By the start of 2014, violent conflict had erupted across much of South Sudan following initial violence in Juba on 15 December 2013. The speed with which the fighting has spread raises questions regarding the impact of national-level politics on violence at the local level. This article develops a framework in which violent conflict can be comprehended as a response to the interruption of the negotiation of the balance of power between groups; the negotiation is interrupted when that balance tips in favour of one group, such as through changes in the national political market or government reforms. The article provides two cases studies of attempts to strengthen the state that inadvertently interrupted local power relations between groups. In response, the groups engaged in violent conflict to reinstate a balance of power. Both examples involve conflict among Dinka groups from 2005 to 2008.