Lessons from Pajok: Towards a comparative ethnography of security and justice in Africa
By Ryan O’Byrne
The author has undertaken an extended period of fieldwork in Pajok, South Sudan, for his recent JSRP Paper on the cosmological dimensions of (in)justice and (in)security in the country. In this post he highlights key issues raised in the paper.
The Bobi subclan kac (ancestral shrine), Lawacci Boma, Pajok (Photo: Ryan O’Byrne)
There is a growing realisation amongst donors and policy makers that a stronger evidence base is needed on issues such as how public authority and governance serve end-users or how justice and security experiences are affected by dynamics of social exclusion. This blog highlights a new JSRP paper which provides original, important, and much needed research into just these areas, delivering a unique and empirically grounded argument for the importance of the cosmological dimensions of (in)justice and (in)security in the lives of end-users in Pajok, South Sudan. One dominant theme of this new paper is that end-users not only experience (in)security and (in)justice in multiple socially and spiritually determined ways but that in response to these experiences they adopt a diverse array of strategies that attempt to reorient cosmological governance structures towards their own needs.
This blogpost, however, seeks to highlight another important argument presented within the newest JSRP paper, and argues that a correct depiction of the diversity of hybrid governance forms in the lives of end-users in our research areas must, by both contextual and theoretical necessity, always be defined as broadly as the ethnographic circumstances require. Indeed, such circumstances need to be considered highly relevant to the wider forum of interest in understanding the interactions between hybrid governance and issues of (in)security and (in)justice. Due to the way they impact on and frame interpersonal and communal relations, the actors and institutions that comprise the public authority structures of contemporary Pajok include such cosmological aspects as rainmakers and jogi (‘non-human spiritual forces’). The reason for such broad and distinctly nonstandard definitional criteria is that, in contemporary Pajok, it is precisely these informal institutions that govern peoples’ lives. Continue reading
By Edward Thomas
Twentieth-century Sudan was Africa’s conflicted behemoth: a landmass of one million square miles; societies rich with interconnections and contradictions; and a highly unequal economic and political system that set those societies against each other. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed ten years ago, was supposed to end the armed conflicts born of this economic and political system. The peace was signed by the Khartoum government, led by a broad alliance of the winners from Sudan’s unequal system, and by the southern-based rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the SPLM, whose base lay in the south, Sudan’s poorest and most diverse periphery. The peace was financed by oil revenues, which were another outcome of war. Khartoum had built an oil industry through a mix of astute trade diplomacy in east Asia and ferocious warfare that used local militias to depopulate the oilfields of South Sudan. Oil revenues were now to be used to reinvent Sudan as a more unified, inclusive, equal country. The CPA also gave South Sudanese a unique get-out clause – they could vote for separation if unity and inclusion failed to materialize. In 2011, South Sudanese voters overwhelmingly chose independence. The new Republic of South Sudan was born in July, with Africa’s third largest oil reserves.
But ten years on, comprehensive peace has eluded both South Sudan and Sudan. Drawing on my new book, South Sudan: A Slow Liberation, here I address the elusive peace in South Sudan today. South Sudan’s current civil war began almost thirteen months ago. It has displaced up to two million of the country’s exhausted people and gruesomely reconfigured relationships between different communities. Maybe fifty thousand people have been killed. The government spent some of its oil rents addressing South Sudan’s hyper-underdevelopment – the modest progress has been reversed. Even more money was invested in its army, which served as an expensive mechanism for resolving the contradictions of the civil war of 1983-2005. South Sudan’s army united the guerrilla army which had fought against Khartoum with Khartoum’s southern militias (deployed mainly around the oilfields) in a single vast structure with more generals than the US army. At the outset of peace, all that defence spending sometimes seemed like a strangely judicious kind of profligacy – a way of buying off hungry troublemakers with steady jobs. Nowadays, it feels like a monstrous failure that may become a macabre precedent for future peace deals. Continue reading
Read Tom Kirk’s new JSRP Paper, ‘Citizen-Led Accountability and Inclusivity in Pakistan’, here.
Abstract: This ‘theory in practice’ paper examines the experiences of citizens groups seeking to hold Pakistan’s elected representatives and governance institutions accountable. A sustained period of democracy, ongoing devolution plans and increasing space for civil society suggest the beginnings of a favourable context to improve the demand side of governance. At the same time, however, Pakistan continues to score low on development indexes and parts of the country suffer from insecurity. The latter reflects state-society relations, with various groups fighting to change national and local distributions of political and economic opportunities. Nonetheless a recent citizen-led accountability programme across both conflict-affected and peaceful constituencies has reported significant success in mobilising volunteer groups to demand the resolution of local issues. This paper asks how these groups organised and examines the strategies that contributed to their successes. In particular, it focuses on the tensions between the programme’s drive for ‘inclusive’ citizens groups that raise demands, and the need for such groups to work in ways that acknowledge the power and politics of their local contexts. While in some cases this led to innovative solutions to local problems, in others it may have strengthened the divisions and networks that support unaccountable governance. It is hoped the findings will add to debates over the worth of citizen-led accountability programmes where strong societies, weak states and conflict shape governance.
