of a framework on the state-wide, or federal level, but does not align with traditional and customary law that rules localities.

Case Study: South Sudan

Social Dimension

The impact of the constant state of war within South Sudan has had a detrimental impact on the creation of a new collective identity as a sovereign nation-state. Since its inception in 2011, the government has been constantly working to end the violence within the state, without working on creating an image of a new South Sudan that all citizens can work towards. The constitution itself was simply modeled after that of a democratic nation, not considering the ethnic, religious, cultural, and geographical differences found within South Sudan’s borders. The animosity between Sudan and South Sudan still overshadows the landscape and causes the South Sudanese to disregard the lack of tolerance within their own nation (Hale 2012).

As the opposition forces carry out attacks on civilians, the government has been concentrating their military response against certain ethnic groups (“South Sudan’s New War: Abuses by Government and Opposition Forces” 2014). There is constant ethnic violence that occurs within the borders of South Sudan and across the border, spilling into Sudan. For the sake of space, this violence will be exemplified by one specific ethnic conflict within South Sudan between the Lou Nuer and the Murle. The basics of the violence is on ethnic lines, each side is heavily armed and targets the women and children of the opposing ethnicity (Ferrie 2012).Each group carries out systematic massacres of the opposing ethnic group, killing upwards of 1,000 people at one time (Ferrie 2012). Members of the government’s internal police force are assisting their own ethnic groups in these violent attacks and providing weapons. Other smaller ethnic groups are also at risk within South Sudan, but the government is too focused on the antigovernment forces and rebel militia groups to protect these groups, which has led to the buildup of weapons by ethnic groups to carry out their own violent exchanges.

Most the South Sudanese population is Christian, although most continue to practice tribal or animistic traditions, while a minority is Muslim. The constitution provides a framework for religious freedom that mirrors the United States, but in practice, the government constantly imposes restrictions onto the Muslim population  (“South Sudan 2013 International Religious Freedom Report” 2013).Religious leaders attempt to engage one another in peaceful dialogue (“South Sudan 2013 International Religious Freedom Report” 2013);however, there is still discrimination against Muslims across the country.

As far as the issue of gender is concerned, women are treated as marginalized citizens; victims of sexual violence are dehumanized, and used as pawns in the war between the government and opposition forces (Hale 2012). Guerilla warfare tactics are used by both sides and encourage the destruction of not on villages but the sovereignty that women have over their own bodies. There is little government action against the rampant racism and discrimination that occurs in South Sudan. There is no law in South Sudan that prohibits domestic abuse. Rape is punishable by law, but victims are rarely believed and there have been very few reports of this law being enforced  (“South Sudan 2013 Human Rights Report” 2013). Forced marriage and sex trafficking also plague the region. During the current civil war, the rape of men has been used as a tactic by both sides to dehumanize men and bring shame to their families. It has recently been discovered by United Nations investigators that both sides of the conflict, pro-government and anti-government militia groups, have been allowing the rape of women in lieu of wages (“South Sudan: UN Reports Campaign of Killing and Rape” 2016). Although these allegations have been denied, the sources within South Sudan are quite credible and this behavior is fitting with previous actions taken by these groups.

The fact that humanitarian aid groups are unable to engage the population for medical treatment as well as peacekeeping efforts does not bode well for the civil rights violations that are occurring. With these competing identities, there is a growing problem involving intersectionality. It is hard for groups to compartmentalize their identities, when every group is under attack. This societal discontent is consistently overshadowed by the governments focus on the opposition attacks, as it is trying to maintain power without the explicit encouragement democratic policies.

The state of civil rights within South Sudan can be considered abysmal at best. With a government that is attacking its own people and violating their legal rights, it can be determined that this indicator of state capacity will be assigned a low score. This low score is directly representative of lack of legal capacity present. Civil rights within the confines of South Sudan’s borders have been memorialized in a constitutional document, but the actions of the state send an entirely different message regarding the level of respect to be afforded to individual’s civil liberties.

Political Dimension

In considering the political institutions of South Sudan, it is first necessary to delve into the political objectives of the state as outlined in the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of the South Sudan.

“Political Objectives

(1) All levels of government shall promote democratic principles and political pluralism, and shall be guided by the principles of decentralization and devolution of power to the people through the appropriate levels of government where they can best manage and direct their affairs. (2) All levels of government shall:

(a) promote and consolidate peace and create a secure and stable political environment for socio-economic development;

(b) initiate a comprehensive process of national reconciliation and healing that shall promote national harmony, unity and peaceful co-existence among the people of South Sudan;

(c) inculcate in the people a culture of peace, unity, cooperation, understanding, tolerance and respect for customs, traditions and beliefs of each other; and

(d) mobilize popular energies and resources for reconstruction and development.

(3) The security and welfare of the people of South Sudan shall be the primary duty of all levels of government.

(4) The composition of governments shall take into account ethnic, regional and social diversity in order to promote national unity and command national loyalty.

(5) All public offices shall be held in trust for the people and all persons in positions of leadership and responsibility shall be answerable to the people in their work” (“The Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011” 2011).

