Governance in Abyei under Circumstances of Social and Political Conflict: A Case Study on Governance Provision in Areas of Limited Statehood

Miriam Engel

Student thesis: Master thesis


Abyei is an area located on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, rich in oil resources, but bears the imprint of conflict between the two African states. Social and political conflict led to South Sudan’s secession from Sudan in 2011. This was followed by an interim period in which both governments claimed ownership of the Abyei area and impeded the implementation of a temporary administration. Consequentially, a gap of governance regulations during this transition period was created. In addition, a variety of actors with diverging interests were present in the region, including both governments’ military, the Sudanese Armed Forces and the former rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Army, in addition to the United Nations, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, and the local Ngok Dinka and Misseriya communities. To shed light on the complexity of this case, this thesis attempts to explore how an area comprised by such circumstances is governed, by asking how governance is provided in Abyei under circumstances of social and political conflict. To that end, the concept of Areas of Limited Statehood (ALS) was applied as theoretical framework, based on which connected literature of theories of governance provision was tested against the empirical data drawn from semi-structured expert interviews and secondary research. Findings showed that, after the secession in 2011, governance in Abyei is provided through a network of the afore mentioned actors and that the utilization of the concept of ALS was sufficient to shed light on the underlying complexity. Practical implications pointed to a need for greater sustainability in governance activities and focus on encouragement of trade and the potential of functional equivalents to the shadow of hierarchy, trust, and brokerage that includes the engagement of local communities as governors. Theoretical implications included the critical categorization of actors as state or non-state agents, a neutral assessment of limitations in governance provision by external and non-state actors, the acknowledgement of varying importance of the conditions for governance’s effectiveness, and an unbiased definition of governance. Contributions for potential topics of future research include an improved understanding of governance with view on the influence of actors’ perspectives based on their narratives and networks, the impact of climate change, and potential of the utilization of the ALS concept for future studies of similar cases characterized by such unique complexity.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture - Business and Development Studies, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2021
Number of pages81
SupervisorsHans Krause Hansen