Approximately three million small arms are circulating in Sudan and South Sudan. In the fourth edition of The Niles, our correspondents from both countries take a closer look: Where do the weapons come from? What societal role do they play? But most importantly: How many weapons are needed to establish peace and to ensure that the door on evil no longer has to be shut, as the above proverb suggests? A Darfuri fighter (photo), has a practical answer – a collection of talismans meant to protect him from bullets. But will it protect him from the person with his finger on the trigger? Albert Einstein, whose Theory of Relativity was proven in a 1952 experiment carried out in Sudan said: “The world will not be threatened by evil people rather by people who permit it.” Those words ring true here and will hopefully open another door and allow something good to slip in.
12 The Niles | Commentary Why South Sudanese “need” firearms by Jok Madut Jok D ecades of civil war left in their wake gigantic challenges for both Sudan and South Sudan. The most daunting of these was the militarisation of many communities, the ubiquity of firearms and widespread communal violence fanned by easy access to light weapons and small arms. Nothing speaks more loudly about the impact of the north-south war on South Sudanese communities than the number of guns it left in the hands of civilians and their use in communal feuds, crime and revenge. Weapons alone do not kill, however. They only kill because human beings use them. It is therefore important to think about what is driving this violence, and why people feel the need to acquire guns. Social shifts are underway, forcing many people to reach for firearms. The starting point for this shift was the Sudanese government’s use of a counterinsurgency tactic of recruiting, training and arming young South Sudanese and deploying them to fight against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and against their own people, a kind of war by proxy. This tactic had an immediate consequence: It seriously damaged ethnic relations and, in turn, these wrecked relations were more likely to be settled by using guns. The traditional ethos was utterly abandoned under the weight of the anonymous firearm killings, as opposed to killings that once involved face-to-face confrontation and spears. The next step in the development of this gun-focused subculture was the SPLA’s encouragement of civilians to acquire weapons to protect themselves against Sudan’s government-sponsored militias, especially against the Popular Defense Force (PDF) made up of the Baggara from Darfur and Kordofan. This wreaked havoc in northern parts of Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile regions. The third step was the growing trend of cattle rustling, which became rampant in seven out of the ten states of the country. Many young men acquired arms to protect their livestock and retrieve their stolen cattle. The fourth driver were various splits within the SPLA, beginning in 1991 when Riek Machar broke away and tried to form his own wing of the organisation. This quickly took on an ethnic colour, with Machar, a Nuer being supported by other Nuer, which sparked the notorious Bor massacre. Meanwhile, the leader of the SPLA, the late John Garang, was mainly supported by his Dinka ethnic group. Throughout the 1990s the SPLA continued to clash with militias. Some of the weapons, sourced from supportive countries by the SPLA, found their way into the hands of the civilians. This had deadly consequences: The guns ushered in a new level of viciousness and destruction in comparison to when these ethnic groups used to fight with clubs and spears. The last step in the development of this new gun culture was the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) itself. Armed groups were encouraged to join the SPLA, the new national defense force, and many of them sold their weapons for cash or cows. These were keenly acquired by the would-be cattle rustlers among the civilians. When South Sudan became independent in 2011, people urgently wanted security, especially communities living in regions worst affected by the war. So it was only natural that the government unveiled massive civilian disarmament campaigns. Ethnic divides hampered these, in particular deepseated fears that other groups might be better armed. This suspicion meant most people either ignored the disarmament efforts or, worse still, acquired more weapons. Civilian disarmament has been generally rated as a failure or a limited success. Problems included the heavy-handed approach, which deterred people from coming forward with their guns. Meanwhile, they made the mistake of not simultaneously disarming competing groups. But the biggest problem was the assumption that removal of guns alone would solve South Sudan’s security problems. This ignores one obvious fact: It is not about the guns, but rather why people feel they need weapons in the first place. If these drivers of violence are not tackled, if there are no guarantees of security and justice, and if citizens suspect that the state has a total monopoly of the legitimate use of force, then the South Sudanese will continue to find ways of getting hold of guns. Far from being a subculture, the continued use of firearms and their spread among civilians are rooted in the lack of justice and state protection, suspicion, ethnic feuds and how easy guns are to acquire. Battling unlicensed weapons in Darfur by Mohamed Hilaly D arfur, a region roughly the size of Spain, has more than two million unlicensed firearms. A bid to register and mark these weapons kicked off a year ago, viewed as a step towards disarmament. It has yet, however, to make any real headway. Keeping tabs on these illegal firearms is a massive task. But before that can happen, several unavoidable issues need to be resolved to shore up local support for the unpopular project. Development is the first stumbling block, and a key prerequisite if the process is to succeed. The absence of the most basic elements for life means that people take up arms to make a living through cattle raiding or looting the property of others. So far there has been no effective strategy for improving development in Darfur. And development