Buffering State-making: Geopolitics in the Sudd Marshlands of South Sudan

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Peer Schouten and Jan Bachmann
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This paper explores the history and ongoing transformation of the South Sudanese Sudd marshlands as a buffer zone in a variety of subsequent projects of domination and their sub-version. Its argument will be that the contemporary geopolitics of the Sudd cannot be understood properly without unwinding the historical layers of contestation and conflict around these projects of control and their reversal, projects which have sought to shape and have been shaped crucially by the area’s specific ecology. For more than a century, different external ventures – colonial, nationalist, secessionist – encountered in the southern Sudanese marshlands a formidable buffer to the realization of their various projects of control. Ambitions of making the Nile water flow, establishing effective state author-ity, or building lines of communication, get stuck in the Sudd’s difficult terrain. Building on the political ecology and wider social theory on terrain, resistance and warfare, The authors conceptualize the Sudd as a lively political ecology – one characterized by constant struggles and accommodations between the centripetal logics of state-making and the centrifugal propensities of vernacular political culture.
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