War, Migration and Work: Changing social relations in the South Sudan borderlands

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Joseph Diing Majok
The Rift Valley Institute
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War, Migration and Work outlines how the changing economy has affected social relations in the Northern Bahr el-Ghazal borderlands, particularly between the old and the young, and men and women. The result is a fraying social system, where intra-family disputes, including violence, are on the rise, and the old order is being increasingly challenged and eroded. This report is also a discrete case study on how transnational mobility across borders, encouraged by the growth of paid work and cash-based market economies, is part of changing generational and gendered relationships.

Before independence in South Sudan, the Northern Bahr el-Ghazal borderlands had long been an economic frontier between northern and southern Sudan. The Second Sudanese Civil War—partly a continuation of the exploitation of this frontier—reshaped social relations and livelihoods rendering them more dependent on cash-based markets.
After the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and subsequent independence of South Sudan, those people the war had displaced northwards to Darfur and further afield to Khartoum, moved back to rebuild their lives. Post-war Northern Bahr el-Ghazal was not the same as before, however, with livelihoods more precarious and market dependent.
In spite of the changes war and displacement had wrought, male elders still expected to control the labour of young men to rebuild cattle herds lost in conflict. Continued military recruitment for the new wars in South Sudan took men away from home, leaving women without support, who were then forced to find ways to generate income for their families.
This precarious post-war cash-based market economy and the rise of paid work created alternatives to traditional male and female roles. The social perception of work—previously seen as a form of servitude—also changed, with paid work becoming more prestigious. As a result, young men were less willing to work for their male elders and
women realized the necessity of income generation made them less dependent on their husbands.
Though paid work offered partial escape from previous generational and gendered obligations, the new international frontier with Sudan became the last barrier of the old order for young men and women to overcome. Male officials controlling the border felt it their duty to prevent the South Sudanese labour force—seen as a collective national asset—leaving for better paid work in Sudan.
Market dependence in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal and the mobility of labour, including across the international boundary, has a distinct generational and gendered dimension. This is clearly articulated in the local discourse of the young and old, and men and women. It also demonstrates how the impact of war and displacement, in particular the transformation of livelihoods, has sharpened the developing recognition of economic and social rights.
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