This is the first of two analysis features examining recent developments in South Sudan. The country has been experiencing a surge in ‘communal’ violence in the wake of a peace agreement signed in 2018, as the oil economy that has underpinned South Sudanese elite politics for over 15 years begins to disintegrate. This first analysis — Surface Tension — re-interprets ‘communal’ violence in South Sudan, situating conflicts organized around ethnic or sub-ethnic lines in relation to national-level conflicts and inter-elite rivalries. These conflicts and elite dynamics are changing in response to the decarbonization of South Sudan, which is pushing elite ambitions away from the capital and back into provincial areas. The (forthcoming) second analysis — Decarbonizing South Sudan — explores this theme in greater detail through reevaluating the relationship between oil and conflict in South Sudan. This involves investigating the distinctions and overlaps between ‘carbonized,’ ‘decarbonized,’ and ‘uncarbonized’ conflicts in the country, and highlighting the risks posed to an elite order dominated by military and security factions amid escalating public discontent.