13 Jun 2021


South Sudan Should Buy Weapons from Civilians

"It is a known fact that the disintegrated army of civilians are always a ready force thrown behind a rebelling disgruntle politician. After all, they have little or nothing to lose. They must eat by hook or crook."

New Peaceful Disarmament Strategy

By James A. Mayik

Buying Guns from the civilians of South Sudan can be a long term but effective disarmament strategy which could lead to a gradual political, social, and economic stability. Anyone who knows South Sudan understands that peaceful coexistence among the communities has been a challenge since its independence from Sudan in 2011.

Although the key trigger of violent conflicts in South Sudan has usually been political, the scale of damage and loss of lives is exacerbated by the widespread presence of all kinds of weapons in the hands of non-State actors. To be exact, most of the non-State actors who still bear arms in South Sudan are not civilians exclusively. Most of them are members of the former Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) or Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) who were not accommodated in the South Sudan’s post-war army. Disarming them by force has been an illusive phenomenon because it is not easy for one army to disarm another. The only time a successful forceful disarmament occurred was when the Soviet Red Army disarmed a large section of German Army under the command of Adolf Hitler in 1944/1945 during the Second World War.

To disarm South Sudan’s non-State Actors, the best strategy is to identify and cut off their sources of ammunition. Allow them time to use the ammunition rounds they already have in their disposal in whatever way they deem fit but ensure their suspected supply sources are closed. So, what is their suspected sources of ammunition?

A key question everyone has always asked is this, where do South Sudan’s non-State actors acquire ammunition to perpetuate violence within all these years since 2005? Let’s assume they get ammunition from the organized forces who are officially supplied by the State. After all, the same assault rifles are still used by all South Sudan’s organized forces. To effectively shut down that supply source, the government of South Sudan will need to initiate the following policy frameworks:

1) Disarm all the organized forces as a way to rid South Sudan of the common AK47 or Kalashnikov;
2) rearm them with a brand new type of assault rifle which does not use AK47 rounds/ammunition;
3) impose a ban on importation of Kalashnikov ammunition (bullets); and 4) finally, start a large-scale Kalashnikov-purchasing program.

The success of the aforementioned policy frameworks depends on building a stronger diplomatic relationship with the neighboring countries. This is because the existence of a lot of unregulated arms in the hands of South Sudan’s non-State actors such as civilians and militia junta, is a recipe for increased violent crimes which may often spills over into Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, CAR, and Congo. This new non-violent disarmament strategy is not cheap.

However, it could be an investment whose impact can bring unimaginable political, social, and economic tranquility within the East Africa and the Greater Lake region. If the goal is to disarm Non-State actors voluntarily, not only South Sudan but in the entire region, use of force to disarm people can breed more unintended violence. Once the source of ammunition supply has been sealed off, these actors will eventually run out of ammunition. And without ammunition, they will find Kalashnikov rifle useless and that will simply impel them to put up such weapons for sale voluntarily.

Source of Civilian Armament in South Sudan
Civilian armament in South Sudan is blamed on the backdrop of civil wars. But these civil wars are actually fueled by the availability of arms and ammunition. Small arms proliferation among civilians in South Sudan is widespread but there is no reliable data to authenticate the numbers estimated by numerous researchers. What is very clear is the deliberate arming of Southern Sudan’s men during the first and second civil wars. It is also clear that armament of people with both authorized and covert conventional weapons continued unmitigated till today.

Saferworld (2012) finds that before South Sudan separated from Sudan, it was estimated that there were about between 1.9 and 3.2 million small arms circulating in South Sudan. Two-third of these weapons were in the hands of civilians. The primary source of these weapons was Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

As that is not enough, United Nations Development Program (UNDP, n.d) through the Small Armed Survey found that illicit cross-border trafficking and proxy arming of rebel groups by external actors has only been extensively documented but the real figures and the scale of civilian stockpiles are yet to be established.

UNDP’s report from a research funded by the United Kingdom Aid (UKAID) – cited above, attempted to estimate the scale of arms in civilians’ hands across South Sudan for the first time in history. In a country where sources of information have long been dependent on the words of mouth, rumors taken from village to village on foot, establishing evidence-based dataset on civilian arms possession, how small arms are acquired, and the reasons for their acquisition, is an exceptional move.

However, what is not clear is the continued and sustainable source of ammunition. As South Sudan’s revitalized government begins a cautious implementation of a shaky peace agreement, more research is needed in order to map the sources and routes of not only weapons but ammunition as well. If there are some advantages underlaying the current revitalized peace agreement, it is the fatigue of violence, the fear of death, and the realization that war is expensive.

