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Department of History

Traditional authority in South Sudan

Background

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, after experiencing decades of civil war in the last half-century. It is also the recipient of massive international aid and intervention, including in its government structures and judicial and legal systems. Unfortunately some of these programmes tend to assume either that the war had destroyed all social structures and local institutions, or that the authorities that have survived are ancient institutions. Dr Leonardi's research and book focus instead on both the continuities and the adaptation of local forms of authority and justice since the mid-nineteenth century, and particularly on the emergence and evolution of institutions for mediating relations with the state, namely the 'chiefs': Dealing with Government in South Sudan: Histories of Chiefship, Community and State (James Currey, 2013)

The United States Institute of Peace and the Rift Valley Institute provided an opportunity to relate this historical research to the present and to conduct research on the current local justice system in South Sudan. The findings showed that current approaches to justice reform largely fail to understand the nature of customary law in practice, which involves the creative, flexible and dynamic amalgamation of both indigenous and government laws, procedures and cultures. The local justice system has long been one of the main ways that people experience government, but attempts to exercise great central regulation over its laws and practices may remove the contingency and flexibility that litigants also value.

Findings

For the USIP and RVI report, see here.

Published Results

Report

  • 2016 Leonardi, Cherry & Santschi, Martina 'Dividing Communities in South Sudan and Northern Uganda: boundary disputes and land governance'.
  • 2010 Leonardi, Cherry, Moro, Leben Nelson, Santschi, Martina & Isser, Deborah 'Local Justice in Southern Sudan'.

Monograph

  • 2013 Leonardi, Cherry Dealing with Government in South Sudan: histories of chiefship, community and state, James Currey, 253 pp.

Staff

From the Department of History