South Sudan must reform its huge army to avoid an Inevitable Crisis (Part I)

“The unnecessarily huge Army is an economic burden on the new state of south Sudan.”!

By: Justin Ambago Ramba

February 7, 20213 (SSNA) — In South Sudan as it’s the case with the rest of the African continent, what is often rumored around is in fact a true story. Last year while the country’s president was away on an official visit to the Peoples’ Republic of China, a certain foiled military coup was rumored in Juba. This story was however quickly dismissed by the government spokesperson!!

Since then talks about the military which had been a no go area for the journalists and media houses, have now become one of the  most  discussed current issues the countrywide. It might also not be a coincidence at all when the president in a very sweeping move recently dismissed 38 of his most senior army officers.

Much noticed is of course the radical changes that went on to involve all the deputies to the Chief of Staff as they were replaced by new faces. 

The public opinion on the other hand was quick to endorse the move and the media comments were largely in favor of more of such dismissals. In fact in the eyes of the public the army is viewed to have become increasing too huge when compared to the total population of the country [8.5 million according to the disputed 2008 national census].

That far the latest shake-up in the military did not really come as any surprise to those who have keenly followed the political developments in this new country.

Even going by the much preferred population projection in the same year that puts the figure roughly at a range between 13.5 to 15 million, one would have still expected a smaller army to what this new country has now. The force may range from anything between 50,000 to 200,000 depending on who does the counting and for which purpose.

If we are to restrict the count only to able bodies that are still physically fit and actively serving, we may probably just end up with the former figure of around 50, 000 or so.

However if we were getting the data from the army’s monthly payrolls, then we probably will be talking about the latter figure of 200,000 which is evidently  designed work of corrupt senior officers who continue to drain the country’s coffers with much impunity.

It is indeed a national duty and an important one to pay attention to the size of the army because this huge and ever increasing army has since 2005 taken up nearly half of the country’s total revenues. With a free access to nearly 50 to 60 % of the country’s total budget and open to continuous expansion.

The prospects of this reckless and illegal over-spending are already reflecting negatively on a country that was once not only paralyzed but was in fact completely destroyed by years of a ruthless civil war that consumed both the dry and the green.

Much of the infrastructure needs to be reconstructed while in the majority of cases it’s true to say that everything is to be constructed for the first time.

If the leadership was at all being considerate of the needs of the country, then these are where much of the scarce resources of this poverty stricken state should be going as a token of peace dividend.

Needless to overstress, South Sudan still remains largely insecure. The few existing government institutions are weak and corrupt while the majority of the much needed ones are actually non-existent in vast areas of the territory.

And to say the obvious we are probably dealing here with a country which has one of the world’s worst law enforcement agents.

Everywhere in these parts of the world uncertainty is high on the list and continues to be the order of the day, while illegally armed groups exist almost all across the country. Unfortunately this huge army’s role in combating insecurity and bring the situation under control is yet to be seen.

From our own experience as a population that had lived under war situation for well over half a century, we should know better that many of the insecurities that continue to ravage our country can only be settled politically and economically.

Take the situation in Jonglei State as an example and you will realize that no amount of isolated military intervention can bring stability and peaceful co-existence amongst its various warring factions.

The true nature of our problems though well known to us, unfortunately we tend to intentionally misrepresent them.

The fact of the matter is that what manifests itself now as inter-tribal crisis and conflicts are in actual fact manifestations of illiteracy, poverty, backwardness, all of which were made worse by the fierce competition over scarce resources [grazing land, water, land and others].

Finding a long lasting solution to the above problems is not impossible, however the military options  often resorted to as the first choice in these cases have time and time proven to be the least effective.

Let us face it, for since the root causes of most if not all of these problems can be traced down to politics and economics, then it’s only logical that they can only be settled through addressing both the political and economic needed of our people.

If the above arguments are true and which they are, then the need for keeping such a huge army becomes irrelevant as the solutions to  our main problems doesn’t really warrant their roles. In fact as of late most inter-ethnic crisis has only worsened when the military were wrongly pushed into it.

It’s all too common in South Sudan for soldiers to desert their units in the SPLA in order to fight alongside their tribesmen as witnessed in Jonglei State and other parts of the country. This became too common especially during forcibly disarmaments of the civilian populations.

The army is now largely viewed by the civilian population throughout the country as both a sociopolitical and an economic burden on the new state and its people. It is badly in need of self-criticism and appraisal since it has by all means become very unpopular due to its poor records on human rights and professionalism.

In whichever part of the country where this army has been deployed since its inception, the missions have often been compromised and overshadowed by stories of widespread torture, harassment, rape of the civilian population and looting of their properties, all orchestrated by none but the very who were supposed to them.