Theoretically, these are the outcomes of good governance, as the South Sudanese government views them. However, these objectives are far from realistic.

Governing within South Sudan occurs through the intersection of three recognized legal systems: Shari’a law, customary law, and English common law. Shari’a applies to all Muslims and non-Muslims in South Sudan. English common law is the basis for the structure of the judicial system, although most South Sudanese revert to customary law, based upon tradition, to settle matters (Edward 2007). The usage of three intersecting legal ideologies, with an emphasis on tradition, leads to the influence of law on future attempts at reform, possibly supporting the theory of path dependency within South Sudanese society.  The Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan states “The sources of legislation in South Sudan shall be: (a) this Constitution; (b) customs and traditions of the people; (c) the will of the people; and (d) any other relevant source” (“The Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011” 2011), thus justifying the utilization of contradictory legal systems.

The traditional institution of widow inheritance involves the widow becoming an asset to the late husband’s family, and, if she is still of reproductive age, being forced to marry a relative of the husband (Edward 2007). This practice has been outlawed by the constitution, but the practice still takes place (Bubenzer and Stern 2011). Although the majority of the population is Christian, polygamy and extramarital affairs are still considered socially acceptable practices (Edward 2007). The women of South Sudan have a right to divorce, based upon the powers of given to the states within the constitution, however, divorce is no considered a viable option for many women due to the precedence of customary law.

The South Sudanese constitution claims to be built upon democratic principles. The first president was elected in 2011 through a free and fair election, or so it seemed. Once the civil began in 2013, the democratic process was limited. In 2015, the current government determined that it would not be possible to hold elections until 2018, and the constitution was amended, much to the dismay of both the opposition party and the international community (“S. Sudanese MPs Extend President Kiir’s Term until 2018” 2015). The argument made to extend the terms of the president and members of parliament revolved around the need to perform a census and determine constituency border, but many believe it is a ploy to draw out the conflict and further warp the few functioning political systems to strengthen the power of the ruling party (“South Sudan President Says Will Run for 2018 Elections” 2016).  Using the 2011 referendum the only example of an election to take place in South Sudan, the countless problems regarding reported instances of more than 100% registered voter turnout, a failure to properly pay election officials, and the high instance of invalid votes raise alarms regarding the fairness of the forthcoming 2018 election. In the wake of the 2011 referendum, it was reported that members of the opposition party were faced with violence and intimidation (“Final Report: Observing the 2011 Referendum on the Self-Determination of Southern Sudan” 2012). It is hard to deny that the politics of South Sudan’s electoral system and the constant state of war will be able to sustain free and fair elections in 2018.

The customary and religious laws ruling over the South Sudanese come into direct conflict with the common law supported by the state. Three rival legal institutions are at odds with one another and the electoral arm of the government has yet to prove its trustworthiness. This leads to the assignment of a “low” rating for the political institution observable indicator of state capacity. The state is unable to properly maintain political institutions and cannot administer elections in a way that ensures the voice of the people is heard.

Economic Dimension

According to the Transitional Constitution, the government must protect the rights of citizens, economically, and work to create a culture that encourages economic growth. The role of the government, in terms of economic objectives is as follows:

“(2) All levels of government shall:

(a) develop and regulate the economy in order to achieve prosperity through policies aimed at increasing production, creating an efficient and selfreliant economy and encouraging free market and prohibition of monopoly;

(b) protect and ensure the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources including land, water, petroleum, minerals, fauna and flora for the benefit of the people;

(c) facilitate the development of the private sector, particularly indigenous entrepreneurs to establish and develop a viable private sector capable of participating effectively in reconstruction and development;

(d) encourage private initiative and self-reliance and take all necessary steps to involve the people in the formulation and implementation of development plans and programmes that affect them and to enhance as well their right to equal opportunities in development;

(e) promote agricultural, industrial and technological development by adopting appropriate policies and legislation for the encouragement and attraction of local and foreign investment; and

(f) take necessary measures to bring about balanced, integrated and equitable development of different areas and to encourage and expedite rural development as a strategy for averting urban-biased development and policies that have been responsible for the neglect of rural communities.

(3) The State shall ensure that National wealth is equitably shared among all levels of government for the welfare of the people” (“The Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011” 2011).

The constitution clearly states that it is in the best interest of the government to support economic rights and ensure the protection of private property of its citizens. In reality, the South Sudanese president and his top officials are profiting off the growing kleptocracy, misusing foreign aid and engaging in fueling the war economy (“War Crimes Shouldn’t Pay: Stopping the Looting and Destruction in South Sudan” 2016).

The taxation system does not function effectively and the majority of the business taxes support the president and his relatives, instead of infrastructure growth and assisting the millions of famine-stricken citizens (“Doing Business: Paying Taxes in South Sudan” 2016).  Taxes within South Sudan are paid directly to private banking institutions and are considered obligatory, although filing taxes is voluntary. A citizen can be fined up to 200% of the amount due to the government, if filed even a single day late (“The Basic Information on the Tax System  in South Sudan” 2016). Businesses functioning within the borders of South Sudan are subject to 10-25% tax rates on profits, as well as a 15% sales tax rate, which is paid by consumers (“The Basic Information on the Tax System  in South Sudan” 2016). The taxation of businesses at such a high rate deters investment and entrepreneurial actions. Since taxes as paid via commercial banks, instead of directly to the central bank, the instance of kleptocracy is much greater (“War Crimes Shouldn’t Pay: Stopping the Looting and Destruction in South Sudan” 2016).

