April 13, 2014 (JUBA) - The Government of South Sudan has vowed, despite the country’s ongoing conflict, to provide adequate security through properly equipping its police force.
- Aleu Ayeny Aleu speaks to the media in Juba on August 27, 2013 (Getty Images)
“The government is committed to ensuring that adequate security is provided so that the life and properties of our people [are] protected," interior minister Aleu Ayieny Aleu exclusively told Sudan Tribune on Sunday.
“Yes, there are a lot of challenges, especially in finding funds but alternatives are being sought. The government is working to improve the welfare of the police and other organised forces. Payment structures are now being reviewed," he added.
The minister said government was working on ways of improving working relations between the police and the general public so as to promote the law enforcement body.
Observers and security experts have, however, claimed it would be an uphill task to undo the broken relationship between public and police, given the ingrained stigma attached to the job and the fact that some public members have resorted to establishing community-based defence forces.
Deng Majok Diing, who hails from South Sudan’s Warrap state, said he still doubted whether the government would achieve its ambition to provide adequate security across the country, citing its past records.
“The idea is great. It sounds well. The challenge lies in the implementation. You know that the public has really lost trust in the police. This lack of trust is seen in concepts like community defence force in the form of home guards. We call it Gelweng in our community. The people of Western Equatoria calls it arrow boys and the Nuer calls it white army. All these are happening because there is no protection from the government forces," Diing told Sudan Tribune.
"Most policemen carry with them an anger that quietly seethes underneath as they go about their daily operations," he added.
A Juba-based security analyst, meanwhile, provided accounts of police allegedly extorting money mainly from motorists over "bogus" traffic-related offenses.
“I have lived in Juba since 2005 and what I have seen is a clear robbery, practiced mostly by the police and other uniformed personnel. Motor cyclists and taxi drivers have always been the victims of these illegal acts," observed the analyst who preferred anonymity.
"A police would just stop a taxi driver to extort money because they know taxi drivers and the motor bike riders would worry about time they are losing being detained, so they resort to paying them, which is a clear corruption," he added.
Dut Deng, who hails from Northern Bahr el Ghazal state largely attributed the problems with the police to lack of a proper system within the institution.
“This is a system problem. What is happening here is happening everywhere in this country. I actually think that it is much better here because they are close to higher authorities at the central government. The situation in the states is alarming," said Deng.
"There are frequent reports of mobs lynching because some people are involved in crimes as petty as stealing a cow,which police fails to detects and investigates the cause before the killing takes place," he said.
Some of observers claim the rise in crime rate to the low esteem and lack of motivation, as the lowest ranking police officer currently gets SSP 600 [about $150] monthly.
This is considered way below the average cost of renting a small apartment in Juba.
Officers and their families often have to share cramped and dilapidated quarters, sometimes with only a thin partition or curtain separating them from the next family.
This is seen as a major factor driving the alarming number of burglaries and armed robberies in which police are implicated. The lack of trust and security, observers say, is clear across the rapidly changing town, dominated by residential compounds with high walls, razor wire and bars on windows.
In December, the police were also blamed for allegedly allowing extremists loyal to President Salva Kiir and his administration round up thousands of ethnic Nuer, killing nearly 3,000 civilians at a police station in Gudule, located west of Juba.
In a state of the nation address to parliament in February, Kiir admitted an "unacceptable lack of coordination in our handling of crime", and said "public frustration and anger" over bad policing had "occasionally boiled over into crowd taking matters which police could have address into their own hands, resulting into heinous crimes and meting out injustice against innocents."
The head of state vowed to put more officers on the streets and give them better salaries, housing and health insurance. He said the government would also provide the force, whose officers have been known to beg for a lift if called out to a crime scene, with more sophisticated surveillance equipment and new vehicles.
But Peter Anthony Sebit, a Juba-based local analyst says the problem runs far deeper than low salaries and poor equipment.
"While I fully support the need to invest in police capacity and welfare, I do believe that incentives may not matter at all as long as the mindset of the officers does not change," said Sebit, also a member of the coalition of civil society which monitors police brutality and torture.
He said his organisation had documented more than 89 deaths at the hands of the police between January and March this year.
NEED FOR PARADIGM SHIFT
Some police, particularly the criminal investigation department, have come under fire for alleged abuses including torture, arbitrary detentions and disappearances, particularly against activists, journalists and stern government critics, some of whom have fled the country in fear of safety.
Opposition figures have also voiced frustration over the lack of police capacity in some states.
"Most policemen would take a bribe than stop crimes, and there are others who are happy to bump people off," said an opposition figure who asked not to be named.
A senior police detective admittedly told Sudan Tribune on Sunday that the situation remains dire and that years of neglect had left the force out of sync with the changing security situation, whether in terms of small arms proliferation or increasing crimes rate across the country, specifically within the capital, Juba.
"There’s a need to have a paradigm shift within the police force to be in tandem with the changing patterns of crime and other emerging threats," he said.