Security sector reform in South Sudan has failed – at least for the moment
Juba/Bonn, 20 December 2013. Several hundred people are believed to have died during the continued fighting between rivaling factions of the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) in South Sudan since last Sunday. Even though the situation in its capital Juba yesterday has calmed down a little, fighting continues in other parts of the country.
“It is still not fully clear what exactly happened,” comments Wolf-Christian Paes, expert on South Sudan at BICC (Bonn International Center for Conversion). “The government of South Sudan speaks of a failed coup, but there are also indications that disputes between soldiers from different ethnic groups last weekend had triggered off the violence.” Clear is that the conflict shows strong ethnic rivalries. This summer, President Salva Kiir, member of the dominating Dinka ethnic group, had sacked his deputy Riek Machar, from the Nuer ethnic group, who had led a splinter group of the SPLA during the civil war in the 1990s. Eye witnesses report that in Juba soldiers had been chasing Nuer and other alleged supporters of Machar. In other parts of the country, too, ethnic tensions erupt in violence. “This is the price for the failed reform of the military in South Sudan during the eight years since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) 2005,” criticizes Paes. It is true that the CPA had foreseen the demobilization of different militias and the establishment of a new integrated army. “Instead of the envisaged 90,000 soldiers, the UN peacekeeping force demobilized a mere 12,000 mostly older fighters between 2009 and 2011,” the expert explains.
This is why, at the end of 2013, the SPLA still consists of units that can be attributed more often to a certain ethnic group and that, more importantly, remain loyal to their respective commanders. Even though South Sudan’s military budget per capita is one of the highest in Africa, the country is still far from having a modern, multi-ethnic army committed to the protection of the entire population. “The security apparatus in particular is a patronage system that serves to maintain the power and to enrich political elites,” comments the expert who himself worked in South Sudan between 2009 and 2011. “But the international community, too, has not shown sufficient interest in this topic in the past,” he criticizes.
The fact that demobilization in South Sudan has fallen behind expectations, is due to the enormous weight of unresolved problems after decades of civil war that until today radiate into politics, the economy and finally the coexistence of ethnicities. Against the background of the experiences made with long-term projects on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants, Professor Conrad Schetter, Director for Research at BICC, stresses, “the current events in South Sudan are a disturbing reminder of how difficult it is to get the logic of war out of the minds of its actors.” Therefore, the international community must spare no efforts towards continuing the reform of the security sector in South Sudan.
BICC has been supporting the security sector reform process on behalf of the German Federal Foreign Office since 2009 and, in particular, has been working with the National DDR Commission in South Sudan. “First priority must be to stop the fighting and to start a reconciliation process between the different ethnic groups and political fractions,” demands Wolf Christian Paes.
Background information on the conflict in South Sudan can be found in the BICC study "Oil Investment and Conflict in Upper Nile State"
Press Release "Sicherheitssektorreform im Südsudan – Erst einmal gescheitert" (in German)