is not just about building schools, supplying stationery, digging boreholes or providing medicine. It goes deeper: It is related to production and, in particular, to using natural resources to foster economic and social benefits, by creating job opportunities and a fair distribution of wealth. On this point, progress is vital, not least against the backdrop of the devastating war, which has dominated the region for decades. Another problem is instilling trust. Until now, the majority of participants in the registration and marking process are believed to be civilians affiliated to the government. Even given their official links, these participants are said not to have registered all their firearms, only admitting to owning an estimated one out of five. This obviously undermines the credibility of the government, also rattling confidence among those close to power. To remedy the prevailing suspicion, the government would need to work with all parties, including all Darfur movements. Signing a comprehensive peace agreement should not be a prerequisite to such involvement. In fact, excluding these groups will undermine the process. Similarly civil and popular leaderships that oppose the ruling regime in Khartoum must be included. After all, if all participants are affiliated to the regime, the process will lack credibility, especially among the local Darfur groups who long fought against the ruling party. The government needs to face up to these problems. Failure to do so will end up, once again, wasting time and money, without benefiting the people of Darfur, the victims of years of violent conflict. Comments Failing to disarm Jonglei by Francis Michael D isarmament was never going to be easy in Jonglei, one of South Sudan’s most violent states. But the process of trying to remove weapons from a population which is armed to the hilt, has fared worse than even the most pessimistic predictions. The disarmament campaign instigated by the government in March 2012, aimed to foster peace, but in reality unleashed a storm of violence and human rights atrocities in South Sudan’s largest state. Reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International indicate citizens have been tortured, raped and killed by soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) conducting the disarmament. Victims described being beaten by soldiers and having their heads submerged in water to extract information about weapons. Others spoke of how soldiers looted their property and destroyed crops. These brutal tactics are a key reason for the disarmament campaigns failure. Observers say the soldiers riled locals by disarming some communities of their weapons while not disarming others, creating a volatile imbalance of power, fuelling insecurity, and undermining any confidence in the government.
Commentary | The Niles 13 The officials clearly had their work cut out: Jonglei, where most citizens are shepherds, is awash with arms, which are used in conflicts and also in a spate of thefts, especially of livestock. Divisions between Dinka, Nuer and Murle communities are pronounced, and, exacerbating local tensions, all these groups are heavily armed, a legacy of decades of war. Because of this insecurity, handing over weapons makes people feel vulnerable to attack. Careful explanation is needed to show how disarmament is needed to install long-term security and protect their children in the future. But the forces’ aggressive approach, combined with a lack of accountability, weakened any trust in the rule of law. Human Rights Watch cited the Pibor County Commissioner as saying that in one instance there had been 14 cases of killings and serious injuries to civilians by disarmament forces but military authorities arrested suspects in only five cases. For any disarmament programme to work, it has to be driven by confidence rather than fear. This is not the case in Jonglei. With all that has transpired, it is understandable that people have completely lost faith in the authorities’ ability to create a safe environment and ensure a fair disarmament process. People of Jonglei State have had their confidence in the young nation badly soured by the botched disarmament campaign. It is obvious that they will continue to carry and use their arms. Before attempting another disarmament campaign, South Sudan will need to tread carefully to restore wounded trust of the people in the government – and in each other. Only when that is achieved, can they even consider attempting civilian disarmament in Jonglei. We trust guns not governments by Atem Simon Mabior I t is a fact that the proliferation of firearms among civilians and armed groups in South Sudan constitutes a source of ongoing suffering for the country’s citizens. Communities completely rely on arms for self-protection, a trend that has been fed by the absence of state institutions in many remote regions or areas of armed conflict. Many citizens have no answer to the question: Can you imagine life without firearms in South Sudan? And it is a question, which is practically unanswerable right now. All attempts of disarmament have failed for the simple reason that people have more confidence in arms than rules, regulations or government legislation. A sense of desperation has overwhelmed everyone. Citizens have lost hope to live in a safe and stable country devoid of arms, largely because of the absence of clear policies.The “Abyei Now” online newspaper makes a clear link between a gun-free future and a strong state: “The dream of a disarmed South Sudan will only come true when the state of the law is established.” The culture of firearms has become a key trait of many communities, especially rural ones where rustling and child abductions are common, according to arms surveys in South Sudan. As a result, many communities have established their own armies, such as the White Army that was initially created to defend cattle herds but soon gained power by raiding its neighbours. It has recently thrown its weight behind Riek Machar’s rebellion. Other communities were organized into youth groups called‚ “Titweng”‚ or “Gelweng”‚ which sought to protect cattle in Lakes State, central South Sudan. These armies possess light automatic weapons, which they buy, steal