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Forcible disarmament in South Sudan will not improve security

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By Eric G. Berman

June 1, 2008 — In response to decades of armed violence and cattle rustling, the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) is planning a campaign to forcibly collect firearms from southern citizens. Government officials’ motivations are understandable. Endemic pastoralist violence is reaching dangerous levels and there are widespread suspicions of outside support for the perpetrators as part of efforts to scupper the fragile north-south peace process. But coercive disarmament will not resolve matters. It will likely exacerbate simmering tensions and could result in thousands of deaths. What is more, it will make the international community’s efforts to assist the fledgling government much more difficult.

Armed violence in Jonglei state is generating a political crisis of significant proportions. The state (about the size of Austria and Switzerland combined) is home to several ethnic groups—including the Dinka, Murle, Nuer, and Shilluk—with long-standing animosities toward one another. Of particular concern at the moment are Murle pastoralists who are raiding neighboring ethnic groups’ cattle that involve killings and abductions. Armed attacks—not just by the Murle— take place routinely throughout the state, resulting in many civilian deaths and the loss of livelihoods. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has been deployed to the area but lacks mobility, training and the necessary communications infrastructure to deal with what amounts to pastoral warfare.

Cattle raiding is a time-honored tradition throughout the entire region. But whereas many years ago raiders used bows, arrows, and spears, they now use automatic rifles. Retributions involve similar weapons. This has resulted in a growing number of casualties and a breakdown of traditional conflict resolution procedures as elders’ authority has eroded.

The scale of the violence in Jonglei is spiraling out of control. During December 2007 in Bor, the capital of Jonglei, Murle raiders reportedly laid in wait for Dinka herders who set out to reclaim their stolen cattle. Some 30 Dinka were killed and another 30 injured in the ambush. Dinka from Bor retaliated by dragging five hospitalized ethnic Murle (not associated with the attackers) from their beds and killing them, as well as shooting to death a Murle government official and his daughter. The governor was subsequently re-assigned.

The new governor of Jonglei is keen to clamp down on the violence by taking away the guns. In so doing, he hopes to create a secure environment that allows development to proceed and communities to experience the dividends of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). While his intentions are good, however, his plan is flawed.

The current plan is reportedly for the removal of weapons from citizens in Jonglei, in a six-month campaign that is to begin in June. Although a ‘voluntary’ disarmament campaign has been ongoing among the Murle in Pibor county, Jonglei state, the governor has stated that forcible disarmament—though likely to be bloody—is a necessary short-term measure to provide long-term stability. With security, he argues, come development (e.g. health, education, basic services) and prosperity.

Past experience in southern Sudan may well prove him wrong.

A SPLA disarmament campaign in central Jonglei in the first half of 2006 was brutal in its execution. More than 1,000 people lost their lives in the course of the initiative that targeted the Lou Nuer and netted some 4,000 weapons. Besides the traumatic loss of life, the campaign against local militias (e.g. the ‘white army’) and civilians also resulted in considerable human rights violations, significant internal displacement, and wide-scale looting and food insecurity. The governor believes, however, that subsequent peaceful campaigns in other parts of Jonglei—which the United Nations supported—went smoothly because of the SPLA’s willingness to use deadly force in the initial exercise.

Importantly, the 2006 campaign was intended to be peaceful—just as the latest initiative is meant to be. But the lessons of the past must be taken seriously. Despite efforts to sensitize local communities about the benefits of disarmament and attempts to negotiate buy-in from local chiefs throughout Jonglei, violence nevertheless exploded. Moreover, the ‘successes’ recorded, including by the UN, were largely ephemeral. Recent reports suggest that the relatively modest number of weapons that were ultimately recovered was rapidly offset by subsequent rearmament.

One of the main problems associated with piecemeal or uneven disarmament is that neighboring communities remain armed. The GoSS has primary responsibility for providing security for those who are disarmed, but has routinely failed to do so. The United Nations peacekeeping mission has neither the mandate nor the resources to assume this role. Meanwhile, raids by warring communities show no sign of letting-up. In the absence of security, civilians are compelled to rearm in order to protect themselves. This is especially true of Jonglei where the Lou Nuer are reportedly more heavily armed now than before the 2006 campaign.