However, the potential interest to acquire arms and ammunition is sustained by the recent experiences of widespread violence.

There is a long-held suspicion by South Sudanese that Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) might have continued to supply weapons and ammunition to South Sudan’s tribal holdout dissidents. The motives and timings are not clear. In one brief, issued on Small Arms Survey (2009) for Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA), an upsurge of violence by tribal militias in Southern Sudan, especially among the Lou Nuer, Western Jikany Nuer, Murle, Dinka, Shilluk, and Toposa has been witnessed. As a result, the UN argues, more than 2,000 people had been killed in clashes in 2009.

It needs to be noted that before the current ongoing widespread violence, a number of forceful disarmaments were conducted in some hotspots in Lakes, Warrap, Jonglei, and Upper Nile only to find that weapons and ammunition flow back into the hands of the same civilians who were previously disarmed. This raises a critical question, how do disarmed civilians get rearmed and acquire ammunition supply?

With SAF out of the equation, South Sudan People’s Defense Force (SSPDF), which is often marred by corruption scandals and tribal affiliations is the prime suspect. This is not the first time to point fingers at the SSPDF. During the civil war periods, Saferworld noted that in Lakes State, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), now changed to SSPDF provided weapons to cattle keepers. The motive was to enable youths, dialectally known as the Gelweng, to protect themselves and their communities from other tribal cattle raiders.

Until today, Lakes State is one of the hotspots worst affected by cattle rustling, ethnic feuds, revengeful violence, and indeed exacerbated by the presence of arms and ammunition. Therefore, the accusation against SSDPF for continuing to supply civilians with Kalashnikov and bullets either through sells on the black markets or gifts to relatives and ethnic-based political affiliations is substantial. As a result of three policy frameworks laid out earlier, the goal is to disrupt the South Sudan army from rearming civilians and supplying them with ammunition (bullets), just in case they had been doing so as suspected.

In conventional terms, arms control is the limitation of arms through the following methods: 1) The reduction of the number of weapons; 2) The eradication of certain types of weapons; 3) The barrage of importation on certain weaponry or parts or ammunition; 4) Discouragement of research and manufacture of certain weapons or the levels or locales of deployments of such weapons.

Arms control can be unilaterally initiated by a sovereign State like South Sudan, but it is usually an agreement between multiple parties or nations. In the case of this particular policy proposal for South Sudan, an agreement to bar importation of Kalashnikov ammunition can easily be made with the neighboring countries (Venture, 2018). If well managed, the gun-buying project will eventually lead to a total disarmament of the civilian populations without a single gunshot and bloodshed. Below are the expected outcomes of this policy strategy:

 Poor Mobilization and Demobilization of the SPLA
Southern Sudan’s rebellion movement championed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its military wing, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLM/A) used Kalashnikov (AK47), a Russian weapon brand, to arm its fighters. When peace was signed between the SPLM/A and the Sudan government in 2005, a cantonment and subsequent mobilization/demobilization of the fighters meant to transform former rebels into a regular army took place.

That mobilization and demobilization of the former rebels was poorly conducted, in my opinion. So many weapons, including Kalashnikov and other conventional automatic rifles were left in the hands of fighters whose names never got onto the new army’s parade and payroll. As a result, demobilized SPLM/A fighters were not disarmed. They simply disintegrated into their villages and cattle camps with their Kalashnikovs, ammunition, and other weapons.

On another keynote, South Sudan national army continued to use Kalashnikovs after independence. This all comes down to one compound problem in which you have two heavily armed armies in the country of South Sudan. One army is organized and paid by the government and that other army which disintegrated into the villages and/or cattle camps with their weapons are paying themselves in forms of cattle rustling, banditry, burglary, and often political dissidence.

It is a known fact that the disintegrated army of civilians are always a ready force thrown behind a rebelling disgruntle politician. After all, they have little or nothing to lose. They must eat by hook or crook.

The widespread small arms in the hands of civilians is a threat to South Sudan’s progress from emergent status to political, social, and economic stability. The government of South Sudan is understandably struggling to fun its budget from oil proceeds year in and year out. It has also been struggling to battle formidable rebellions in pockets of the country since it conducted its first election in 2010, a year before referendum.

The process of demobilization conceived as one of the aspects of the broader disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants plays a critical role in transitions from war to peace. The success or failure of this endeavor directly affects the long-term peace-building prospects for any post-conflict society. The presence of small arms in the hands of non-State actors will always make it difficult if not impossible for peaceful democratic elections to be conducted in South Sudan.

