Opinion | Eyes wide shut: South Sudan has too many guns, does not need more
I watched and listened to the proceedings of the ongoing Governors’ Forum with trepidation on Wednesday as Information Minister Michael Makuei and his colleague Dr. Martin Elia Lomuro, the cabinet affairs minister, tried to outdo each other while justifying the lifting of the arms embargo on South Sudan.
The duo has over time solidified their position as the most acerbic and sycophantic defenders of President Salva Kiir and his government.
Makuei, in his wisdom, or lack of it, said the implementation of the peace agreement was lagging because of the arms embargo imposed on the country and demanded that it be lifted forthwith.
“It (embargo) is one of the major problems that is actually facing the security arrangements. We have graduated phase one, but without arms,” the learned minister said. “You have seen we graduated them with sticks and the international community is telling us to deploy them. Should we deploy them with sticks? My request and appeal to the UN Security Council is to lift the arms embargo.”
However, civil society activist Nyakuma Peter calmly but firmly asked the former foes where they had kept the weapons they used to shoot holes into each other and innocent South Sudanese.
“Where are the guns that were roaring since 2013 in this country? Where are they?” She asked the mute crowd. “We have enough guns to graduate these forces. So where are those guns?”
Meanwhile, The First Deputy Speaker of the national parliament, Nathaniel Oyet, said the arms embargo was a result of the conflict which was raging and the lack of political will to implement the peace agreement.
“I am sure by now this embargo could have been lifted if we were diligent and faithful to our signatures and if we implemented the peace agreements required,” he said. "I still want to reiterate that graduation with sticks should continue.”
Not to be left out, Dr. Lomuro weighed in in his characteristic haughty style and took an angle of rudimentary patriotism gymnastics and responded to Nyakuma saying the arms embargo is a violation of South Sudan’s sovereignty and curtails the country from protecting itself.
“The arms embargo is a violation of the sovereign right of South Sudan to protect itself and for you as South Sudanese to support something that violates the right of your citizens is not correct,” he charged. "If you support our country being violated, you go to sleep tonight and think about it, and tomorrow you come and apologize publicly here.”
I subscribe to the school of thought which believes that South Sudan does not need more weapons of any kind and that the arms embargo must remain firmly in place till the citizenry can choose a leadership/government of their choice without violent conflict.
First off, we need to understand the issue of arms proliferation in South Sudan.
During the liberation struggle, both the government in Khartoum and the rebel SPLA distributed firearms widely to their allied militia and even villagers. Attempts to collect those weapons after South Sudan’s independence met resistance and the success of disarmament campaigns across the country was dismal.
During the liberation war, whenever the SPLA would take a town and or garrison, civilians would swarm in to carry the spoils of war which not only included light weapons but machine guns, mortar pieces, shells, etc.
To add to that, senior officers from the myriad ‘organized’ forces also armed their communities to protect themselves, and their cattle and to loot more cattle. This practice is still in play.
Also, due to poor or lack of pay for the armed forces, many officers and men have sold and continue to sell munitions to civilians and even rebels, disregarding the fact that said arms might be used against them in battle. It is a lucrative and booming business.
President Kiir, his minions, and the government have been faulted for pushing for the lifting of the arms embargo for selfish interests and ulterior motives. However, Dr. Riek Machar’s SPLA-IO and the other armed groups who are signatories to the peace agreement should not be lightly let off the hook.
Where are the weapons, and they are many and of different types, that the elements who deserted the SPLA and later joined the SPLM/A-IO went with?
It is a fact that the SPLA-IO forces reported to containment sites and training centers without weapons. Why were their weapons stowed? Is it due to a lack of trust in the implementation of the peace agreement and for action in the case of eventualities? The SPLA-IO has weapons too and should be tasked to avail them to the unified forces.
No need for more guns
So, now that we have established that South Sudan has more than sufficient guns for the needs of her armed forces-albeit in the wrong hands-it would be imprudent not to suggest ways of how the government should get hold of them.
The first step is to get civilians to voluntarily surrender illegal arms. This has been successfully done by Lakes States Governor Gen. Rin Tueny in collaboration with chiefs. More recently, the heads of the army, police and national security camped in Warrap State and also received thousands of firearms from the warring civilians there. Where are these arms? I am positive that they can be serviced and given to the unified forces.
Our civilians being belligerent, having seen red and not trusting the government to protect them, however, should be treated with caution and convinced that no harm will come to them. So, the first approach should be to announce an amnesty for those carrying illegal arms and a period for them to hand them in. An ultimatum.
The other option is to create a fund to purchase these illegal arms. It might be costly but the alternative is more expensive. Monies that are siphoned off by the big shots should be redirected to this cause and administered transparently in coordination with the UN and other partners.
A multifaceted approach is ideal in this quest and parliamentarians, chiefs, the clergy and youth and women leaders, etc. should be part of the process to convince people to hand in weapons.
After the amnesty period is up, the bylaws can be activated, and the people made aware of them, to criminalize the carrying and possession of illegal weapons. Those found with illegal arms should be treated as illegal combatants and tried by court-martial.
Ultimately, gun control legislation and deterrent measures should be put in place. Harsh punishment should also be instituted to deal with servicemen who give or sell munitions to civilians.
The fact is that if the government wills, and the peace partners agree, the above approaches can work with great results. The problem is that they are inherently suspicious of each other and want arms not to protect the citizenry but for their selfish interests.
After all, we all know that none of those in the leadership want to be at the working end of an AK-47 of any make. South Sudanese citizens, now schooled in the improbable, have embraced the impossible.
The lack of will to collect illegal weapons from even those willing to hand them in is a clear embodiment of the cannibalistic violent conflict that will-unless action is taken-collapse South Sudan.
The author, Koka Lo’Lado, is a journalist and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made is the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.