In addition to a flawed tax system, the government of South Sudan has proposed a tax on foreign aid workers, to raise revenue. “Juba plans to charge $10,000 for foreign “professionals” working in the country, $2,000 for “blue collar” workers, and $1,000 for “casual workers,” the labor ministry said in a statement. Work permits for each foreign aid worker were $100 before the massive hike” (Gramer 2017). The income from foreign aid taxes would not go towards assisting those effected by the famine, but towards funding the kleptocracy further. Public officials and soldiers loyal to the president have also been seizing goods provided by non-profit aid organizations and reselling it to citizens in South Sudan and abroad (“War Crimes Shouldn’t Pay: Stopping the Looting and Destruction in South Sudan” 2016).

The property rights of citizens are specifically outlined in the constitution, but the protections promised by the government are not commonly upheld. The land within South Sudan falls into one of three categories: public, private, and communal. Public lands are limited and owned by the government, while communal lands are owned by the people. Private lands can only be obtained through the lease of land from the government (Julious K. 2015). However, citizens do not possess physical leases declaring ownership of the land and the government can change the definition of a plot of land at any time, claiming to justly take hold of the land and sell it to foreign investors. The “absence of clear land policy and consistent land laws” creates a constant struggle between maintaining communal land and having it become the possession of a foreign entity through the government’s repossession (Julious K. 2015).  If citizens are unable to control their own land and property, the incentive to be economically stable becomes null and void.

The state is undermining its own desire to encourage economic prosperity by literally pulling the land right out from under the South Sudanese people. The taxation system itself takes the funds of the people and deposits them into the bank accounts of the president and his loyal generals and state officials. The state capacity, as observed through the independent variable of economic rights, can be considered “low.” The economic goals outlined in the constitution are blatantly disregarded and the prosperity of the South Sudanese people is considered secondary to the amassing of wealth of officials.


The role of state capacity in determining the legitimacy of a state is not to be overlooked. Although a state has completed a checklist of observable outputs of the state building process, does not mean the government is able to ensure its citizen’s security, equality, and economic opportunities. Upon further evaluation of the observable indicators of state capacity, it has been determined that political institutions, civil rights, and economic rights are all reasonable gauges of low levels of state capacity. The seemingly failed state of South Sudan has a democratic constitution, a set of civil rights for each citizen, and protected property and land rights. The government operates as a kleptocracy, delaying elections, and violating the rights of its own citizens. State capacity is jeopardized by the lack of cohesion across levels of government and the utilization of a single legal system. When localities operate within the confines of customary law, and make no effort to emulate the common law of the federal level, societal and cultural rifts continue to erupt. It is reasonable to conclude that South Sudan’s state capacity is directly affected by their governing practices and ill-placed priorities. Evidently, South Sudan cannot be considered a state as it is unable to govern effectively or build up the state capacity to do so, since its inception on 2011.

Policy Implications

The implications of limited state capacity in South Sudan are two-fold on the international stage. The international community, since the referendum granting the southern province independence from Sudan, has played a role in providing humanitarian aid to the region. With a government that cannot successfully protect civil and economic rights and without properly functioning political institutions, is aid truly being utilized in a responsible way or is the international community simply supporting a corrupt regime? At the risk of the violation of South Sudan’s sovereignty, non-profit organizations and inter-governmental representatives, like the United Nation’s Peacekeeping Forces, cannot directly act in a way that bypasses the government; however, international assistance can come with strings attached, to encourage the state to empower its people in a way that could build state capacity. For example, the United Nations could implement an aid agreement requiring the respect of human rights and the creation of a more effective justice system to ensure protections of legal rights.

On the domestic front, the South Sudanese constitution needs to do much more than lip service to democratic principles. The constitution directly quotes policies that allow the people to have a voice, but with the postponement of elections and disregard for civil rights, the government has limited these opportunities for democratic activities. As suggested by the Carter Center, South Sudan must exhibit an inclination to hold free and fair elections, and encourage a free exchange of ideas in order to gain stability (“Final Report: Observing the 2011 Referendum on the Self-Determination of Southern Sudan” 2012). This is the first step towards ending the civil war and beginning the peace-building process.


The case of South Sudan has often been questioned, in terms of data available and the length of the independence as a stage. Prior to the referendum on 2011, the southern area of Sudan was operating at a level like the post-referendum, in terms of independence from the centralized Sudanese government. But this begs the question, is it too soon to study South Sudan and conclude that the state has failed or lacks adequate state capacity to fiction? The civil war has raged on since 2013 and countless cease-fires have been violated. A society in constant war does not have the ability to focus on stabilizing political institutions, especially when the state is responsible for instigating violence itself. Without the capacity to amass political power and function in a way that allows for stability within the state, South Sudan can be considered nothing more than a territory fallen to the hands of irresponsible leaders.


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