Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, the government of South Sudan has sought to neutralize the threat non-statutory armed forces pose to peace and stability. Often, the government’s preferred approach has been not coercion, but rather accommodation, which entails negotiating amnesty for armed groups and integrating them into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). While contributing to short-term stability, this approach competes with a simultaneous imperative to “rightsize” or reduce the parade of the SPLA from 210,000 to 120,000 over the next five years and transform the SPLA into a conventional, professional military. With the country’s economy unable to provide 90,000 non-essential SPLA personnel with alternative livelihoods, the government seeks to prevent unemployed ex-combatants from becoming spoilers during the country’s post-conflict reconstruction process. Thus, for the foreseeable future, the government will continue to balance the imperatives of integrating non-statutory armed forces into the SPLA whilst undertaking a sizeable reduction of the country’s statutory armed forces.
This presentation in the video above provides:
- a historical context of armed groups in the South during Sudan’s second civil war (1983-2005);
- an analysis of the government’s postwar approach to armed groups;
- an analysis of the challenges inherent in post-conflict military integration and demobilization in South Sudan; and
- an assessment of the potential trigger points for future armed group mobilization.
I hope you find the presentation useful, but if you can’t sit through it, I hope to put much of this in writing in the coming months.
Earlier this week, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir reshuffled officers within the SPLA. According to some of the people I spoke with when I was in Juba in August, this has been in the works for several months and was actually expected since last fall. They suspected that the next round of retirements and promotions would be postponed so as not to create discord within the SPLA while negotiations with Sudan over oil transport fees and security arrangements were still at a delicate stage. That said, even though officer reshuffling is a “normal” process, it’s still a potential trigger for armed group violence. Here’s why:
Those familiar with South Sudan’s civil war era and post-Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) challenges know that the present-day SPLA is comprised of a mix of longtime SPLA loyalists as well as soldiers who fought the SPLA during the civil war and/or during the 2010-2011 rebellions. The significance of the SPLA’s makeup is that rank harmonization tends to be a contentious issue when non-SPLA forces are being integrated into the SPLA. In instances of post-conflict military integration, you usually end up with a top-heavy force, which means you have too many (expensive) generals, too many people in decision-making positions, and not enough positions to go around. This is a problem not only for efforts to “right-size” the SPLA by reducing its parade from 210K+ to 120K by 2017 per Objective Force 2017, but also for South Sudan to be able to spend its military budget on training and equipment, for example, rather than on officer salaries. Where this process of retirements and promotions gets contentions depends on which SPLA officers were affected by this round of reshuffling and how they’ve fared. (For greater detail on the names of officers affected and what positions they’ve been moved to/from, see this article in New Sudan Vision, courtesy of Sahel Blog’s post).
Specifically, in order to determine what the promotions and retirements mean, one would need to examine the following factors:
- What’s the ethnic background of the officers who were retired / promoted?
- What’s their professional background?
- Are they longtime SPLA loyalists?
- Did they fight against the SPLA during the war and integrate into the SPLA after the Juba Declaration?
- Did they participate in the 2010-2011 rebellions and subsequently (re)integrate into the SPLA?
- Who has gained or lost decision-making authority in their new positions?
These issues are important to watch because they demonstrate the balance of power within the SPLA and give us a sense of what grievances might cause officers to defect from the SPLA and start their own armed group movements in the future. To better understand how these factors could make armed group violence more likely, let’s take a closer look at our favorite repeat defector Peter Gadet. Peter Gadet was a member of several Khartoum-supported anti-SPLA militias during the civil war, but integrated into the SPLA as a Major General following the 2006 Juba Declaration. Gadet was Commander of Air Defense at SPLA General Headquarters in Juba, but during the October 2010 officer reshuffling, Gadet was assigned to be Deputy Commander of the 3rd Division in Northern Bahr al-Ghazal. According to a Sudan HSBA report, “When it became clear that powerful former militia leaders had been overlooked for promotion while lower-ranking, mainly Dinka, officers were given higher ranks, Gadet (a Bul Nuer) and others became concerned… (Gadet) reportedly viewed this position as below his station and resented serving as deputy to a Dinka division commander. While George Athor used what he claimed was his unfair defeat in the polls as a pretext for rebellion, Gadet’s motivation (to defect from the SPLA in the spring of 2011) thus likely stemmed from frustration with his position within the SPLA.”
