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Building on Sand: The Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army and State Formation in South Sudan



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Ajak, Peter 


This thesis examines the state formation process in South Sudan through an in-depth, historicized analysis of the exercise of power of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). It explores key elements of the trajectories of state formation in South Sudan by examining the nature of internal decision-making within the SPLM/A before and since the country’s independence and how that affected the evolution of its coercive, extractive, and administrative (core) capabilities to perform state-like governance. Empirically, the study draws on a unique and substantial body of elite interview data, as well as primary documents, to assess critical events, structures and processes, and the strategic interactions they created among the politico-military elites of the SPLM/A with a particular focus on period between 1983 and 2013.

The thesis departs from numerous existing studies on South Sudan, which either focus on ethnic or elite conflict during the civil war and after the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), or the militarized elites’ appetite for corruption amid insolvency to explain the trajectories of state formation in South Sudan. The thesis also builds in a new direction from the current literature on rebel governance, which either emphasises rebels’ acquisition of capabilities to perform governance as a starting point, or debates whether social or economic endowments account for the variation in rebel governance. Instead, this thesis argues that an insurgency’s acquisition of functional capabilities to perform governance outcomes is a by-product of its internal structures for decision-making. That is, the extent of inclusivity and cohesion of an armed group’s internal structures for decision-making – the organizational systems and processes within which strategic decisions are taken – determines its ability to build effective mechanisms of coercion, extraction, and civilian governance. In pursuing this line of inquiry, the thesis argues that the SPLM/A’s failure to resolve its problems of internal decision-making and its reliance on the deployment of violence to manage the rebel movement retarded its acquisition of core capabilities and created recurrent factionalisation and cyclical violent crises from which the current trajectories of state formation can be understood.





Srinivasan, Sharath


state formation, rebel governance, civil war, formative state, authority, factionalism, Sudan People's Liberation Movement / Army, predation, decision-making, elite fragmentation, elite unity, politics of disorder, roving banditry


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge