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Sudd Institute: A Brave Decision or Security and Constitutional Quagmire? The President’s Recent Military and State Reform Orders

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Weekly Review January 25, 2013

A Brave Decision or Security and Constitutional Quagmire?

The President’s Recent Military and State Reform Orders

The Sudd Institute Team

In a recent presidential decree read on the state-owned South Sudan television, president Salva Kiir Mayar relieved a large number of army generals, on top of whom were all the six deputies of the Chief of General Staff and replaced them with newly promoted officers. The decree assertively restructured the SPLA, Police, and the government of Lakes State’s leaderships. The decree also removed twenty- nine other generals from active duty and consigned them to the list of reserves, pending eventual retirement. These generals, along with numerous others who retired or have been put on reserve, were among the best known for their gallantry during the north-south war, but have been subject of negative commentary in recent years. Their removal may have been surprising to some among the relieved generals themselves and the public at large, but was received with cautious excitement throughout South Sudan and in the Diaspora. So many people have described it as a “long overdue decision.” Others have called it a “wise act,” a “sign of hope in our leadership,” etc.

Since the news of military reshuffling broke, a great deal of the population has expressed delight regarding the president’s decision. The reaction of the public seems to suggest that lack of progress in the country, especially in the area of security and stability, is related to stalled leadership across the government, particularly in the SPLA and the Cabinet. They want fresh blood being instituted and the old one honorably discharged, which presumably means introducing a new style of governance. The public response—as the Sudd Institute has observed— overwhelmingly supports the president’s decision, especially that which concerns the SPLA’s restructuring. However, the removal of Lakes State’s governor has instead generated mixed reactions, with a massive public protest organized on 22nd January by the youth and women in Rumbek, Lakes State’s headquarters, interestingly dubbing the president’s decision as “unlawful” and in apparent disapproval of it (Gurtong, 2013). On the same date, some members of parliament from Lakes State termed the decision of President Kiir as constitutional and rightly deserved (Citizen TV, 2013).

The Sudd Institute this week reviews these decrees, assessing public sentiment and highlighting the policy consequences of the president’s decisions. The decisions
ultimately impact on the country’s fiscal crises, oversight and accountability, security sector reforms, and the leadership succession aspects. The removal of the army generals has raised hopes among South Sudanese that the president will continue with his timely shake-up and make good of his promises by reshuffling and downsizing the entire cabinet.

At the time of the announcement, as was observed, large crowds gathered in front of television sets, shouting and clapping with apparent support for the decision. It seems that this decision was indeed both desirable and anticipated, perhaps due to a number of issues that have been subject of serious discussions at different levels of society in the past few years. Chief among such discussions is the question of corruption, increasing violence by security forces, and the age of some of the generals. Moreover, South Sudan has more generals than the size of its army calls for, becoming a serious burden on the country’s treasury. But the more deserving question is, if indeed the generals have been underperforming, expensive, aging, and have failed to reform the security force, why did it take so long for the president to institute this anticipated intervention?

These generals have of course paid their dues and many of them have reached retirement age, and had it not been the fact that we live in South Sudan, a country with no history of pension systems, they would have left the army on their own volition, opting for opportunities to do other things with their lives after many years of public service. After all, top-ranking officers “have a certain life span," in the words of the Minister of Information, and such changes seem necessary for a “young nation trying to transform its army.” But given these circumstances, most of the generals, if not all, will be leaving the army unpleased, which is presumably part of the reason underlying delays for such decision, often resulting in fear that mandatory retirement of uniformed workers could lead to rebellions.

President Kiir has been calling for reform in the security organs since taking office and it looks like his requests have been falling on deaf ears, placing his government’s reputation in popular doubts. As well, the security sector in South Sudan receives nearly fifty per cent share of the national budget and with that type of financing, one would expect the organ to be more efficient and effective. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), in all fairness, has demonstrated excellence in the battlefields during and after the liberation war. Still, and despite the huge resources being channeled to it, the army appears to be under-resourced and faces systemic and structural challenges. And in order to put matters right, perhaps the President seems justified in shaking up the top echelons of the military by sending 35 generals to the reserve list, equally promoting and appointing younger and hopefully more seasoned ones to replace their outgoing colleagues. The consequences of the decision to retire these generals will be anticipated in light of the many questions among the public as to why the SPLA was not able to control the rampant armed cattle raiding in Warrap, Unity and Lakes States triangle. It also responds to why the Murle, Nuer and Dinka tribes in Jonglei appear allowed to kill each other using sophisticated automatic rifles over the past several years, weapons that are often found in a professional, conventional army.

The considerably large number of generals in the SPLA, as previously emphasized, presents serious challenges, including fiscal burdens and difficulty in keeping the discipline in the chain of command. And since the austerity measures demand financial prudency across all public institutions, including the army, efforts to reduce expenditure could necessitate decisions such as this presidential decree. Perhaps the SPLA may be surfacing as one of the institutions needing restructuring both to curb the nation’s fiscal crises and to streamline its chains of authority. Thus, the removal of some of the generals makes fiscal sense in that savings accrued can be reallocated or appropriated to other more deserving programs within the military, such as operations and training.

The question of what the decision to remove the generals will mean in the immediate future is not a trivial one. There have been rumors of coups being planned within the army and that the decision to reorganize the army may have been connected to them, but there is little evidence to this effect. Although the Minister of Information, Dr. Marial Benjamin, the government’s spokesperson, has dismissed such rumors, lack of discipline among top SPLA officers has also been regularly cited, an issue that might have challenged the effectiveness of the civil authority. This animates public fears over a possibility of backlash, especially in light of a history of rebellions within the SPLA since its inception. But by removing these senior officers from office, perhaps the President is re-asserting himself and reconsidering his responsibilities, one of which is to address official-related crude behaviors and indiscipline accordingly.

However, the euphoria soon got deflated when the president appointed one of the dismissed generals, Pieng Deng Kuol, as the next Inspector General of Police (IGP), replacing Achuil Tito Madut. This was the decision many people have described as puzzling and somewhat unwise, as the president has taken out the top two career police officers, the IGP and his deputy, and replaced them with an army general. To be sure, the replacement of professional police officers with a mere army general does not seem to reflect carefully on the need to improve security through professional policing. This decision begs the question as to why Pieng Deng was removed from the army to begin with, and commissioned where he is considered inexperienced.

Another decision that was received with mixed sentiment and which will be a test to the nation’s perspective on the constitution and security was the dismissal of the governor of Lakes State. The sacking of an elected governor by the president warrants serious constitutional concerns. The decision of the president derives from the interim constitution, which grants president sweeping-powers to dismiss state governors in the event of crises that threaten national security. Yet, it remains unclear as to what exactly necessitated the decision of the president. However, it is reported that Lakes State has been under intense security troubles in recent periods.

Rampant killings of innocent persons are said to be regularly occurring there, even in Rumbek, the state’s headquarters of the government. We suspect such insecurity events in the state might have caused the governor his hard-earned job. Though enshrined in the constitution, the stipulation that grants president these kinds of powers ultimately vexes the decentralization aspect of governance in the country, an interest the same constitution seems to advance quite adequately. The stipulation also hampers the fledgling democracy, devaluing the legitimacy of electorates and definitely setting a very poor precedence toward building people-centered governance. It equally undermines the authority of state assemblies, which represent the people. Now that the interim constitution is under review, the clause needs to be scrutinized and subjected to wider consultations and debate, with an eye to possibly transfer some of the presidential powers to the state assemblies.

The president has taken a decision that seems to have renewed popular trust and confidence in his leadership, a decision aimed at enforcing discipline in the ranks of the nation’s army and security organs, indeed a critical and a right thing for the president to undertake. Also, by this decision, the president has also raised hopes that this decisive leadership style will be exercised in relation to all other institutions of government, whether it is the anticipated reduction in the size of the government, reshuffling of the cabinet, and enforcement of anti-graft rules or more stern responses to security problems in the country. While the removal of the generals is in line with the popular expectation to reform the security sectors and surely a sign of decisiveness that was expected of the current leadership, simply reshuffling some of these generals from their army positions into other institutions, as the case of the police indicates, doesn’t lead to a meaningful reform. The removal of the army generals and their possible accommodation in other institutions are within the constitutional powers of the president who is also the commander in chief of the armed forces. However, the dismissal of the governor of Lakes State has revealed the backwardness of the transitional constitution and its clauses that grant the president the power to fire elected officials, invoking real concerns and need for an open and participatory debate and reconsideration.


About Sudd Institute

The Sudd Institute is an independent research organization that conducts and facilitates policy relevant research and training to inform public policy and practice, to create opportunities for discussion and debate, and to improve analytical capacity in South Sudan. The Sudd Institute’s intention is to significantly improve the quality, impact, and accountability of local, national, and international policy- and decision-making in South Sudan in order to promote a more peaceful, just and prosperous society.

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Sudd Institute: A Brave Decision or Security and Constitutional Quagmire? The President’s Recent Military and State Reform Orders
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  • 27 January 2013 04:18, by Young Patriot

    Good analysis...thank you for raising the plight of Lakes state citizens, u also forget to say that he has reassigned one of the retired army general (Matur Chut) to replace an elected governor (Chol Tong). Maj Gen Matur has a terrible reputation of supplying arms and supporting sectional fights among rival clans in Lakes State..This was very unwise decision by the President.

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    • 27 January 2013 05:51, by Kur William

      I don’t think what President Kirr done by elected general matur Chut Dhuol as acting governor of Lake State is a bad decision because what was happening in Rumbek few days ago is absolutely out of character and I do believe general Matur Chut will be able to restores law and order,Chol fail to protects civillian or been bias,the death of 50 civillians still needs to answer by Lake State government

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    • 28 January 2013 12:04, by Ambago

      Dear readers
      I quote: “The dismissal of the governor of Lakes State has revealed the backwardness of the transitional constitution and its clauses that grant the president the power to fire elected officials, invoking real concerns and need for an open and participatory debate and reconsideration.”
      But where were you (Sudd) when these clauses were being force in the transitional constitution?

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  • 27 January 2013 06:07, by Mapuor

    The analysis of this institution is a bit ambiguous. Just take the removal of army generals from active service.Thousands from lower ranks and they are those who fought battles for the liberation were already removed from the army and your institution did not mention anything about their plight which is a serious oversight that should be taken seriously and this casts doubt over your real

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    • 27 January 2013 06:15, by Mapuor

      intentions and motives.If those who fought battles are removed without even giving them alternative livelihood skills and your institution kept quite only to voice concerns when generals who are presumably your cousins are removed is a big concern in itself.The SPLA is the most corrupt institution in the country and Mr president should be congratulated for his decision and should be urged to

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      • 27 January 2013 06:22, by Mapuor

        continue purging the army and all uniform services of all thugs who mercilessly loot the money of their comrades who fought in front lines while they were behind them in villages enjoying goat meat with kisra(ref.Emma’s war).Kiir Oyeeeeeee.Is it fair to forget officers,NCO’s and men who fought countless battles just to please few generals who are not even qualified in the context of modern arm

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        • 27 January 2013 09:32, by Akook

          Despite illegal removal of Lakes elected gov, a political scheme run by few elites, disenfranchising masses of Lakes state citizens, pres Kiir’s idea that Matur Chut be the replacement was the worst ever since this man has himself been a champion, arming his sections against peers! His records known to everyone including the pres himself. we remain to see how he goes about

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          • 27 January 2013 10:13, by nuer food lovers

            mr. Akook Bro am from unity state at the extreme north.
            Bro there is saying that the fool belive the fool.this exactly what mr.kiir kuethpiny.he is a fool like Matur Chut so he have right apoint him.if it was not a foolish decision,there re thousand dying on daily base in Jonglei,becozs of Kuol.he is sacking him,in Unity state cattle raiding is rampant,killing innocent.kiir is not sacking Taban...

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            • 27 January 2013 10:21, by nuer food lovers

              but kiir is sacking innocent governor like Chol Tong Mayai.otherwise iwould like to tell Eng Chol Tong Mayai,welcome to the world of Business&development rather then that devil world of Kiir kuethpiny Mayardit&SPLM of corruption.atleast Mr.Pagan Amum have refresh from bordone of Kiir Kuethpiny Mayardit poor leadership.he is doing Good now in west Africa.we wish he was appionted perm.rep.to UN.....

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              • 27 January 2013 10:31, by nuer food lovers

                rather than that demont,evil,retarded,drunkard&weak Abyei boy mr.Mading Deng who doing nothing now,instead he is failing s.sudan before the international community.Mr.Francis Nazarious was better much more than this fake Dr.Mading Deng.

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  • 30 January 2013 06:09, by Al-mezan

    Well done, this is really a professional analytical institute to be relied on. I went through the whole writing to identify elements of bias, but couldn’t find any. And as regard the plight of former CDRs as raised by here, they shall have pension as the bill is there. Also they looted enough although not all of them.

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  • 30 January 2013 13:54, by nyantung

    "Constitutional Quagmire" or "Audacious Rapacity" here?
    That is, how is Sudd independent, when it is led by a senior level government official?

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  • 31 January 2013 17:35, by Iduol Ahang Beny

    It’s funny how institutions, agencies & individuals jump on the bandwagon of ’reform’ while breaking the very rules and laws they accuse others of breaking. SUDD is a national NGO run by an Undersecretary in the RSS Central Government who, by accepting money from foreign governments, is VIOLATING HIS OWN GOVERNMENT’S CONSTITUTION and helping foreign donors to do the same. What an interesting game!

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  • 31 January 2013 17:40, by Iduol Ahang Beny

    The RSS Undersecretary heading SUDD is not alone. There are MP’s & Ministers running think tanks, running businesses, running NGO’s, all in violation of their own constitution. When we speak of REFORM, please let our actions and methods of pretending to be striving for it match our words. Otherwise, it’s all just the same ol’ boring lipservice.

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