Fortunately (or unfortunately?) Gadet has not been affected by this round of reshuffling, and his most recent rebellion is has been on hiatus for over a year since his fall 2011 reintegration into the SPLA. But you see my point – that in some cases, reshuffling can be a trigger for violence depending on who it affects and how it affects them.
So in closing, I don’t know the backgrounds of the officers affected by this week’s round of retirements and promotions or how they perceive these changes. But at least we know what to look out for as we learn more about them.
I have developed a habit for blaming South Sudan for my inability to get anything on my “To Do” list done. That appears to be the case again today.
News broke this morning that the SPLA had allegedly shot down a UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Mi-8 helicopter that had been conducting a reconnaissance mission near Likuangole in Jonglei state. The ensuing crash killed 4 Russian crew on board.
Those who follow security issues in this part of Africa will know that Jonglei is an area of South Sudan that has been afflicted by:
- violence between the Dinka, Lou Nuer, and Murle, most recently detailed in the June 2012 UNMISS report “Incidents of Inter-Communal Violence in Jonglei State”;
- proliferation in small arms and light weapons (SALW) due to the porous border with Ethiopia and the inability of the security forces to protect the population from said violence; and
- a spate of militia violence, most recently perpetrated primarily by David Yau Yau, who has been in a state of off-and-on rebellion since his unsuccessful bid for the Gumuruk-Boma seat in the Jonglei State assembly. (For additional information on Yau Yau’s rebellion, you must read Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment’s brief on him, updated earlier this week).
Initial reports on the helicopter incident were hazy, with people like myself speculating that:
- It would be illogical for South Sudan to deliberately target a UN helicopter, given the role the UN tries to play as a security guarantor against South Sudan’s security threats. Yes, relations between the government and the UN mission have been challenging from time to time (i.e., the government’s response to the June 2012 report on Jonglei), but I would not describe relations between them as hostile. Therefore, this must have been an accident. OR
- It would be more likely that non-SPLA armed groups – perhaps Yau Yau’s men or local communities resisting the SPLA’s forcible, and often uneven disarmament campaigns – were responsible for shooting down the helicopter. The UN was supporting disarmament in this region, and although they differed with South Sudan’s security forces on the means, both sought to neutralize the threats posed by militias and armed civilians.
It has since been confirmed that the SPLA was indeed responsible for the incident, believing the helicopter was of Sudanese origin and sent to resupply Yau Yau’s forces. According to SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer, the SPLA was not aware that an UNMISS aircraft would be in the area. When they requested information from the mission, the UN was allegedly not forthcoming until it was too late.
While the incident is still under investigation, I would be quite surprised if it was revealed that the SPLA intentionally downed an UNMISS helicopter. Say what you want about the Government of South Sudan’s governance and decision-making, but it’s not a rogue nation. My initial conclusion, therefore, is that this was an unfortunate accident that underscores three things about South Sudan’s security forces:
- The SPLA is not known for having good command-and-control – especially when forward deployed. An UNMISS inquiry of the crash may reveal that mid- or low-ranking soldiers fired without receiving an order from their commanding officer. Another possibility is that there may have been too many commanding officers there, and this may have obscured what the appropriate response to seeing the helicopter should have been. I mention the “too many commanding officers” theory because rank harmonization has been one of the challenges that has come with integrating non-statutory groups that were formerly anti-SPLA into the SPLA.
- On occasion, the South Sudan’s security forces do not respond to security incidents with appropriate rules of engagement. One only need look across to the police‘s (and possibly the military’s) heavy-handed response to the recent protests in Wau, the capital of Western Bahr al-Ghazal state. Thus, it is not altogether surprising that the SPLA’s response to the UNMISS helicopter was to shoot first and ascertain the threat later.
- In addition to flawed C2, and inappropriate ROE, lack of training may have been a factor. On one hand, you could argue that the UN has white helicopters with the letters “UN” clearly marking it, and they have been present in Sudan/South Sudan since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. On the other hand (and I don’t favor this argument, but am just throwing it out there), literacy may have been an issue. According to data compiled by Richard Rands, “up to 90 per cent of the ranks are illiterate, as are at least 70 per cent of the officers.” Again, I would presume most SPLA should be able to ID a UN helicopter, so perhaps the UNMISS investigation will conclude that the helicopter was shot down before the SPLA could properly see it to identify it as friendly and not hostile.
