Following decades of civil war South Sudan achieved independence from Sudan in mid-2011 as the culmination of a long peace process. Both the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) and international donors consider a successful Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program a prerequisite for successful stabilization, peace and development in Africa’s newest nation state.
In spite of the challenges encountered during the first phase of DDR (2005-2012) and the meagre results achieved, a second phase DDR for some 150,000 personnel is now planned. It will be carried out as a joint exercise between the South Sudan Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration Commission (SSDDRC), the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS),the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Bank. This will make it the largest and the most ambitious DDR program worldwide.
Originally expected to start in 2013 and run for eight years, it has been postponed several times due to financial constraints and logistical challenges. A pilot phase with approximately 500 participants is planned to be launched during 2013.
The new DDR targets the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) – now the regular army of the new republic – as well as other state security services such as the police. But what can realistically be expected from this second phase when South Sudan is likely to prioritise its own security imperatives and there remain extremely difficult socio economic realities on the ground?
The basic argument put forward here is that standard DDR programs, or rather the standard templates that characterize them, are not fit for purpose in a context like South Sudan. This is for 3 reasons:
- Different perceptions among national power holders, in this case the SPLA, and international actors and donors about what the program is supposed to achieve amidst continued armed insurrections, inter-communal violence, widespread insecurity and border clashes with Sudan.
- The difficulties in independently verifying and distinguishing combatants from civilians.
- The politics of patronage and wealth that is central for the survival of the new state and the mobilization of recruits into the SPLA and other armed groups (both legal and illegal).
Since independence the SPLA has been confronted with various local rebellions, initially in response to the 2010 elections, which were won overwhelmingly by its political wing – the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. While the GoSS and the SPLA depict external threats as the most significant, the government has yet to secure a monopoly over violence within its own territory, with many individuals and groups continuing to use violence to further their own political agendas.
Recently, several SPLA generals have defected and subsequently re-mobilized or formed new militias. One example is David Yau Yau, who had joined the SPLA in 2011. In April 2012 Yau Yau took advantage of local grievances, specifically the ethnic Murle contempt for the SPLA’s civilian disarmament practices in Pibor County, and formed his own militia. Yau Yau is estimated to command 3,000 fighters, and his forces have attacked SPLA installations several times, killing at least 100 soldiers.
In view of the deterioration of the security environment on the border with Sudan and the austerity measures owing to the oil shutdown, the ambitions for the second phase DDR have been reduced. The pilot phase will now target 500 ex-combatants (down from an original 4,500). The GoSS has committed to cover 64 percent of the total DDR budget of $1.2 billion. Donor funding is expected for the reintegration component. So far, however, the GoSS has yet to commit the resources—a signal that has discouraged the international community in offering support.
Furthermore, SPLA units have engaged in continuous local recruitment, combined with the above-described integration of militia forces, the result has been a net increase in soldiers country-wide. A number of SPLA divisions have consciously recruited disaffected youths, providing them with salaries in order to deprive contending militia groups of potential recruits. During the recent security crisis and armed clashes with the Republic of Sudan, young men were mobilized into the army and the new youth recruits underwent intensive basic military training at different military bases, mostly at the border.
The current implementation of a broader Security Sector Reform (SSR) process is heavily focused on DDR as the key and most important component. Commonly referred to as the 4A’s, the idea is to support the SPLA in delivering a transformation strategy for and “adequate”, “appropriate”, “affordable” and “accountable” armed force. This is, however, a minimalist understanding of SSR, which has very few links to an improvement in human security amidst a myriad of domestic conflicts. A significant share of successive annual government budgets has been allocated to the security sector since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. In 2012, 41 percent of GoSS expenditure was allocated to security – mainly salaries to the SPLA.
The Government of the Republic of South Sudan’s is committed to paying the salaries of ex-combatants’ for up to 12 months from demobilization. Ex-combatants will initially be processed and supported in a series of transition facilities where they will spend up to three months. At the facilities, individuals will be formally demobilized and debriefed and will be provided with intensive support and training in literacy, ‘life skills’ and livelihood opportunities/options.
It is intended that three facilities will eventually be expanded to number up to ten (covering each State in South Sudan). They will be capable of handling batches of up to 500 ex-combatants at any one time for a three month period. After passing through the facilities, ex-combatants are expected to reintegrate into communities of their choice within South Sudan, but will be provided with ongoing support by the SSDDRC through state offices, and through the provision of specific projects operated by line ministries with implementing partners.
The question is whether the new DDR plans will be implemented in the near future and whether the economic benefits of down-sizing can be reached. It is also unclear how a reduction in force will allow for a reduction in the SPLA’s budget so that resources can be allocated elsewhere.
There has been no fundamental discussion in South Sudan over whether the DDR is at all feasible under present political and military realities. Moreover, the plan to start with a modest pilot project for 500 beneficiaries indicates a pace at which it would take several years to demobilize the estimated caseload of 150,000.
The current second phase DDR strategy addresses structural flaws in design, execution and implementation and national ownership is high on the agenda. However, DDR is still conceptualized by locals and internationals alike as a technical programmatic exercise, rather than a political endeavour. There is a need for a more contextually driven approach to DDR, one that takes into account security, political and economic issues that have an effect on an otherwise technically driven process.
The issue of DDR has been recognized as a cross-government priority and this was reflected in the South Sudan Development Plan. However the capacity of South Sudanese ministries and international agencies to support the process poses significant logistical and operational challenges.
The approved budget for UNMISS’s second year is US $839,490,000 million. Over half this amount will be spent on operational requirements (air transportation, facilities and infrastructure). Donors generally commit their support to the programme on the basis that it meets rigorous design standards. Context seems not to be as important as the design of a programme seen as being technically rigorous.
Paradoxically, evaluations of the first phase pointed that the major problem was that the programme did not address the specific context of Southern Sudan. This is also a problem for the second phase DDR where context is secondary to the imperative of downsizing the SPLA.
Fundamental “enabling” conditions for effective DDR are not present in South Sudan at the moment and therefore new thinking is required if the objective of enhancing security, peace and stability is to be achieved. The context for DDR and security sector transformation in general is likely to remain difficult and unpredictable. Obtaining security in South Sudan surpasses any DDR exercise and is not only related to the “reintegration” of combatants and the “rightsizing” of the SPLA.
Jairo Munive is a Post Doc researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies. The text is the executive summary of an upcoming DIIS’ report on DDR in South Sudan past and present.