Patchwork States: The Localization of State Territoriality on the South Sudan–Uganda Border, 1914–2014

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This paper takes a localized conflict over a non-demarcated stretch of the Uganda–South Sudan boundary in 2014 as a starting point for examining the history of territorial state formation on either side of this border since its colonial creation in 1914. It argues that the conflict was an outcome of the long-term constitution of local government territories as patches of the state, making the international border simultaneously a boundary of the local state. Some scholars have seen the limited control of central governments over their borderlands and the intensification of local territorialities as signs of African state fragmentation and failure. But the article argues that this local territoriality should instead be seen as an outcome of ongoing state-formation processes in which state territory has been co-produced through local engagement and appropriation. The paper is thus of wider relevance beyond African or postcolonial history, firstly in contributing a spatial approach to studies of state formation which have sought to replace centre–periphery models with an emphasis on the centrality of the local state. Secondly it advances the broader field of borderlands studies by arguing that international boundaries have been shaped by processes of internal territorialisation as well as by the specific dynamics of cross-border relations and governance. Thirdly it advocates a historical and processual approach to understanding territory, arguing that the patchwork of these states has been fabricated and reworked over the past century, entangling multiple, changing forms and scales of territory in the ongoing constitution of state boundaries.
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