“This is your disease”: Dynamics of local authority and NGO responses to Covid-19 in South Sudan

Naomi Pendle, Alice Robinson, Peter Justin, Linda Ahimbisibwe

Research output: Book/ReportOther report

Abstract

This report explores the dynamics of South Sudanese NGO and local government responses to the Covid-19 pandemic in South Sudan. It considers how these actors – as significant public authorities – responded to the pandemic, and how these responses shaped and were shaped by wider social and political dynamics. A significant theme throughout our findings relates to the trust and mistrust felt in relation to the Covid-19 response, and how the global pandemic took precedence over many other pressing crises facing South Sudanese people. The findings call for more holistic, integrated, and localised responses to disease outbreaks.
In relation to local government, the pandemic occurred during a period in South Sudan when leadership positions in local government had not been filled. This vacuum in local government leadership undermined the response to Covid-19 in some areas, but governance by varied local authorities continued irrespective of shifts in state and county leadership, creating continuity and a level of governance without government.
The report also considers the impact of the pandemic on South Sudanese NGOs and on the progress of the ‘localisation’ agenda in South Sudan. It builds on a previous study by the team, Localising aid during armed conflict, which explored the histories and contemporary experiences of South Sudanese NGOs, including the struggles of South Sudanese NGOs to earn the trust of donors, authorities, and local communities in the face of conflict and intermittent, uncertain funding. This report highlights how South Sudanese NGOs and community-based organisations engaged in varied responses to the pandemic and were among those authorities who helped fill any vacuums in the absence of local government leadership. However, the pandemic also had a significant impact on organisations’ existing projects and priorities. Many had funding suspended or cut, as funds were diverted to the pandemic response or activities could no longer be conducted in line with lockdown restrictions, leading to loss of staff and the suspension of activities unrelated to Covid-19. Trust in aid workers was also affected, sometimes because of fears that they would be bringing the virus, and other times because of frustration at the focus on Covid-19 ahead of other pressing concerns.
The research is based on 99 interviews, as well as regular observations, conducted across six sites in South Sudan between November 2020 and February 2021. It presents a snapshot of a moment in time, reflecting primarily on the first year of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2021

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