Where does durable peace lie?

Author:Adeba, Brian
Position:Current Affairs: SOUTH SUDAN - Peace talks in South Sudan

South Sudan's Security Sector Reform (SSR) failures helped create the conditions for the current civil war. Brian Adeba explains how and argues that effective SSR is crucial for any peace to be sustainable.

The degeneration of a political conflict into an ethnicised civil war illustrates the failure of Security Sector Reform (SSR) in South Sudan. SSR did not create a cohesive national army. As a result, South Sudan's post-independence military appears national in character but, in reality, is loyal to several ethnic, regional and ideological centres of power. These multiple centres and ethnic clientelism are exploited to advance competing political agendas.

In the current conflict, which began in December 2013, the dispute between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar over personal political ambitions, the failure of the SSR process pitted Kiir's Dinka against Machar's Nuer.

After more than a year, and multiple rounds of peace talks between the two factions of the SPLM, a durable peace is still elusive. At the latest round of talks in early March in Ethiopia, the two sides were poles apart on almost all the agenda items proposed by mediators from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Moving forward, however, lasting peace in South Sudan will depend on how various issues are resolved, including reforming its ethnicised, politicised, and fragmented military and the role outside forces play in stoking what some see as a proxy war.

Reform failure

At the onset of independence, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) had a troop size--estimated at 210,000 soldiers--that was far too large for the defence budget to accommodate. Also at independence, the government faced challenges in consolidating its authority across the country. A key headache for the SPLA was the presence of several militia groups around the oil fields in Unity and Upper Nile states in the northeast of the country. The militia groups, predominantly Nuer in ethnicity, were not part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 that ended hostilities with the Sudan government and midwifed independence for South Sudan. These militia groups were armed and trained by Khartoum to help secure the oil fields and to counter the SPLA insurgency in the south during the war.

Although orphaned by the CPA, the militia groups continued to receive military support from Sudan. These forces threatened to derail the then upcoming 2011 referendum. As a...

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