The Danger of Disarmament

Opinion,

By Chadi Michael

South Sudan conflict gets complicated as more guns ends up in the hands of untrained civilians.(Photo: file)

South Sudan conflict gets complicated as more guns end up in the hands of untrained civilians. (Photo: file)

Nov 18th, 2018 (Nyamilepedia) — As the drive to meet certain peace deadlines becomes increasingly pivotal, the danger of creating deadly wrongs and improper procedures to adhere to the promulgated principles in the agreements can undoubtedly create unintended fatal consequences. Any decision to silence the guns in South Sudan must come with a sense of reassurance and negotiation, not all-out violent measures just in meeting those deadlines.

Loud-mouth, Chief Brown Bol of the Naath International Radio of America once remarked in one of his morning briefings that “in South Sudan, if some people think they can cut others off like the Nuer, or even smaller tribes like the Murle from getting a piece of the pie, they would have tough time pooping or going out for a pee even in their own backyard, let alone eating it with ease.” This entails that all South Sudanese matter in this agreement and any effort to bring lasting peace must be a work in progress and collective duty just as the referendum and liberation war were to all of us.

Things peace signatories shouldn’t allow themselves to be absorbed in are protruding threats of violence caused by overestimation and the urgency to please the peace mediators or accelerate the implementation process of the agreement. Miscalculations can arise during the disarmament initiatives or when the rush to eliminate smaller armed opposition forces who are withholding their signatures from the agreement paper becomes far more greater. Forces like NAS of Gen. Thomas Cirilo and others which continue to express dissatisfactions and lack of faith in some key areas of the agreement.  

Recently, Nyamilepedia reported that a joint force, consisting of newly renamed SSDF and SPLM-IO almost heeded an offensive attack against the NAS to ‘flush them’ out of their hiding in Yei River and other areas in the Equatorian heartland a week ago. SPLM-IO, being a rebellion itself shouldn’t entertain any ruthless moves because they could easily backfire and reduce its popularity among the Equatorians or, creates an image of cruelty on a rebellion that runs on inclusivity, equal representation and common good for all southerners.

And for future reference, both the SPLM-IO and SSDF even after the formation of the transitional government must refrain from errors of the past brought largely by forcible disarmament, tribal feuds and failing to compensate armed civilians for their guns.

Force

The usually known solution to the SPLA commanders in dealing with armed civilians is the use of brute force to get the job done. We have seen this before with the rebels of Gen. George Athor in Jonglei and Upper Nile, the Murle Cobra of Gen. David Yau Yau and in Unity state with the late Gen. Gatluak Gai as well as dealing with Gen. Gatdet of the South Sudan Liberation Army before it was taken over by Gen. Baapiny Monytuil and Gen. Puljang Top in late 2011. And the most exemplified cruelty of the SPLA was seen in the massacre of Gajaak tribe in the 1980s and the surge led against the Taposa of Eastern Equatoria later in the late 80s by the same movement.

These are some of the instances that attest to the itching fingers of SPLA and the regime rely on forcible means to seek solutions to rather complex issues are problematic. As most of us by now become experts to the devastation left behind by use of force to get what we want, as the only decisive method to quickly rid the country of rebellions. How did that work out in the last six years of slaughtering each other? I leave that assessment to the experts in the field of military history to speculate.

As of now, everyone has come to realize the need for dialogue as one of the important alternatives to bringing peace and stability to the whole country. It’s critically important that the next phase of the transitional government is to look beyond the need of crushing opponents militarily. Especially those of NAS and others which aren’t overwhelmingly in support of the signed peace.

The approach to bringing them on board gears towards a continuous effort to negotiate with them, listening to what many of us might have overlooked in our rush to obtain the titles and positions at the table with those of Makuei Lueth who have harvested the fruits of everyone’s labor in the country for the last six years.

The warring parties might have left several critical issues to the chance as forced confinement in solitude and human yearns for success, self-preservation and other urges in life often triumph our true intentions, and the opportunity to bargain in good conscience become easily weakened by self-promises, things that alter our clear guts.

Recognizing the need to accommodate others’ platforms would lead to confident-building, bring stability and likely reduce any immediate resort to violence as a means to demand representation or one’s place in society.

Challenges

Another critical issue here deals with the notion of disarmament, the government sees as the most effective way of numbing insecurity, tribal feuds, and cattle thieving. In the 2006 disarmament campaign, we learned that forcible disarmament doesn’t really result in peaceful coexistence among neighboring communities or smooth relations between certain ethnicities and Juba. In the case of Nuer and the Murle armed tribesmen, the rationale of repeating the same strategy would be a no-brainer if not entirely stupid.

The disasters that emanated from that disarmament initiative were deadly and set the stage for long tribal feuds and hostilities among traditional rivals, Nuer, Dinka and the Murle respectively, particularly in Jonglei corridors. It seemed as though SPLA forces were adamant and quick in carrying out their mandates, by using more than proportion force to disarm non-Dinka civilians in Jonglei, resulting in a huge loss of lives. Hundreds if not thousands of young men were lost in the 2006 disarmament between the Lou and SPLA forces.

