By Justin Ambago Ramba.
October 12, 2011 — It’s commendable that the government of South Sudan took upon itself the bold initiative ever to address the widespread insecurity in the country through an enforced nationwide disarmament campaign. However, six and a half years in the row the much applauded campaign has paradoxically come to stand as a testimony of the failures after failures incurred under the leadership of this system that never learns from its mistakes.
Firearms make their ways from the manufacturers outside the country into the hands of unauthorised section of the society, largely through middle-persons within the administration. Hence, it wouldn’t be an overstatement should someone suggest that under the present corrupt administration driven by short-sighted ethnic politics, South Sudan may as well be already fighting a losing battle as far as disarmament of civilians is concerned.
President Salva Kiir Mayardit has persistently maintained that the current insecurity sweeping across South Sudan is the work of what he refers to as ‘the Enemies of Peace’. According to President Mayardit, these people are supposedly working to undermine the independence of South Sudan by struggling to create an impression that South Sudanese are unable to govern themselves.
The truth of the matter is that you don’t even need to delve too deep into the subject before you realise that people high up in the administration have a direct hand in sustaining the nationwide insecurity by re-selling firearms collected during the disarmament campaigns back into the communities. They are ‘the enemy within’, who break the laws from the comfort of their offices while pointing the fingers of blame on some ill-identified ‘enemies of South Sudan’.
The other reality is undoubtedly the proliferation of armed political opposition groups in the oil-rich heartlands of South Sudan. Since it has long become too easy for tribal herdsmen to acquire automatic rifles, again one can’t fail to see how some of these guns can still end up in the hands of the many rebel groups, even though the belief is that rebels must, by ‘the rule of the thumb’ often than not, receive foreign assistance. But who am I to lecture former rebels on their own game?
While we continue to argue and disagree over the sources of the guns, the intimate association of the current countrywide insecurity with cattle herders, cattle raiding and being particularly more amongst other South Sudanese ethnic groups than others, is a phenomenon that has its roots back in the civil war days, that ravaged the communities throughout the last two and a half decades.
It also goes to explain how whole communities had acquired wealth through looting, killing, and raiding. Further still as how they have gone to consolidate those illegally acquired wealth through the promotion and perpetuation of lawlessness which have been in existence for a very long period of time, and continues to do so in many parts of the country even after the war was officially declared over.
To date South Sudan is living a legacy of an era where no argument was better understood than the one imposed through the barrel of the gun. Unfortunately, we seem to be stuck in there.
Needless to say that most of our population do hail from pastoralist backgrounds where livestock represents an individual’s wealth, riches and social prestige. This old belief continues to be adhered to, kept and maintained till today and understanding how it operates could offer the key to understanding the government of South Sudan’s ineffectiveness [that stemming from the sensitive role of ‘cattle’ in those communities] in tackling cattle linked crimes.
Following from the legacy of the two decades long second civil war, many lives and properties were lost, however in reality the story goes even beyond that, for it was also during the war that many warlords rose to the positions of prominence and many who were poor had their first life time opportunities and went to amass huge wealth using their unchallengeable positions at the time.
Caught up in a setting where the monetary system allowed for the use of a wide range of foreign currencies, cattle [acting in the place of gold] offered not only the readily available and most convenient form of keeping the looted wealth, but in many cases the booties were in fact in form of livestock. All these eventually led to a wealth base that existed in the form of livestock.
From here onward it is easily deducible that to become wealthy or to remain so, a person is either a strong warlord and preferable a ruthless one, ‘no nonsense’, ‘killing machine’, like the infamous Mr. Butcher who now a state governor in his home town or be related to his likes, through clan-ism, kinship, marriage or others both appropriate or not.
As this new economic sector expanded it set the generals [warlords] apart from the rest of the down-trodden masses all across the so-called liberated areas of South Sudan. It was at this time that many of the so-called freedom fighters were diverted to look after the herds now owned by ‘the Big Generals’ and their families, while of course, these loyal boys will also have their own shares according to some long practised tribal formula often used in such cases. This was in a way the beginning of the today’s wide spread militarisation of pastoralist life style that draws its legacy directly from people in authority. The author does, of course, acknowledge that prior to all these some pockets of armed pastoralists did exist at a much smaller scales among the Taposa, Murle, Nyangtom, Turkana, Karmajong and others.
Now may be is the time to ask the very question, for which we all seek answers and it is,” Now all these said, can the proliferation of small arms in the hands of civilians in South Sudan be eradicated”? The answer is both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. It is ‘Yes’ for unauthorised armament of our civilian population to be eradicated by the state authority if only it sincerely acknowledges the true identity of the main source of armament and re-armament of the population, and eliminate it from its roots.
Where these firearms originate from is important. However, to date the biggest supplier of illegal guns to the civilians is the South Sudan officials themselves. I know that the SPLM and its military spokesman of ‘the SPLA Intelligence’ would prefer to point his fingers towards Khartoum, yet there is proof on the ground that says otherwise.
The trial of the South Sudan’s ex-chief of the Public Security and Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Major General Marial Nour Jok can only serve as a warning to others who shared salt, bread, water and wine with him after every illegal operation. However, it will be completely naive to think that it was only the named and shamed general whose arrest can put the whole house in order.
Major General Nour Jok and others could have served as the necessary cover-up for illegal businesses in arms trade which shuttled firearms and ammunition from well guarded government warehouses, however, simple logic entails that for his network to have successfully operated for such a long period [the entire six and a half years of the CPA interim period] it must have done so as a part of a wider group who equally included high people in the current system.
In keeping with the changes that begin to unravel in South Sudan, every citizen expects the international community to double its efforts in assisting this nascent state to become ‘the success story’, it is meant to be. The infamous AK-47 that has for a long time been the adorable toy for children as young as eight and it seems there are still enough to go around, must end.
Now that there are reports from the International Crisis Group and the Small Arms Survey that strongly suggests that many disarmed individuals and communities that were disarmed once or twice have now re-armed, and those who never had firearms before have armed as well or are seriously thinking of doing so in the light of the continuous deterioration of security across the entire region. A more robust approach should be adopted.
SPLM–led South Sudan today suffers from ‘the enemy within’ and President Kiir must gather more courage and political will to face this ‘enemy within’, which are obviously his former comrades in arms, once and for all, or else they are out there to undermine his leadership. However, judging by the massive conflict of interest that exists within the ruling party, such a move may entail shaking up the entire national security institution.
It is indeed shameful when we disarm only to see a heavier rearmament. Would it not be wiser altogether to hand it over to the UN? Why not? The UNMISS would be the ideal body to take over this assignment and effectively carry out the task with a better degree of professionalism and neutrality. Previous attempts were heavily marred by unfairness, perceived prejudice and the intentional avoidance of simultaneous disarmament of rival communities which should have been the right thing to do.
Furthermore, one can’t overstress the fact that unless all collected firearms are physically destroyed and preferably by the UNMISS themselves, thus leaving no room for collected guns to again find their ways into the hands of civilians, we will remain in this same loop while precious lives are lost on daily basis.
As for President Kiir, It is ‘the enemy within’ that his SPLM-led government needs to tackle, and we know that no amount of rhetoric can achieve it. However, the international community needs as well to understand that President Kiir and his SPLM-dominated cabinet suffer an inherent conflict of interest in as far as the civilians’ disarmament the countrywide is concerned. It is thus important and equally necessary for the UNMISS to step in and do this job once and for all.
Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba. Secretary General – United South Sudan Party (USSP). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com