JUBA, South Sudan – Three months following a devastating attack in Jonglei in December, the South Sudan government has launched a number of initiatives that, without recalibration, will fall short of achieving the intended goal of securing sustained peace in the state.
The South Sudanese government’s controversial and highly anticipated disarmament campaign in Jonglei state is now in its second week. The campaign was launched with considerable high-level fanfare and support, with personal visits by the president and vice president to the state. Some 15,000 SPLA soldiers have been deployed to Jonglei for the purpose of disarmament, but it remains unclear what the government’s exact strategy will be. The government has announced its intention to begin with a period of voluntary disarmament and then transition into using force if necessary. On the first day news reports indicated some 4,000 rifles were collected in Bor County. But the success of the process will be difficult to evaluate through simply the number of guns collected, since no precise data on the number of arms in the state is available. Many presume people have either hidden their weapons in the bush or moved to other parts of the country.
International relief workers on the ground say no mass violence provoked by the disarmament has been reported so far. But reports and witnesses’ accounts from Jonglei are not spotless.
The county commissioner’s office in Pibor County told the Enough Project that two people were killed by SPLA in the past three days. An elderly man from Pibor town was severely beaten by soldiers and passed away soon after at the hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières. Soldiers on an SPLA patrol on the road to Likuangole reportedly shot two people; one died instantly and the other person was taken to the hospital in Juba. The county commissioner’s office alleged that the shooting was unprovoked. Sixteen people in total have been admitted to hospitals across the state for wounds inflicted by SPLA soldiers, according to reports from international NGOs. Witnesses in Bor told Enough that people have been harassed for “non-collaboration” with the SPLA.
The potential for the disarmament to spark further insecurity and lead to more widespread civilian abuses remains large. The Enough Project warned in late February that a disarmament campaign not conceived within a holistic Jonglei strategy aimed at addressing the political, security, humanitarian, and developmental drivers behind past violence will ultimately fail to create peace in the long-term. Of particular importance is the initiation of a two-track peace effort led by the national government on one level, and by the churches at the grassroots level.
Prominent members of the Murle community in Pibor town told Enough that the government should prioritize reconciliation and mediation between the communities before it attempts to disarm them.
But the mandate of the newly-created government peace committee on Jonglei—issued in a presidential decree in late February—raises concerns that the Juba government will not be pursuing a high-level peace track that zeroes in on the political and security-related causes behind the violence in Jonglei. The mandate instead indicates that the national peace committee will work to reconcile and mediate between communities in Jonglei, an arrangement that overlaps with the grassroots peace process that the Sudan Council of Churches has already initiated—and is arguably in a better position to lead given its long history with inter-communal reconciliation.
A high-level committee focused on investigating the causes of the violence in December—including the potential involvement of elected officials—and dedicated to creating a comprehensive security strategy of which disarmament should be one component, is a key element of a successful Jonglei strategy. The separate but coordinated functions of the church and national government in pushing for peace in Jonglei needs to be put back on the Juba government’s agenda.
Photo: SPLA soldiers (IRIN)