Historical and Political Dynamics of the NGO Sector in South Sudan

Report on localising humanitarian aid during armed conflict

Learning from the histories and creativity of South Sudanese NGOs

The security risks faced by South Sudanese NGOs are closely related to their economic risks. Many report that they are not properly resourced to effectively manage the complex, risky environments in which they operate.


Findings from the research project

The FLCA project Historical and Political Dynamics of the NGO Sector in South Sudan has published two reports to further understandings of the struggles and strategies of local and national organisations during complex emergencies. Moving beyond global-level debates, the reports focus on the histories, politico-economic dynamics and everyday realities of South Sudanese NGOs during South Sudan’s armed conflicts and intermittent periods of peace.

Drawing on ethnographic and historical research in sites across South Sudan, the team conducted consultations with over 200 people in urban and rural areas working for local and national NGOs, as well as local communities, authorities and former staff. 

The reports provide a summary of key findings from the research commissioned by the Department of International Development (DFID) and published by the London School of Economics (LSE) in January 2020.

Report on localising humanitarian aid during armed conflict

Bringing local perspectives to global debates on localisation, the full report makes a rare contribution to knowledge on the everyday efforts and motivations of South Sudanese NGOs, and structural issues within the aid sector.

The report makes the following key arguments:

  • South Sudanese NGOs have expanded in waves during humanitarian crises. These waves of expansion have entrenched assumptions that South Sudanese NGOs should tolerate higher risks than their international counterparts.
  • Long-standing funding patterns (including short-term projects and underfunding of core costs) have consistently undermined the capacity of many South Sudanese NGOs. The increasing reliance on pre-financing has also made it more difficult for South Sudanese NGOs to establish a track record and prove themselves trustworthy. South Sudanese NGO founders have often made significant financial sacrifices to establish and sustain their organisations.
  • The founders and leaders of many of South Sudan’s largest NGOs are often highly motivated, dynamic and charismatic individuals who often have significant experience of working for international organisations. At the same time, there are biases towards particular types of organisations: women-led organisations and organisations whose focus is not on humanitarian response; and growing an NGO and accessing funding is much harder for organisations without a presence in Juba.
  • South Sudanese NGOs interact with national and local politics and power in complex and contingent ways, and it is too simplistic to assume that they have a higher propensity than INGOs to be polarised by wartime politics. The resources managed by NGOs – whether national or international – make them significant players in all local political economies across South Sudan. South Sudanese NGOs use a variety of strategies, often based on their detailed understanding of politics, to uphold humanitarian principles despite local and national politics. At the same time, the centralised nature of the aid sector in South Sudan perpetuates geographic inequalities, with access to funding often contingent on an organisation’s profile and presence in Juba.

Read the full project report here.



Policy recommendations for donors and funders

This project has published a short policy paper for humanitarian donors and funders seeking to provide a more enabling environment for South Sudanese NGOs. Exploring the reality of the struggles and strategies of local and national organisations during complex emergencies, the paper outlines recommendations for donors and funders relating to each of the project's key findings as published in the full report.

Read the short policy paper with recommendations.

Please lick below for an abridged list of the research project's key recommendations for donors and funders.


Read headline policy recommendations

  • Donors and other Grand Bargain signatories should restate their commitment to supporting South Sudanese organisations in South Sudan, clarifying the aims of the commitments in their work and identifying priority areas.
  • Set up systems that are able to track funds distributed to South Sudanese NGOs. There is also a need to develop interim targets and pilots that are substantive enough to test how and whether localisation achieves its stated aims and to facilitate mutual trust-building. These should be complemented by initiatives that facilitate political oversight of spending, including a proportional increase into research initiatives to understand risks, such as the tiered due diligence initiative at the Start Network.
  • Invest in longer-term commitments that provide predictability in funding and include support for administrative capacity. This must include reviewing contracts with UN agencies and pooled funds around the length of funding and quality of subcontracting relationships (such as payment terms, and predictability). For example, insisting that indirect costs be provided to downstream partners, at the same percentage provided to first tier partners, would make a significant difference to South Sudanese organisations.
  • Specific support mechanisms are needed to facilitate inclusion of South Sudanese NGOs founded by groups with low social, economic and political capital, including women’s associations and organisations. Further dedicated research exploring gendered dynamics within the South Sudanese NGO sector, and the challenges facing women-led organisations in South Sudan, would also be beneficial.
  • Support capacity building efforts that provide funding for core organisational costs and acquisition of assets to facilitate longer-term organisational sustainability.
  • Decentralise pooled funding decisions to avoid skewing the system and increasing over-reliance on Juba. OCHA sub-national offices might also play a greater role in convening, engaging and supporting more local actors.
  • Donors and UN agencies must consider the reputational and security risks taken on by organisations in remote areas and incentivise their major suppliers to provide for the safety of their subcontrator’s staff. Donors and contracting agencies must also work together to ensure that affordable and accessible insurance and evacuation services are made available to downstream partners.
  • Donors and international organisations engaging in particular localities should invest in analysis of local economies, avoiding assuming clear distinctions between local, national and international. It is essential to pay attention to local dynamics especially as these do not often fit within the clear normative orthodoxies of international debates. In addition, future research could usefully explore the forms of authority that emerge through South Sudanese NGOs. It would be useful to ask if alternative visions of political communities are formed, and how NGO work by INGOs and South Sudanese NGOs contributes to emerging ideas of citizenship and reconciliation.


Research team

The research team led by Leben Moro, Naomi Pendle, Alice Robinson and Lydia Tanner.

The research team included Freddie Carver, Latjor Dang, Chuol Gew, Puot Mabor, Rose Mabu, Ngot Mou, Martin Ochaya and Christopher Oringa.

For more information please visit the research project page here.