Another limitation of the governor’s plan is that many of the Murle cattle raiders have not returned home from far-away, dry-season grazing grounds. Armed Murle youth are reportedly well aware of the governor’s plans and have decided to remain outside of Jonglei for the time being. The SPLA is, therefore, not likely to find the real aggressors. Instead it will find members of an ethnic group determined to resist being disarmed. Even if security is provided by the SPLA, the Murle will likely feel they are being targeted for political reasons and resist. Arms and bullets are not in short supply in this part of the world. Any altercation is likely to be bloody.

What to do?

First, the governor should work to keep the SPLA deployed in Pibor county during the upcoming rainy season and beyond. Together with the GoSS, he should ensure that they are provided with sufficient supplies so that they can avoid looting and build better relations with the community. In demonstrating their capacity to provide security they are more likely to earn the respect of the local population through good behaviour and good works. The Small Arms Survey’s research reveals that many people in Pibor feel their physical security is the same or has actually diminished since the CPA was signed in January 2005. Here is a chance for the GoSS to provide genuine security to communities and an excellent opportunity to win hearts and minds.

Second, Sultan Ismael Konye, peace and reconciliation advisor to President Salva Kiir, has been leading the voluntary disarmament exercise among his people, the Murle. Having rejoined the SPLM/A in 2006 following years of support from Khartoum and attacks by his Pibor Defence Force against the southern rebels, he deserves more time to prove his commitment to the CPA and to peace.

And third, allow the UN and the international community to aid the government to reduce armed violence, enhance security, and hasten development. The UN’s two recent small-scale disarmament initiatives in Jonglei resulted in the recovery of more than 3,000 weapons. The cost? Less than USD 20,000. Whereas those efforts were ad hoc, the UN’s new Community Security and Arms Control (CSAC) programme has pledged almost USD 3 million to improve law and order, support good governance, and assist in reforming the security sector as part of a broad effort to recover weapons and reduce demand for them. While more political and financial investment is needed, it represents a good start.

Forcible disarmament has been shown not to work in South Sudan. While it may highlight the government’s commitment to action, it tends to be short-sighted and can result in brutal violence. Making matters worse, the current plan laid out by Jonglei’s governor will not target those primarily responsible for armed violence in the state. Instead, it will result in armed resistance and threaten the lives of innocent civilians caught in the cross-fire. It will almost certainly lead to further attacks and rearmament and should be avoided until other options are exhausted. President Salva Kiir should actively promote alternatives to military action and build on the potentially positive initiatives underway.

Eric G. Berman, Managing Director, Small Arms Survey, an independent research institute based in Geneva. The Survey undertakes numerous projects on armed violence and small arms, including the Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA) project. See www.smallarmssurvey.org/sudan.



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  • 2 June 2008 06:53, by James James

    Mr. Berman:

    Thank you very much for your remarkable appeal. What you said is only the truth, and that is what we have been trying to elaborate to our goverment all those years.

    You know I belong to the one of those communities that you are talking about, I think like everybody else, I may know the mentality of my people more than others who are from other ethnic groups. Therefore, as far as I am concern, force disarmament will not bring positive result at all regardles of what or how this force is going to be applied. As you mentioned, leaders from every community must be given time to convine their own communities or disarm their own communities as much as they can since with the help of village chiefs, they may have better knowledge about who have gun and who don’t have gun. Imagine Mr. Berman, how easy is it for the visitor to find what the owner of the bushe or home might have hiden? Those who want forece disarmament are short of the nature of the situation on the ground.or they have special aims.

    I hope everybody take your advise.

    God bless.

