Understanding the Colossus The Dominant Gun Class and State Formation in South Sudan

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Majak D’Agoôt


In the process of state-and society-building, social differentiation and the emergence of a dominant class are unavoidable. While social differentiation may sustain class inequalities, what matters is how these phenomena are established, attenuated, and ultimately constrained from assuming a destructive dimension. South Sudan’s politico-military elite, conceptualized in this article as a “Gun Class,” can trace its identity to a violent legacy of slavery, colonialism, and civil war, and uses ethnicity and violence to control state power. Straddling the social, economic, political, and security spheres like a colossus, the Gun Class has influenced the political trajectory as well as the meteoric decline of South Sudan. Fraying into a heterarchy of warlords, and without any indication this situation will likely change, the country may altogether self-destruct. Drawing on the extant literature regarding the emergence of dominant classes in Africa, this article posits that class formation in South Sudan developed within the confines and through a coalescence of the traditional order and that it continues to be determined primarily by relations of power, education, violence, and the organization of warfare.

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