What hurts the most in the process is that such disarmament was carried out mostly by Nuer themselves, Lou sons in the like of Gen. Bol Koang, causing more deaths even after the disarmament itself. There became a lingering clan feud as those who lost loved ones in the hands of SPLA Gen. Koang blamed his clan for his deadly action. The whole thing turned the societal tranquility in disarray as norms become subverted and lawlessness took center stage in the Lou country.

Compensations

Many civilians obtained their arms by way of purchase. They went extra lengths to acquire them so it’s only fair that the disarming party pays them money in exchange. This would not only be a more peaceful approach in getting them to voluntarily comply, but it would also act as an incentive that drives armed civilians to surrender their arms peacefully.

Most civilians would also restore faith in their government and the disarming agency. It would enable civilians to build confidence in the system. In some countries such as Mozambique, in South Africa, disarmament didn’t necessarily involve the state directly. It was a collaborative work between the state security apparatus, NGOs and the UN’s agencies.

The concept wasn’t solely also based on the arms collection from private hands, it involved a host of experts who studied circumstances that led people to pick up arms in the first place. And also, the sense of void in gun-owners when their weapons are taken away, what do they think would happen to them, especially if they had placed significant value in gun-ownership.

These studies helped not only the government of Mozambique to provide needed services to former armed combatants, but it also addressed several concerns the communities had around security, reintegration, health, and education as parts of post disarmament programs. The studies helped the disarming agencies to replicate them elsewhere in the world, to help state governments in similar dichotomy to carry out more humane and positive disarmament of their own.

Security

Knowing that the disarming agencies will look after people’s security and protect their livelihood removes doubts about their potential enemies attacking them or stealing their property. But if the government cannot afford to replace the necessity of having to bear arms to protect oneself and livelihood, expectations of peaceful disarmament become indifferent. Since the need to protect one’s own livelihood depends on owning a gun, most civilians especially the Nuer and Murle would continue to resist the disarming forces

Lack of trust also is the leading factor among the Nuer and Murle to resist any government’s initiative in disarming them. Their deep suspicion on the regime was confirmed when President Kiir’s own militias slaughtered more than twenty-five thousand Nuer in 2013. These tribes associate government forces with the Dinka tribe, their traditional adversary worth resisting if it comes to that.

Part of the suspicion is built around the issue that Dinka believe in the SPLA. They do so because it protects their interest and has often seen it as their own creation. Even Salva Kiir himself made a remark once that the “Equatorians don’t want to join the SPLA and the Nuer have left with Riek Machar” so it’s true that the Dinka make up the SPLA or something in similar line. Dinka uses it as a vehicle to obtain what they want and increase their political leverage throughout the country.

With the exception of Lakes state citizens, SPLA is known to carry strong sentiment against the Nuer, the Murle and other non-Dinka tribes who view it with distrust. In Unity state for example, during the disarming campaign, SPLA collected Nuer’s arms and transported them to Rumbek, the capital of Lakes state for safe-keeping. Nyuong of Payinjiar county, as well as the Haak of Mayendit, were severely affected by such disarmament. These tribes frequently engage in smaller-scale conflicts with their Dinka neighbors of Lakes and Warrap states respectively over matters like grazing lands and cattle thieving for generations. Frankly speaking, these are two traditional enemies that would never live peacefully knowing that the other has no means of protection. Taking arms away from one rival and trusting their safe-keeping to his enemy is just another way to fuel conflicts between the two.

The Nuer here have the right to blame both governments of Unity state and Juba for not providing security protection after having their weapons removed. Also,  these unnecessary and stupid disarmaments left the Dinka with total confidence that Nuer were defenseless and vulnerable to raids which were the case right after the disarmament campaigns. It only stopped in 2014 when Nuer rearmed and balance of power in relations to their rivals readjusted. This completely deterred the Dinka from raiding the Nuer of Payinjiar because they were well aware of the danger in-waiting.

Alternatives

Other ways to mitigate these reoccurring issues can for the government to discourage any disarmaments altogether because gun-ownership doesn’t necessitate to the occurrence of violence or the root cause of rebellion in South Sudan but government policy of erasing one ethnic community does. We might treat individual gun-owners as rational beings who evaluate the need to use weapons only in the situation where their livelihood depends on it. For instance, in the case of cattle raiders and unruly neighbors who trespass into someone’s lands with bad intentions, the use of weapons to protect one’s life and property can widely be sanctioned as a necessity of self-defense.

Another factor that doesn’t need to be stressed enough here is that if disarmament becomes a national agenda, then all weapons collected in any region must remain locked up in the same region, only to be handed out to private owners to protect themselves from invading forces, outlaws and thugs who roam loosely as the state and central government cannot respond timely.

Chadi Michael is a concerned South Sudanese. He can be reached through his personal email at chad8204@gmail.com