Road-building, followed by road runi and rebuilding, have been a cyclical feature of development in South Sudan. This article focuses on two internationally funded roads built around independence to explore their meaning for central government, and for people living along the roads. Road-building initially acted as a display of the promissory capacity of the new government and a means to reorient power towards Juba.

However, the roads’ deterioration (and therefore perpetual re-emergence of new road projects) allowed coercive forms of management to become entrenched, and still acted as a reminder of the initial power of the government to undertake large-scale infrastructural projects.