Anyway, that’s what I have so far, but I’m curious to see what the result of the UNMISS investigation will be, and how this incident could impact UNMISS operations in South Sudan.
(Originally published in World Politics Review on November 5, 2012)
South Sudan has embarked on a program to transform the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the country’s preindependence guerrilla army, into a professional, conventional force by 2017. However, the success of this transformation strategy, referred to as Objective Force 2017, is contingent on a number of factors, including the absence of major conflict with Sudan, South Sudan’s ability to recover from the impact of this year’s austerity budget and the military’s ability to undertake a significant reduction in force.
The precise size of the SPLA is not known, but is estimated to be as high as 210,000 soldiers. As Objective Force 2017 establishes the need for the SPLA to have a parade of 120,000, as many as 90,000 soldiers will need to be demobilized in the years to come.
(Read the rest of the article on the World Politics Review website.)
This week brought a few high-profile deaths to this part of the African continent – namely Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) General Paulino Matip. Both men played crucial roles in their countries (and in Meles’ case, further abroad), and their deaths spurred some very impassioned, divisive dialogues on the controversial roles they played during their lifetimes.
I followed the dialogue on Meles via various blogs, twitter accounts, and news outlets and was rather dismayed that most of the coverage tried to cast him as either good or evil, while a small minority of these sources avoided this trap and tried to characterize him as a complex, multifaceted leader who could not be reduced to a simple dichotomy.
My take was that, on one hand, Meles had done some very positive things for Ethiopia and the region, such as:
- heading the guerrilla movement that toppled the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam who perpetrated the Red Terror in the 1970s in which up to 500,000 people died, and whose counterinsurgency campaign exacerbated the 1983-1985 famine in which over 400,000 people died;
- raising Ethiopia’s profile on the global stage by becoming a leader of the Global South in fora such as the G8 and G20 summits;
- reducing the percentage of Ethiopians living in extreme poverty from 45% in 1991 to just under 30%;
- inaugurating aggressive development schemes – most notably the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam; and
- acting as a peace broker between Sudan and South Sudan during post-referendum negotiations.
At the same time, Meles had done some very negative things for Ethiopia and the region, such as:
- cracking down on the opposition for contesting the results of the 2005 elections;
- ensuring that the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), secured a commanding majority (99%) of seats in the federal and regional legislative assemblies during the 2010 elections;
- waging brutal counterinsurgency campaigns against the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF);
- aggressively offering land leases to Saudi, Chinese, and Indian firms that have resulted in the displacement of pastoralist communities with ancestral ties to the land;
- capitalizing on the United States’ Global War on Terror (GWOT) crack down on internal dissent – mostly recently by meddling in the affairs of the country’s Muslim minority;
- refusing to accept the decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) and cede occupied territory to Eritrea;
- invading Somalia to displace the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which catalyzed the emergence of al-Shabaab; and
- pursuing hydroelectric schemes that could drastically reduce the supply of water that reaches the Shabelle River in southern Somalia and Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, and could have a catastrophic impact on the ecosystems and livelihoods in those countries.
In all likelihood, I’ve omitted something positive or negative that Meles did, but you get the picture.
That good-or-evil dichotomy was on my mind over breakfast the next day when news of Matip’s death broke. As he was not as well-known outside of South Sudan as Meles had been outside Ethiopia, I gauged the range of reactions to his death based on my interactions with both South Sudanese and the expat community here. As it turns out, to some, Matip had been a Khartoum-supported warlord during the civil war who fought against the SPLA and had been responsible for much of the South-South violence that took place in oil-rich Unity State. One person told me that the government had to continually pay Matip off in order to ensure that he was not a spoiler during the post-Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and post-independence periods. To others, he was a unifying force for agreeing to integrate the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF) into the SPLA when he signed the Juba Declaration with President Salva Kiir in 2006. One person contradicted the statement about Matip being a spoiler and said that in signing the Juba Declaration, Matip had given his word that he would not defect from the SPLA (and in fact, he did not), and thus, rumors of the government needing to pay him off were false. Regardless of how he is being remembered in death, without Matip bringing the SSDF over to the SPLA, and without his subsequent influence over integrated forces, many believe that the internal security situation in South Sudan would have been far worse.
What I take away from the deaths of Meles and Matip is that it is often not possible to reduce leaders to a simple dichotomy when their actions and contributions to their countries are fluid, complex, and can be perceived as simultaneously positive and negative.