Date of Award
Master of Arts
For my thesis, I explore how South Sudanese refugees in central Iowa imagine a utopic South Sudan amidst contemporary inter-ethnic tensions emanating from their recently independent country. In central Iowa and in particular Des Moines, South Sudanese refugees subtly reproduce the type of unilateral authority they meant to leave behind, but instead of using tensions and divisions to further deepen ethnic divides, the diaspora enacts their own will through political discourse and community construction. My research focused on the South Sudanese community center, where I spent a year from 2012 to 2013 as a participant-observer engaging in political discussions within re-interpreted spaces resembling a common experience of refugee camps right after independence and into a period of renewed ethnic hostilities in the East Africa region.
I suggest not only that the ideal created in diaspora is rooted in transnational migration, re-interpreted identity and territory, but that the imagined peaceful plurality then serves to circumvent the actions of the state - most importantly the state's capacity to construct a unifying element for its people in Africa and abroad. To conceptualize a general attitude of the de-centralized South Sudanese population, I use my own definition of "stateless," which defines the familial unit as irreplaceable but the inhabitants of government positions as expendable, thus necessitating avoidance of the country's inter-ethnic dynamic to produce a nonviolent reality. I argue that South Sudan's fragile ethnic dynamic - in modern South Sudan but also throughout the regions long history - necessitates re-defining the parameters of coexistence to encompass a nation that does not yet exist. My study demonstrates one such attempt emanating out of Des Moines that uses the bonds of the refugee community to express a common circumstance.
Valles, Edgar, "Searching for a Nation: South Sudanese Refugees in Des Moines" (2014). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 13732.