    • 2 June 2008 15:01, by Gatwech

      Dear readers,

      To some extent I do really agree with the author of the article under discussion particularly on the issue of resistance. Governor Kuol Manyang is very well known for being a product of tribal leaders who taught him to only find faults in other communities leaving his own. The fact that his Bor community has been encouraged to move up to Nimule in Madi and Acholi lands with their guns to escape the ongoing disarmament in the state proves Kuol’s lack of sincerety and consequences of such actions. The disarmament should have been begun inside Bor town and around Bor’s communities around the town. In this way, the state capital should have been freed from criminal gangs who take advantage of their vicinity like those who killed Murle patients right in their beds in Bor hospital. Then the disarmament can go on to Murle and Lou-Nuer who were disarmed but some of who re-armed themselves after seeing that other communities were not disarmed afterwards. But the current tactic by the so-called Governor Kuol Manyang to disarm other communities first and leaving his own community or encouraging them to move to Nimule with guns will turn out to be a silly tactic that may backfire on his administration and community. I am talking about the game of resistance and revenge here. Please Governor, don’t be blinded by bad advices from your bad apples among your community. Think about the future!

  • 2 June 2008 08:24, by John Amule de Lokolong

    I think this is a right idea.But Murle need to be clear by advicing their brothers who are far with guns to come home with peacefully behaviours,because if some of those who are disarmed has deliever bad message to them for truth Jonglei will get to worse situation just as a result of their reaction.So this issue need a especially knowledge just for the safety of our civilians in particular State of Jonglei.

    I hope everything (disarming) will go smooth and nicely.

  • 2 June 2008 08:34, by John Amule de Lokolong

    First of all i would like to send my thanks to Sudan Tribune dicusion of taking serious control of this web,in fact i quit to used this site due to the abuses and all other un want words against States,tribes,people,insult,raciest,hatred and many more.Because those kind of words which have been used on this web by some brothers would not make anyone to feel comfortable whenever anyone say to you.and i believe that people must concentrate on the article rather than jumping to different opinions which are far from the article,please if you have your own idea nor issue,it is good if you can post it as separate article/opinion.

    However i think that,this is a right idea.But Murle need to be clear by advicing their brothers who are far with guns to come home with peacefully behaviours,because if some of those who are disarmed has deliever bad message to them for truth Jonglei will get to worse situation just as a result of their reaction.So this issue need a especially knowledge just for the safety of our civilians in particular State of Jonglei.

    I hope everything (disarming) will go smooth and nicely.

  • 2 June 2008 10:30, by Petero igaa

    What Mr. Berman has passed across our mind is great. If memory serves right most of Berman’s ideas has been given a lot of thoughts and some being implemented. To be honest this part of the Country need leaders who are committed for the course of the liberation war and welfare of the Citizens. We have been entangled within a net of prejudice dating back to decades; from colonialism, grandparents and todate; and more so, is the cultural aspect of some of these communities, especially the violence, this has to be delt with.
    My personal view of the situation in Jonglei State and as a concern Sudanese, is that, this part of the Country has been a land of conflicts; cattle, children and women raiding,"traditinal" fights etc. All the governments of the day did nothing to help this State stabilise; well those governments have been part of the problems especially in dividing people and ruling them.
    I would suggest that the GOSS organise RECONCILIATION CONFERENCE between the waring parties; Dinka, Murle, Nuer and Shilluk. These communities should be given sufficient time to consult amongst each individual community , in good faith.

    The traditional leaders (chiefs, elders etc)are the centre of everything (good or bad) when it comes to community issues in Sudan; they direct and mis-direct. They should sit down with their elite / professionals and discuss issues pertaining the well being of their community. Some of the communities practicing agric in its context and having access to guns but do not use them for conflict should be involved in the reconciliation conference.

    There are individuals at all levels of the Government,or policy makers who are from one tribe (community) in Jonglei State taking advantage of there positions to victimize others in the State. There is a lot of bad politics (tribalism, nephotism name it) played in Southern Sudan in this contemporary generation. Every community in Southern Sudan is seeing this things happening and every community is suspecious of the other.

    The GOSS is being manipulated by some of these individuals, who I suppose are in the government to perpetuate this agender (whatever we do in the GOSS should benefit us).
    Our enemies (Government in Khartoum)which is also behind some of this politics.

    The Governor should take heed to the positive contributions people are making in this forum, if he want to see that Jonglei State becomes a peace loving state in Southern Sudan.