Envisioned Results
While civilians may continue to use up their remaining ammunition however many they shoot out, Kalashnikov ammunition will eventually run out. And without alternative sources of supply because the national army may no longer have Kalashnikov and their ammunition either, use of excessive violence in communal conflicts will gradually wane off. Once Kalashnikov bullets run out, such empty weapons will just lay there without use or will eventually be put up for sell if there is a market for them.

The gun-purchasing program will provide a market for Kalashnikovs when and where it runs out of ammunition. Once purchased in large numbers, the government can find a market abroad for resell in order to cover the cost of the new weapons bought to rearm the army. Although there will be some challenges in the logistics process, this disarmament approach is a win-win outcome with minimal losses of life and money if any.

Since Southern Sudan (name used before independence) signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, its semi-autonomous authorities had been trying to forcefully disarm its armed civilians without success. Some disarmament exercises have been violent and bloody in the most brutal scale. Even in cases where the national army succeeded in collecting weapons, the same weapons will always trickle back into the same hands presumably from the same national army which had taken them by force through corrupt practices. That is the puzzle this policy opinion paper is trying to disentangle.


Venture M. R. (2018), Arms Control and Disarmament: Legitimacy, War, and Peace. https://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1030&context=intlstudies_honors
UNDP and UKAID (n.d) National Small Arms Assessment in South Sudan. file:///Users/jamesadiokmayik/Downloads/National%20Small%20Arms%20Survey.pdf
Saferworld (2012), Civilian disarmament in South Sudan: A legacy of struggle.
UNDP (2017), National Small Arms Assessment in South Sudan.
Small Arms Survey (2007), ‘The Militarization of Sudan: A Preliminary Review of Arms Flows and Holdings.’ Sudan Issue Brief no 6. Small Arms Survey. Online: www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/pdfs/HSBA-SIB-6-militarization.pdf
Small Arms Survey, (2007), ‘Anatomy of Civilian Disarmament in Jonglei State’, Sudan Issue Brief no 3, 2nd ed. Small Arms Survey. Online: www.smallarms surveysudan.org/pdfs/HSBA-SIB-3-Jonglei.pdf.
Brewer C., (2009), ‘Disarmament in South Sudan.’ Center for Complex Operations, Naval Postgraduate School. Online: www.ccoportal.org/sites/ccoportal.org/files /7_ tn_ disarmament_in_sudan.pdf.
Young J, ‘The White Army: An Introduction and Overview.’, Small Arms Survey (June 2007). Online: www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/pdfs/HSBA-SWP-5-White-Army.pdf

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08/07/2020, 8:43 AM
 - Posted by Daniel Yout
The above argument truly fit with all the states in South Sudan, except Jonglei. All problems of Jonglei orginated from Murle tribe which always lean on the government through some generals such as Gen. David Yau Yau. therefore, disbarment or buying back arms from civilians, isn't the first priority in Jonglei.
The cause of civilians arming themselves in Jonglei is to protect themselves from Murle barbaric attacks which usually results in the abduction of children, killing of innocent people, burning of homes and food stuffs, plus looting of cattle from innocent people. All these attacks occurred while the government isn't making no decisions for the protection of vulnerable civilians from Nuer Lou, Nuer Gawaar, Dinka HOL, Dinka Nyarweng, Dinka Twic-East, Dinka Bor, Anyuak,and many other neighboring tribes to Murle. So, the solution is to find the best way in which Murle won't bully other neighboring tribes and terrifying them through their frequent brutal attacks. All the above mentioned tribes don't like having guns with them if there isn't any fear from Murle which doesn't care about peace; evidenced by many peace agreement made between them with Dinkas since 1913 and got violated by Murle every time through new attacks, killings and abductions of children and women. Now South Sudan is said to had formed peace committees to negotiate new peace between Murle and its neighboring communities; then what will make Murle to comply with this peace agreement while it had already breached hundreds of peace agreements?
To make it short if the government is after real peace, then first convince Murle to respect it neighbors and becomes friendly and adopt peaceful co-existence. Murle is to first stop attacking its neighbors. The government is to first collect arms from the attacker Murle .The government is also to deploy armies and police between Murle and all its neighbors to avoid the movements of Murle from its locations to other tribes' homelands. After that the guns can be handed over to the government. the reason is because the government previously collected guns from Dinka of Jonglei while leaving guns with Murle, and many attacts were conducted against Dinka of Jonglei resulting in many daily killings, abducting of children and cattle looting and which encouraged the Dinka to re-arm again for protection, since the government took all guns from them leaving Dinka without protect put in place and became soft targets to Murle.
Best Regards,
Daniel Yuot Ajangdit Yuot

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