or obtain by cutting deals with the army. Some still use weapons they acquired during the previous war. Confidence in arms and their abundance has become a major threat to the development and improvement of South Sudan. After all, if people have weapons, they can seize other people’s possessions – and there is no one to hold them accountable. This fuels a culture of revenge and retribution that, unless they are eliminated by the government with the help of development partners, become rooted in local traditions, giving rise to folk tales and songs that glorify war and honour the possession of firearms. In this way, we share responsibility for wasting our future through procrastination, indifference and collusion. Lucrative trade in Eastern Sudan by Abdalhady Alhag I t is not new that geopolitical issues have cast a long shadow over the Horn of Africa, contributing to the militarisation of the region. This trend was visible in eastern Sudan, for example, during the war that afflicted the area between 1994 and 2006. Historically, geopolitical interests were the force behind arms transportation in the area. Automatic firearms were introduced during the 1960s Eritrean liberation war, when soldiers came to eastern Sudan and sold their weapons. One source, preferring not to be identified, says that, at that time, Sudan pulled the strings behind the scenes: “Some factions from Ethiopia started to store their arms in hiding places on Sudanese soil with the knowledge of the then Sudanese government which used to provide them with logistic support.” Meanwhile, it seems that the rise of Palestinian resistance groups, armed by some Islamic states, made eastern Sudan a transit zone for arms moving from Sudan’s coast to the Sinai peninsula in Egypt and then onward to the Palestinian territories. These days, geopolitical interests are often subordinated to economic interests. The big profits available through arms – combined with high demand – ensure the flow of arms-laden vehicles passing through eastern Sudan, in particular Red Sea State. Unsurprisingly, traffickers in eastern Sudan want to protect their lucrative trade. Mohamed, a young man with links to the traffickers, explains the extent of the earnings, saying that people made US$10,000 per vehicle carrying arms from eastern Sudan to Sinai. “Arms are usually transported in 20-vehicle convoys,” he says. “They earn huge sums.” Major players in this trade live in big eastern cities like Kassala, Port Sudan and Suakin, often disguising their trafficking business behind phoney commercial activities, he adds. Although economics are a major factor behind the arms trade, sources remark that it remains strategically important to some government circles. Osman Fagray, an international law expert and former head of the Red Sea State Police, says the bulk of arms enter eastern Sudan because of the Israeli siege on the Gaza strip. “The Islamist character of the Sudanese government encouraged it to facilitate arms delivery to Islamist groups,” he explains. But who pays the price for this convergence of interests in eastern Sudan? The answer is: those working this illicit trade and, potentially, the local population. One example of the deadly nature of the arms business occurred when Israel, allegedly, carried out a series of air strikes in the region, starting in 2009 when it bombed a large convoy carrying arms to the north east of Port Sudan. And until the rule of law clamps down on this lucrative trade, it is clear that the population is going to continue to live at the eye of the storm. Lessons from Northern State by Hassan Berkia T he Northern State or the Far North of Sudan is known for its stability and peace. While other parts of Sudan are caught up in armed conflict, this region is a rare spot of tranquillity, sparking the question: what can the rest of the country learn from this success story? Abu Elqasim Mohamed Othman, former Mayor of Dongola city, has not seen any gun violence during 40 years he has spent working in the north. “A culture of carrying guns is non-existent in North Sudan. I have never witnessed armed conflict in any area of this state,” he says. Numerous factors contribute to the north’s safe environment, including its location far from Sudan’s conflict zones and bordering relatively stable states. It also benefits from natural barriers such as the desert, thus making it difficult to smuggle arms. However, the main reason for the lack of gun violence is the state’s traditional culture that focuses on inter-communal relations. Citizens have not carried arms since the ancient kingdoms‚ according to King Abdullah Zubair, the last king of Dongola and head of the region’s civil administration. “For centuries, the North has not witnessed any wars or armed conflicts. The available arms, which are very few and officially licensed, are only allocated for personal protection and hunting,” he says. Northern Sudanese culture hinges on ensuring justice among the various components of the society. Even during the slavery era, the Northern State used to have a sophisticated social system where agricultural activities transformed the system of slavery into an organised waged work system. The Northern State’s peaceful tradition is a fruit of its stable urban agricultural society, established over generations. It means people are free to live in peace and constructively focus on building up society. “The Northern man does not carry a knife since slaughter is the profession of butchers alone, which indicates that division of labour was firmly established in the community,” says Abdallah El-Sheikh, a journalist and writer from the Northern State. Locals say no one carries weapons unless they need them professionally, for example, to work as a hunter. Despite the arrival of new cultures from all over Sudan and gold mining in the Northern desert, with some conflicts cropping up around the mining areas, the vast majority of Northerners still reject violence and views the use of arms as unsafe. Assuming that the Northern culture sticks to its culture and clear-cut division of labour, the state will likely preserve its reputation for safety in a nation where the swelling numbers of arms are considered an epidemic. Illustration by Khalid Albaih