    This are my personal views and, I stand to be corrected

    Good Day

    • 2 June 2008 14:45, by Maper

      I don’t understand why Kuol said he is starting disarmament in June, yet last year, troops were sent to Pibor to collect guns peacefully. How many guns have been peacefully collected so far? It is a good idea to let the elders/community leaders have more time to talk to their people. The communities are equally allowed to have more time to kill themselves or others. I object to any idea that allows the elders to have infinite time to talk to their people. All communities must be given deadline to talk to their people, and if they can’t convince people by then it means they won’t be able to convince them. Many people live through guns, and if a person is told to hand up his guns it is like telling him to starve to death or be the weakest person in his community. The most effective thing that can convince raiders is compensation. But do we have enough money to do this? They must be forced. If guns were successfully collected in 2005, those who died recently would have not died. Since the communities will be given enough time, then we should be ready to face or hear about death from our guns.

  • 2 June 2008 15:04, by Gatwech

    Dear readers,

    To some extent I do really agree with the author of the article under discussion particularly on the issue of resistance. Governor Kuol Manyang is very well known for being a product of tribal leaders who taught him to only find faults in other communities leaving his own. The fact that his Bor community has been encouraged to move up to Nimule in Madi and Acholi lands with their guns to escape the ongoing disarmament in the state proves Kuol’s lack of sincerety and consequences of such actions. The disarmament should have been begun inside Bor town and around Bor’s communities around the town. In this way, the state capital should have been freed from criminal gangs who take advantage of their vicinity like those who killed Murle patients right in their beds in Bor hospital. Then the disarmament can go on to Murle and Lou-Nuer who were disarmed but some of whom re-armed themselves after seeing that other communities were not disarmed afterwards. But the current tactic by the so-called Governor Kuol Manyang to disarm other communities first and leaving his own community or encouraging them to move to Nimule with guns will turn out to be a silly tactic that may backfire on his administration and community. I am talking about the game of resistance and revenge here. Please Governor, don’t be blinded by bad advices from your bad apples among your community. Think about the future!

  • 2 June 2008 15:18, by Allaman Ikoilaman

    Dear southerners,

    What Bernan has brought is a brilliant idea. So, those who are charged with the duty, shouldn’t byepass, the influential local leaders when carrying the exercise.This is because they are the direct data collectors or they know who owns how many guns and of which types. But before the exercise, I would rather second the above ’’ Igga’’, that a conference or reconciliation has to be sought amongst these conflicting communities to act as a healing of the wounds created during the confusion and then follows the education of these communities about what is going to happen in such a time , about what, some preliminary measures on those who will evade the move.Than to take them unaware or otherwise you can exchange with them bullets which will cause lives.

    I will be remiss to ask these questions. Since these civilians possessing guns,causing threats of insecurity between the north and the south, will the Meserians be exempted from disarmament?.How about other communities in Eastern Equatoria State, like Buyas, Logir, Toposa and some Lotuka communities who are disturbed, won’t they be disarmed ?. Just only the two questions and I need the answers from you guys there.

    The exercise is totally welcomed so that we enjoy a peacefull atmosphere and carry on developments in the south.

    Thanks.

    Ofonik Zachary Abing.

    Cairo Wing Observer.

  • 3 June 2008 04:22, by Ayuen Buol mum

    Mr. Eric G. Berman, I disagree with what you had anticipated because you want to capitalist your owned business, while the civilians armies are dangerous to their neighbors, when the Dukuduk and Nuer Lou fight recently it is because of your profit maximization on the disarmament that lead to the mass killing of civilians recently.
    Therefore, let the government of southern Sudan decided the right thing to save the civilians is but not on the interest to maximizes profit. I have read the responds to the article but you people don’t understand what is behind the organization Disarmament. The people are making money through slow phase of disarming.

    Thanks

    • 3 June 2008 17:21, by Majak-da

      Good idea to pose your meassage such that your destiny is known. Mr. Berman, you entirely failed to evelaute the likely effects on arming civil population. In Jonglei things are totally different. We depend on peace and arming some tribes for insecurity such that the Geneva benefits in wars is not our aims. To be clear, we do not want your Geneva’s UN help in war zones. We need peace and this comes through disarmament. Let alone your defense of Murle.

      Secondly, get our governor right. He had given room for peaceful disarmament; why do you maintian that he want forcible disarmament only?

      Hopes this works in your next opinion!



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