Independence Day: Aid and Conflict in South Sudan

AidData continues its six-part podcast series to take you past the maps and dashboards on our website to the human stories at the heart of our research. In today’s episode, we look specifically at the current civil war in South Sudan and AidData research being funded by the Minerva Initiative aimed at illuminating the aid-conflict nexus. To listen to today’s episode, please visit

Next week is the fourth anniversary of independence in South Sudan. At the time, this development was called “a beautiful day for Africa,” but today the situation appears bleak.

“It’s important to remember that South Sudan has experienced decades of war,” We talked with Dr. Philip Roessler, an expert on armed conflict with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, about how the history of Sudan and South Sudan led to the situation in the two countries today. He explained that religious and ethno-political differences between Muslim-majority Sudan and Christian-majority South Sudan contributed to the tensions that fed into decades of civil war between the two entities.

The extreme nature of the conflict in these countries drew attention and a significant humanitarian response both before and after the independence of South Sudan. In 2009, Sudan was the world’s largest recipient of humanitarian aid for the fifth consecutive year, with South Sudan receiving around a third of that aid.

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This graph was taken from Global Humanitarian Assistance.

In 2011, the UN established the UN Mission in South Sudan and set up a Common Humanitarian Fund so that South Sudan could receive aid independently. They received $4.3 billion in humanitarian aid in their first three years as a sovereign country.

The way that influx of funding and personnel to an area of extreme, persistent conflict affects the conflict itself garners academic attention. In 2014, AidData partnered with the University of Maryland, College Park and others and received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Minerva Initiative. The collective’s goal is to analyze how aid flows in all their different forms affect the “onset, escalation and destructiveness of subnational conflict.”

A paper from AidData’s working paper series provides a geocoded spatial analysis of sub-national aid and conflict.

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This figure was taken from Stijn van Weezel's working paper.

It gives a helpful summary of the competing theories of the aid-conflict nexus thus far. Aid projects may increase the opportunity cost of participating in insurgency, thus reducing risk of conflict. “A package of policy reform and increased aid” may decrease the risk of conflict. Aid flows may create uncertainty and volatility which contributes to a conflict climate. Finally, aid flows can shift domestic power balances and provide opportunities for insurgency.

Listen to this week’s episode of Deeper Than Data to hear from Dr. Philip Roessler, an expert on armed conflict with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, and Dr. Michael Tierney, co-founder of AidData and a professor of government specializing in international relations and development at the College of William & Mary.

Emily Jackson and Daniel Aboagye are interns with AidData’s Policy and Communications Team, as well as students at the College of William & Mary. Emily is a sophomore studying International Relations and Daniel is a senior studying Public Policy.

Tags: dataSudanSouth Sudantransparencyhumanitarian aidconflictinsurgencyopen developmentAfrica