Read JSRP Research Director Alex de Waal’s powerful new piece in the Boston Review here.
By Rachel Ibreck
‘There is no law in South Sudan’, a resident of the town of Nimule, Eastern Equatoria, explained: ‘You see the police cell there is for those who are very poor. You will never see a rich person in that prison for the rest of your life. Trust me, this is true.’ This elder echoed views expressed by many other participants in research for the Justice and Security Research Programme in Nimule that ‘some people are above the law’, protected by their economic status, political allegiance or ethnic identity. In many instances, when crimes are reported or ‘referred up’ from the customary courts, ‘no action is taken’. There are also practical obstacles, including the financial costs: a victim of a crime may need to pay to open the case, to fund transport for police to make the arrest, or even to provide food for the accused once in prison. And there is fear of retribution, especially if the perpetrator is associated with the security forces or is politically influential. People spoke of occasions when they, or a member of their community, endured further suffering on the floor of a police cell or a beating in the barracks following a complaint. If you ask ordinary citizens about their experiences of the justice system in Nimule, you will hear of cases that never reached the courts, illegal detentions, intimidation, torture and violence. Continue reading
Read the new report by Jeroen Cuvelier, Steven Van Bockstael, Koen Vlassenroot and Claude Iguma, ‘Analyzing the Impact of the Dodd-Frank Act on Congolese Livelihoods’, on the SSRC website.
The report presents a detailed study of how the Dodd-Frank Act in particular has affected several mining communities in eastern Congo, and the extent to which various conflict minerals initiatives have been implemented on the ground.
By Alex de Waal
International peacekeeping operations are deployed to complicated and troubled places. Often, reliable information is scarce, rumors and poorly-founded allegations are common, and interpretation of events is highly politicized. Recent controversies around what is going on in Darfur illuminate the need for much better data.
A former UN official, Aicha Elbasri, has made much-publicized allegations that the UN-African Union hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) covered up evidence of attacks by the Government of Sudan. The magazine Foreign Policy took up the issue. The UN investigated sixteen incidents of alleged cover-up, and last week published a summary of its findings. The summary did not support Elbasri’s claims, finding only “a tendency to under-report unless absolutely certain of the facts,” but the full report has not been released. Elbasri has accused the UN of a “cover-up of a cover-up.”
Press coverage of this controversy has not yet included a basic point: peacekeeping operations collect vast amounts of data, and have the capacity to collect more, but rarely analyze those data in a rigorous manner. This is a missed opportunity. Continue reading
Read the new article by Tim Allen and Kyla Reid, ‘Justice at the Margins: Witches, Poisoners, and Social Accountability in Northern Uganda’, in Medical Anthropology here.
Abstract: Recent responses to people alleged to be ‘witches’ or ‘poisoners’ among the Madi of northern Uganda are compared with those of the 1980s. The extreme violence of past incidents is set in the context of contemporary upheavals and, in effect, encouragement from Catholic and governmental attitudes and initiatives. Mob justice has subsequently become less common. From 2006, a democratic system for dealing with suspects was introduced, whereby those receiving the highest number of votes are expelled from the neighborhood or punished in other ways. These developments are assessed with reference to trends in supporting ‘traditional’ approaches to social accountability and social healing as alternatives to more conventional measures. Caution is required. Locally acceptable hybrid systems may emerge, but when things turn nasty, it is usually the weak and vulnerable that suffer.
By Erwin van Veen
Erwin van Veen is a senior research fellow in the Conflict Research Unit at Clingendael. This guest post builds on the author’s longer policy brief: ‘Securing its success, justifying its relevance: Mapping a way forward for Security Sector Reform.’ Follow Erwin on Twitter @ErwinVeen
The recent incidents in Ferguson, US, have highlighted two similarities in the provision of security across the world. First, people often don’t get the security they want. Although the facts have not yet been fully established, the perception out in Ferguson is of a heavy-handed, brutal police response to a minor offence – possibly with racial bias. Second, external actors, in this case the US ministries of defense and justice that provide American police with heavy weaponry at attractive prices, often influence the type of security people get without having sufficiently thought through the consequences of their actions.
If the provision of security faces such issues in the US, it is safe to multiply them manifold in fragile environments, which are typically characterized by an ever-present threat of violence and poor levels of accountability and trust, as well as high levels of poverty. Here, the uniformed agents of the state are often a threat instead of a provider of security. Because insecurity hampers development and can create significant negative spill-over effects, richer states (such as the UK in Sierra Leone) and international organizations (such as the United Nations in Timor-Leste) have invested heavily in improving the provision of security in fragile environments. This has happened in large part on the basis of the notion of Security Sector Reform (SSR), which focuses on the joint and parallel improvement of both the effectiveness of security provision and the quality of its governance where its under-supply forms a barrier to broader development. Generally, such investments have generated poor results in that they have only marginally improved the security of those living under such conditions. In fact, three aspects of the policy and practice of SSR have often made external actors complicit in ensuring that people don’t get the security they want. Continue reading