Locals and refugees discuss livestock grazing in Maban County, South Sudan Locals and refugees discuss livestock grazing in Maban County, South Sudan Photo credit: UNHCR / P. Rulashe
Lessons on transition in South Sudan
by George Conway May 2013

South Sudan remains chronically dependent on humanitarian assistance. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) period, from 2005 to independence in July 2011, saw various shifts between humanitarian and development funding, but on balance the bulk of assistance continued to be delivered through humanitarian modalities. So too in the first two years following independence, with annual humanitarian appeals hovering around $1 billion, as compared to approximately half that amount targeted for development programmes in the UN’s first Development Assistance Framework for the new republic. This reliance on humanitarian assistance has much to do with continued insecurity and low government capacity. The new government has also been effectively absent from much of the territory of the country. Meanwhile, the decision in January 2012 to shut down oil production deprived the government of 98% of its revenue.

The relationship between ‘relief’, ‘recovery’ and ‘development’ has never been linear, despite early optimism in the CPA period that humanitarian assistance could be phased out and replaced with recovery and development programmes. The situation is rather one of balancing multiple priorities: meeting pressing humanitarian needs; maintaining frontline service delivery; building core state functions and capacities; and addressing the causes of insecurity. As donors revert to predominantly humanitarian modes of operation in the recent austerity context, and shift funds away from development and capacity development programmes, there is a risk of perpetuating exactly the conditions generating humanitarian needs in the first place. A number of major initiatives were implemented throughout the CPA period which sought to lay the ground for a ‘transition’ from relief to development. Lessons learned and evaluative evidence from many of these programmes highlight the challenges of transition in a low-capacity state with prevailing conditions of insecurity. These lessons can provide useful compasspoints for prioritising assistance in South Sudan.

Lessons from transition and recovery programmes during the CPA period

A common theme across many evaluations of CPAera recovery programmes was the degree to which development partners underestimated the state-building challenge in South Sudan, and overestimated the capacity of the government and how soon it would be able to take on responsibility for service delivery.+J. Bennett et al., Aiding the Peace: A Multi-donor Evaluation of Support to Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Activities in Southern Sudan 2005–2010, ITAD Ltd., 2010. This resulted in over-ambitious and unrealistic programmes. The mid-term and final evaluations of the Recovery and Rehabilitation Programme (RRP), implemented in five states from 2005 to 2010, highlighted numerous challenges in this respect.+The RRP was a €57 million programme funded by the European Commission, administered by UNDP and implemented through NGO consortia. Mid-term and final evaluations are available at UNDP’s Evaluation Resource Center: http://erc.undp.org. The RRP was explicitly designed as a transitional programme, combining quick recovery impacts with the institutional development of local government. While the evaluations noted that sizable outputs were achieved, particularly in service delivery infrastructure, they found that the programme was less effective in institutional development. As a result, service delivery outputs were not sustainable and there was insufficient capacity to maintain them after the programme ended.

Another recurrent evaluation finding relates to a failure to fully take on board the trade-offs between rapid delivery to demonstrate ‘peace dividends’ and efforts to strengthen national ownership and capacity. This has been highlighted, for instance, in evaluations of the South Sudan Recovery Fund (SSRF), established in 2008 to bridge the ‘recovery gap in the transition from humanitarian to development assistance’.+South Sudan Recovery Fund (SSRF) Terms of Reference, http://mptf.undp.org/factsheet/fund/SRF00. The SSRF is funded by the governments of the UK, Netherlands and Norway. The first round of the SSRF allocated $20 million to rural livelihoods initiatives. An evaluation found that, while the SSRF Round I programme delivered immediate, household-level impacts, it also suffered from sustainability problems, with NGO implementing partners outpacing the local government’s capacity to participate meaningfully in projects.+UNDP, Southern Sudan: Crisis Prevention and Recovery Programme Mid-Term Outcome Evaluation Programme Period: 2009–-2012, Scanteam, Oslo, June 2011, p. 9.

Part of the challenge highlighted by evaluations of the RRP and SSRF relates to the orientation and approach of NGO implementing partners. Owing to the long history of humanitarian-oriented responses, partners generally continued to operate with a ‘relief mentality’.+ Sudan: Post-Conflict Community Based Recovery and Rehabilitation Programme (RRP) – Mid-term Review, 2008. The RRP mid-term evaluation also suggested that this ‘relief mode’ persisted amongst beneficiaries accustomed to many years of humanitarian aid, and an ‘expectation among communities and local Government authorities of relief and handouts rather than development cooperation’. Yet if results are not seen as coming from the government, but rather from international partners and NGOs, the objective of expanding the presence and visibility of the state is not met. One evaluation found that there ‘is evidence that, in some situations, recovery projects may have undermined the credibility of the State’.+UNDP Southern Sudan: Crisis Prevention and Recovery Programme Mid-Term Outcome Evaluation Programme Period: 2009-–2012, 2011, p. 27.

Approaches to transition: the ‘security– governance–-recovery’ nexus

Building on experience and lessons from these programmes, other approaches have been applied that have sought to put state-building and peace-building more squarely at the forefront of transitional initiatives. One such approach is the Community Security and Arms Control (CSAC) programme, led by the Ministry of Interior’s Bureau for Community Security and Small Arms Control, with support from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UK, Canada, the European Union, Japan, the Netherlands and Norway. The programme, which began in pilot form in 2008, covered five states and 55 of the country’s 78 counties by the end of 2011. The programme is continuing and the next phase is currently being designed.

