An elusive peace dividend: land access and violence in non-formal settlements in Juba, Southern Sudan

  • Gabriella McMichael

Student thesis: Phd


ABSTRACTUniversity of ManchesterGabriella Marie McMichaelDoctor of PhilosophyAn elusive peace dividend: land access and violence in the non-formal settlements of Juba, Southern Sudan2012This research explores the tensions between non-formal land access, violence and urban land policy in the post-conflict city of Juba in Southern Sudan. It departs from the conventional notion of rights to land based on property rights to a broader concept of 'access' to investigate the means, processes and relations within society, or 'mechanisms', by which individuals attempt to gain and maintain access to non-formal settlement land, how this is controlled and the connections to violence. Moving beyond current dualist frameworks used to understand informality, this research aims to unpack the formal and non-formal institutions in the city whose interplay results in unequal opportunities for individuals to access urban land and how violence is both a mechanism and outcome of this. Using a mixed methods methodology, the research was carried out in Juba and three of its non-formal settlements that have emerged at different times during the city's approximately ninety-year history. It used mainly in-depth interviews, group discussions, participant observation, structured settlement surveys and semi-structured key informant interviews. As the 'new' capital of a multi-ethnic region that has experienced decades of civil war, Juba provides fertile ground to explore these issues. Firstly, by tracing the evolution of the region's political economy the research shows how, rather than being a new phenomenon, exploitation by government and violence have been integral features of urban land management in the region. Secondly, by considering Juba's development it shows how violence underpins contemporary settlement patterns in the post-conflict period. Thirdly, by providing case studies of three non-formal settlements it details the evolvement from a sense of community to more segregated practices where land access is becoming highly ethnicised, reflecting broader tensions in the region. Finally, it shows how both ethnic tensions and unclear legislation are being instrumentalised by a web of powerful actors who, whether through coercion, deception or violence, are undermining urban planning in the post-conflict city for their own benefit, and hence the ability of non-formal inhabitants to access land. The research concludes that partly due to the formative nature of institutions controlling urban land access, violence has not ended in the post-conflict period but remains integral. Nevertheless, whilst approaches to non-formal settlements may be seen as a consequence of the persistence of dysfunctional institutions, it also relates to the post-conflict political economy that is emerging in Southern Sudan and the extent to which urban land access is facilitated by connections with the urban political or military elite. As a result, for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons, returnees, combatants and ex-combatants the 'peace dividend' is compromised. In an urban environment hostile to their presence, they have no choice but to settle in non-formal settlements that, rather than being a solution to their shelter needs, leave them exposed to exploitation by a range of powerful actors.
Date of Award1 Aug 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAdmos Chimhowu (Supervisor) & Caroline Moser (Supervisor)


  • urban violence
  • South Sudan
  • Juba
  • informal settlements
  • post-conflict land rights

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