Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Local Self‐Governance and the State in South Sudan: Studying Gendered Tenure Relations in Times of Uncertainty

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With governance increasingly regarded as co-governance, states’ capacity to steer, correct, and discipline a wide range of self-governing actors becomes crucial for states’ effectiveness, efficiency, and democracy. This article investigates that capacity and the relationship between formal institutions and customary self-governance in areas of limited statehood. In South Sudan, the field of land governance can be regarded as an area of limited statehood. As land relations are closely connected to clan structures and intra-familial relationships, customary norms and institutions enjoy great legitimacy and are an important locus of local land governance and dispute resolution. The South Sudanese government has promulgated legal provisions for equal rights to property and inheritance that clash head-on with customary notions of gender roles in the family and the preservation of family land. By focusing on the case of women’s land rights in South Sudan, combining literature study with data from exploratory fieldwork in two South Sudanese towns, this article aims to reflect on the cohabitation of customary and formal norms and values and the role formal legal and administrative systems, in areas of limited statehood, can and do play in boundary setting for customary self-governance.

Keywords:  areas of limited statehood; customary law; gender; land rights; legal pluralism; local self‐governance; South Sudan



© Janine Ubink, Bernardo Almeida. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.