State Formation, Humanitarianism, and Institutional Capabilities in South Sudan


As the humanitarian system grows and becomes increasingly complex, so too do the needs of populations and the challenges the system faces in response to crises arising from natural disasters and conflict. These challenges often extend beyond meeting the immediate needs of the affected people to include the building of institutional capabilities to improve the capacity for local systems to sustainably implement tasks. Aside from responding to short-term needs, humanitarianism ought to fit into the overall political strategy of supporting the process of state formation. This is because state formation is a process of change that depends on the improvement of local implementation capacity, and progress cannot be made without successful implementation of policies and programs.

Also, humanitarian assistance influences political economies of recipient countries and the development of political and social contracts between governments and citizens. To support the formation of such a contract and avoid the risk of undermining it, humanitarian aid ought to become a part of a comprehensive strategy to transform conflicts, decrease violence, and increase the efficiency of markets to generate growth. The linkages to development goals and building of state capabilities must be strong with government in the lead of the strategy and its coordination.

It is through this nexus of humanitarianism and state formation that this issue brief assesses the international humanitarian system’s engagement in South Sudan during the period from statehood in July 2011 to the period immediately prior to the outbreak of the December 2013 crisis. Lessons from South Sudan’s experience can contribute to the dialogue on humanitarian assistance in contemporary complex emergencies and assessments of humanitarian principles in different evolving contexts. This brief outlines the enormous needs and challenges facing South Sudan since independence, its emerging humanitarian crises, and the response of humanitarian actors. It addresses South Sudan’s unique challenges of state formation and the importance of linking long-term state capacity building to aid delivery.