South Sudan's Capability Trap: Building a State with Disruptive Innovation

40 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2013

See all articles by Greg Larson

Greg Larson

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Peter Ajak

University of Cambridge, Center for Strategic Analyses and Research

Lant Pritchett

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); Center for Global Development

Date Written: October 28, 2013

Abstract

The prevailing aid orthodoxy works well enough in stable environments, but is ill-equipped to navigate contexts of volatility and fragility. The orthodox approach is adept at solving straightforward technical or logistical problems (paving roads, building schools, immunizing children), but often struggles or outright fails when faced with complex, adaptive challenges (fighting corruption, upholding the rule of law, establishing democratic institutions). South Sudan, the world’s newest country, presents a post-conflict environment full of complex, adaptive challenges. Prior to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 South Sudan had no formal institutions of self-governance. During the CPA period and after independence in 2011, foreign development agencies have contributed billions of dollars of aid and technical assistance to “build capacity” in the nascent Government of South Sudan (GoSS). The donors utilized approaches and mechanisms of support that at least nominally reflect the prevailing aid orthodoxy. We argue that orthodox state building and capacity building more or less failed in South Sudan, leaving the world’s newest country mired in a “capability trap” (Andrews et al 2012). Despite countless trainings, workshops, reforms, and a large corps of foreign technical assistants embedded within state ministries, there is an absence of real change, and GoSS now “looks like a state” but performs as anything but. The challenges presented by this new, complicated, post-conflict country demand innovative approaches to building state capability which go beyond importing “best practice” solutions while feigning “client ownership.” We explore one such approach to disruptive innovation that has emerged: Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). To escape from the world’s newest capability trap, South Sudan’s government and its international donors must challenge themselves to imagine innovative paths to state building, which diverge from “business as usual” and attempt to create something that lasts.

JEL Classification: O2, H4, K4, L3

Suggested Citation

Larson, Greg and Ajak, Peter and Pritchett, Lant, South Sudan's Capability Trap: Building a State with Disruptive Innovation (October 28, 2013). HKS Working Paper No. RWP13-041. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2366894 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2366894

Greg Larson

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Peter Ajak

University of Cambridge, Center for Strategic Analyses and Research ( email )

Trinity Ln
Cambridge, CB2 1TN
United Kingdom

Lant Pritchett (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-4562 (Phone)
617-496-2554 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://ksghome.harvard.edu/~lpritch/

Center for Global Development

2055 L St. NW
5th floor
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
583
Abstract Views
3,247
rank
45,581
PlumX Metrics