Whether the above heinous acts were strategically allowed during the civil war to achieve certain ethnically driven motives or simply a way of settling political scores with particular ethnic groups presumed as the enemy within, the official declaration of the country’s independence on July 9th, 2011 should a clear line to spread between the new and the old era.

For whatever reasons these rogue behavior of some elements in the army cannot be allowed to remain the same especially when this army is now a national army of an independent country that is a member of the United Nations and other regional bodies.

From the above narrative, it is clear that our national army is nowhere near professionalism. And its huge size is even a hindrance to the introduction of any modernization since this means having to spend more money.

The other important issue of course is to see how trainable is these men and women who we would want to upgrade into modern and professional soldiers?

Our borders issues will always be there and especially so with our northern neighbor the Republic of Sudan. However for practical purposes we cannot be able to militarily patrol this 2010 kilometer long border even when we have this huge army.

The lack of adequate logistics will still be a problem in achieving that.  And these are some of the main reasons why we should opt for a small but highly sophisticated modern army rather than a huge ill-functioning one.

Equally of concern undoubtedly is the fate of our territories that have been annexed by the republic of the Sudan during the time pre-independence era. 

These areas are known to us and we have to pursue legal and diplomatic channels in order to reclaim them. These issues can never be settled militarily, unless of course we intend to go back to an all-out war. 

On the other hand it is very important that we take our independence very seriously, and the best way to defend this hard earned independence is by playing the game according to the rules.

As a full member of the League of Nations, South Sudan is no longer on its own in facing outside threats. And as a UN member state our political independence is an irreversible fact of history unless of course we are willing to undo it ourselves!

The above points are very important, because as a member of the United Nations, South Sudan is also a signatory to its treaties that seek peaceful solutions to political problems whether within the country or with its next door neughbours.

We should not allow ourselves to be consumed by the fear that someone out there will invade us militarily and repeal our political independence. Those days of Napoleonic and Hitlerism are long gone!

We are all familiar with the failed so-called Argentinian military invasion of the Falklands and the invasion of Kuwait by the executed   late president Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

Both incidences cost the invaders many lives and losses in properties and they too lost the lands that they lay claim on because neither moves were accepted by the international community. 

If these two lessons of history are not enough for us to learn from, can’t we learn from our own confrontation with the international community when our gallant SPLA forces overran Panthou [Heglig] and took it from the El Bashir’s forces?

And where is Panthou [Heglig] now? Were we not condemned for reclaiming it militarily and forced to withdraw from?

The bottom line of this article is first to awaken the so-called concerned citizens to practice their full rights as citizens of this wonderful homeland , south Sudan without any need to fear or be forced into self-censorship anymore.  

The main message remains that there is an urgent need to downsize the numbers of men and women now serving in our army if we are to have a modern, well trained, and well-armed and a professional national army. 

By all reasoning there isn’t any sound ground to justify the enrollment figures as high as 50,000 in the army of a poor country like South Sudan, when it can hardly provide the most basic services to its citizens.

At the time of writing this article a vast majority of the local population in impoverished parts of the world  depend on foreign aid, NGOs and charities for everything from clean drinking water, food, medicine, education, and shelter.

This huge army might  have been undertaken in the context of the South-South dialogue to mean inclusiveness, yet because it was  based on wrong concepts, unfortunately  this inclusiveness have never been achieved and the SPLA remains largely  dominated by only two tribes in a country that has over 77 tribes

If we are to survive this century of advanced technology, then we must move fast in the direction of having a smaller but modernized army both in personnel and equipment. The army must be reduced to a size that can allow for efficient and proper training, while stressing its fair representation of all regions, ethnicities and minorities.

Nonetheless nothing comes easy and the initial step may frustrate other people, however it must be undertaken.  All those who for practical purposes cannot be trained, and they are indeed in huge numbers, must be decently laid off.

The lack of money has on many occasions been cited as the main reason why soldiers or other government officials are not being sent into retired as dictated by their age or physical and mental health status simply because the state cannot afford to pay them their dues.

This is in fact a fallacy, for as these people are allowed to keep their jobs which   are already costing the state much money for no services in return; this very money can be used in partially settling these so-called post service dues.  And why not?!!!

The second step would be to confine our efforts on training, upgrading and promoting the young and the educated.

The rest who are physically fit and can still handle the rifle perfectly well,  but do not for one reason or the other fit in the above categories should be decently relocated to the much need agricultural and construction sectors, while keeping them on the reserve list should their services  be  needed in the future.

Author: Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba. Secretary General – United South Sudan Party [USSP]. He can be reached at:  [email protected] or [email protected]. N:B More on the topic next week.

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