Community self-protection, public authority and the safety of strangers in Bor and Ler, South Sudan

Tom Kirk, Naomi Pendle, Abraham Diing Akoi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Protection is not simply something done or delivered to people by states, humanitarian organisations and armed peacekeepers. Instead, a growing literature has begun to examine the self-protection strategies of people and communities in protracted violent crises. Its authors suggest that nuanced understandings of how people retain a measure of agency in the face of violence is an important first step for those seeking to reduce their levels of threat and vulnerability. We use interview data from communities in Bor and Ler, South Sudan, long affected by conflict, to show how attention to the relationship between public authority and the safety of strangers can reveal the skills, resources and conditions under which protection is successfully provided. This also helps to re-root ‘protection’ in local vernaculars that more closely resemble its everyday use among South Sudanese and offers entry points for humanitarian interventions with more realistic prospects of positive outcomes for communities sceptical of humanitarians' broken promises to protect.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Policy
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2024


We are grateful for the time given, personal experiences shared and the work done by Latjor Dang, who was the Ler-based research assistant on this project. We are also grateful for all the people who participated in this research and shared stories with us about how they have stayed safe and kept their communities protected despite being confronted with armed conflict. We shared our research findings with participants on courses on public authority that we were leading in Juba (South Sudan), the University of Johannesburg (South Africa) and Makerere University (Uganda). Their informal but nuanced and informed feedback was incredibly useful in helping to finalise our understanding and analysis.

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