Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

Paramilitary forces can help in South Sudan

By Mariar Wuoi

November 4, 2008 — Kenya has escaped many internal problems plaguing its neighboring countries due to in part to the capabilities of its paramilitary unit popularly known as the General Service Unit (GSU). Whether it is confronting post-elections violence, pursuing cattle rustlers, or dealing with unruly students, the GSU has always performed marvelously. People of varying opinions can debate the methods that the GSU apply to neutralize situations that might otherwise get out of hand, but there is no dispute that the GSU invariably comes out on top. One can only look at history to understand that Kenya has had problems that might have degenerated into a full-blown civil war. During this past post-elections violence, Kenya was gripped by protests, destruction of vital infrastructure such as railway tracks, and targeting of certain groups perceived to have had played a role in stealing elections. The GSU was deployed alongside the administrative police units to trouble spot to restore order. Kenya Army did not play any significant role. South can learn from Kenya’s successful experience with paramilitary force that can be called upon to deal with issues such as inter-tribal killings and clan wars.

In fact, the SPLA can be left to deal purely with external northern aggression while the GSU confronts internal issues. It may not necessarily be called GSU, but a name that implies the specialized range of services it can render to maintain internal security may fit. Recent events in the Lakes State reinforce the need for a strong paramilitary unit that will be under the Ministry of Internal Security. From what this author gathered from various news outlets, it appears that a number of SPLA elements tasked with disarming civilians decided to let their tribal affiliations cloud their interpretation of their mission. This would have been avoided if a powerful paramilitary unit not affiliated with any party was sent in to deal with the disarmament process. SPLA for all the good that it has done to guarantee the South a secure future, is still identified with the SPLM. It would help if a number of the SPLA were retrained in areas of maintaining law and order to form the nucleus of this envisioned paramilitary force.

When one talks about the need for a paramilitary force, it triggers negative images of quasi-secret police out to commit murders and disappearances. It is true that this has been the case in some Latin American countries such as Argentina and to some extent Peru. These are case where excesses committed by paramilitary police have done more damage than good. This author is very aware of the risks that such a force can bring to bear but it is also true that there are cases such that of Kenya where such a force can be advantageous. With right training and clear mission, the specialized police units can complement regular administrative police. Regular police units are always the first line of offense when civil disobedience turns violent. However, they are usually under armed, underpaid, not motivated, and just plainly overwhelmed by simple situations. Paramilitary units get their orders from higher up and their chain of command is clear-cut. They respond better and save lives and country. As I have outlined, such a force can be useful when used wisely and given a clear mandate.

SPLA as it exists in its present form is not impartial in the minds of citizens. Past experiences with the SPLA were not pleasant and it was, and still is, perceived as a ‘Dinka force’ out to impose the ‘hegemonic’ designs of this particular tribe. Of course this is absurd and has no basis in truth whatsoever but that is what is unfortunately ingrained in the minds of many. The Southern parliament can enact a legislation authorizing the formation a paramilitary unit that can enjoy a federal status. This means that it can carry out its mandate without being answerable to the state’s authorities. Such a force can have powers that transcend those that apply to regular police units in order to do its job. Its powers can be regulated by the Ministry of Internal Security which in turn has to answer to the parliament. Not even the president has the power to decide how to use such a force as instances of abuse can become real when a president is faced with a determined opposition.

The future of security in the South depends on the outcome of the referendum. When that is out of the way, we will be forced to look inward and confront sources of insecurity emanating among ourselves. Kenya inherited the GSU from the British but it has come to realize just how indispensable such a force can be. We need to take cues from their experience and design a better force that can maintain law and order across the South.

* The author is a Sudanese based in US. He can be reached at [email protected]