The initiative takes as its starting point that the government must understand and be seen to be responding to community needs around insecurity. In order to do so, UNDP supported the national, state and local governments to undertake community consultations on the causes and dynamics of insecurity, employing a conflict analysis methodology and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) approach. Between 2009 and 2011, consultations were undertaken in the 55 counties, involving thousands of community members, including women, youth and traditional authorities.+The full Community Security Consultation Reports are available at http://www.ss.undp.org/content/south_sudan/en/home/library/county_consultationsummaries There was a remarkable degree of convergence in perceptions of the causes of insecurity. Community members cited a range of factors related to competition over resources (particularly water and grazing land), cattle rustling, the proliferation of small arms and lack of productive activities for youth. A recurring factor in poor security was the absence or weakness of the state. Community members ‘frequently cited a “weak,” “biased” or “absent” civil administration as a determining factor in the perpetuation of conflict and insecurity’.+ Community Consultation Report – Lakes State, South Sudan, p. 7. Based on the results of these consultations, the programme provided local governments with resources to implement projects to address the security priorities identified by communities. An independent evaluation found advantages in this approach.

The extended consultation process around design has contributed to, and benefited from the gradual expansion of State capacity to the state and local levels. In turn, the consultation and implementation processes have strengthened the State’s presence in rural areas. This is a virtuous circle that will create benefits outside of the boundaries of the project.+UNDP Southern Sudan: Crisis Prevention and Recovery Programme Mid-Term Outcome Evaluation, p. 5.

Building on these results, the SSRF revised its approach. The SSRF Round 3 State Stabilization Programmes, implemented in four of South Sudan’s most insecure states, were based on a more robust analysis of causes of insecurity, building on the CSAC consultations and focusing in particular on the absence of effective state authority and legitimacy in insecure areas. The Stabilization Programmes assisted state security actors to identify major stabilisation priorities, most commonly focusing on increasing accessibility to insecure areas through security access roads and increasing the number of police stations and courts, accompanied by support for deployment and training of rule of law personnel and building strategically placed water points in areas where competition over water was a chief source of conflict.

Evidence on the impact of these programmes thus far is positive. Both the CSAC and SSRF Round 3 programmes have enhanced the presence, authority, visibility and perceived legitimacy of the government. A mid-term outcome evaluation of the CSAC programme assessed that it has effectively ‘integrated security, governance and recovery activities in a unified conceptual and programme framework’, and found ‘evidence of a reduction in violent conflict’ in some of the areas where the programme is being implemented.+Ibid., p. 34. Similarly, reviews of the SSRF Round 3 Stabilization Programmes have found evidence that they have helped to expand the presence and capacity of the state and reduce competition over natural resources.+ South Sudan Recovery Fund – Lessons Learned Report, 2012, p. 6. Overall, the Round 3 programmes have proved much more effective than Round 1 in ‘bridging support between humanitarian assistance, recovery and development’.


The OECD Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States assert that state-building must be the central objective. If not, engagement risks hindering the transition from fragility. However, it has also been argued that state-building cannot be pursued at the expense of humanitarian principles, particularly in contexts where the government does not have the capacity to take on responsibility for service delivery.+European Report on Development, Overcoming Fragility in Africa, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, 2009, p. 97. A number of reviews and analyses throughout the CPA period highlight the degree to which these different principles may be in conflict, and call for a better understanding of the tradeoffs involved, including between directly delivering services and developing capacity, and between delivering a rapid peace dividend and state-building.+Anita Haslie and Axel Borchgrevink, International Engagement in Sudan after the CPA: Report on the Piloting of OECD/DAC’s ‘Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States’ for the Case of Sudan, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 2007. See also Aiding the Peace, p. 96.

These analyses suggest that the absence of a peace dividend risked undermining faith in the CPA process, creating new conflict risks. However, rapidly delivered benefits that cannot be sustained, or that collapse once a project ends, can have even worse negative impacts, eroding the credibility of an already fragile government and undermining the already weak relationship between the state and society. The SSRF lessons learned review argued that a rapid peace dividend is not the same as an effective one, and called for a reconceptualisation of what ‘peace dividends’ mean in a context such as South Sudan: delivering benefits that are tangible and sustainable, strengthening state systems, enhancing state presence and visibility, moving in tandem with the government’s leadership capacity and understanding that this process will take time, and managing expectations accordingly.+South Sudan Recovery Fund – Lessons Learned Report, p. 6.

The first years of the post-independence period have seen international partners once again reverting to predominantly humanitarian modes of operation in South Sudan. Stakeholders interviewed as part of the recent SSRF lessons learned exercise, however, identified the importance of continuing stabilisation and recovery activities, despite the current fiscal crisis and unresolved CPA issues between Sudan and South Sudan. In a context of declining global aid allocations, the trade-offs now are harder than ever. There are clear risks of backsliding on state-building and peace-building in South Sudan, and of losing the investment and progress made during the CPA period in extending state authority, promoting stability and reducing conflict. This is not the time to backtrack on peace-building and state-building efforts in South Sudan, but rather precisely the time to reassert them.

Despite some positive results of programmes such as CSAC and the SSRF Round 3, the broader peace-building and state-building context in South Sudan remains deeply problematic. Worrying trends have been reported since independence in the conduct of the security forces, protection of human rights and corruption. The extension of state authority must be accompanied by clear measures to ensure state accountability, responsiveness and inclusivity, areas that have received less donor attention in South Sudan, and where there have been fewer positive results. If the political commitment to reverse these trends does not materialise, the prospects for the transition in South Sudan are troubling indeed.

George Conway is Strategic Advisor with the UN Development Programme (UNDP)’s Regional Bureau for Africa. He served as UNDP’s Head of Programmes in Southern Sudan from 2007 to 2011, and as UNDP’s Country Director for the first year following South Sudan’s independence.