“The viability and survival of South Sudan as an independent nation depends on the strength of the SPLA. If the SPLA’S integrity is affected by politics or the SPLA divides along tribal line, as is now the case; then South Sudan, as nation, is weaken and would not, surely, withstand.”
This article written in 2014 and published by Gurtong.org, website and Southsudannation.com on 09 March 2014
By Morris Kuol Yoll
In Malakal, the story is even the same or worst. The Sudan People Liberation Army’s troops were forced to retreat from the city, three times, by the White Army militias, leaving civilians to be slaughtered in Hospitals and properties, both government and private, looted and destroyed. Subsequently, various rebels’ victories over the SPLA forces are unrelenting in Jonglei and Upper Nile states.
Several opinions indicate that the Sudan People Liberation Army, the SPLA, has been weakened. It is heartbreaking to see an army once known for its gallantry and decisive fearsome victories, during liberation struggle, falling apart. It is obvious; the SPLA has failed to protect civilians and properties especially in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity State, making many people to question the strength of the SPLA and its capability in defending a nation’s sovereignty and interest or whether it is strong enough to defeat current rebellion that emanated from failed coup attempt. Clearly, lacks of training, discipline, tribalism, corruption and politics have affected the SPLA.
After civil war, it was expected that the SPLA would be well trained, equipped with modern weaponry to meet challenges and duties of a national army to make it ready to defend nation’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, interest, public and national security. Sadly, after December 15th coup attempt, the SPLA appeared weaker than when it was a rebellion army. It is troublesome to fathom weak national army in time of needs. The unfortunate event of December 15th has unveiled weakness about the SPLA that is bothersome since security of the country defends purely on the competence of the SPLA forces that brought sovereignty to South Sudan nation.
With Abyei issue unsettled, various territories in dispute with the Sudan and boundary demarcation yet to be settle between two Sudans, it is obvious that the Sudanese regime would never agree to peaceful settlement of anything knowing that South Sudan is a weak state, militarily. Indeed, the Sudan will sooner or later support missiyieria tribes to attack or grab more South Sudan’s land along its border or support rebellion in South Sudan to impede peaceful settlement of outstanding issues between it and South Sudan. Unquestionably, South Sudan would collapse if the SPLA is weak to battle both internal and external aggression.
Seriously, military leaders of the SPLA should use December 15th incident to immediately address the SPLA’S deficiencies. The Sudan People Liberation Army (the SPLA) is the army of South Sudan as stipulated by the Constitution. The SPLM Constitution envisaged the post-war SPLA to be anon-partisan, patriotic, nationalistic, professional, disciplined, and productive and subordinated to the political wing; destined as principal military instrument of the New Sudan liberation. These characteristics of the SPLA, as a national army, were [are] clearly jeopardized and discredited by December 15th failed coup attempt.
The Sudan People Liberation Army (the SPLA) did not exhibit professionalism, patriotism, no-partisan and nationalism it started with and of which it was destined to prefect. If anything, the SPLA inclined to division along tribal loyalty and affiliation, which weakened its stand to fight as a conventional army disciplined and trained to protect nation’s sovereignty against current rebellion and future foreign aggression.
It is clear that the SPLA did not train as a conventional, non-partisan army to meet requirements of being a national army poise to protect its citizens, properties, territorial integrity, and national security: Killing of unarmed civilians on December 15th and defection along tribal line attest to undisciplined and untrained national army.
Irrefutably, South Sudan has, at its disposal, enough manpower to build a strong, formidable army; when already, and in fact, the SPLA has enough men & women to function effectively as a strong army. Nevertheless, an army is not about the number but training and discipline, it got, makes the army. Though the Sudan People liberation Army (the SPLA) was a well-trained and discipline guerrilla army, it should have been a MUST to convert former guerrilla soldiers, through new training, to a conventional national army with more discipline, responsibility, awareness, leadership, and allegiance to commit to protecting constitution and to achieve a viable standard of national army and security forces.
In fact, many factors necessary to retaining the Sudan People Liberation Army (the SPLA) conspicuously presented themselves after the war was over. But surprisingly, these factors were not capitalized on or not taken seriously by both the SPLM/A leadership to rejuvenate its ailing army.
The SPLA was over twenty years old when the peace agreement was brokered with the Sudanese regime. Logically, it should have been explicit that much of the SPLA force was old or getting old and exhausted by war to justify revitalization. Hence, after peace agreement, a committed new generation of military recruits should have been recommended to replace an old army. Most importantly, in leadership concern, retaining old SPLA officers and commanders that would lead a retained SPLA conventional national army should have been a requisite. Indeed, a group of trained officers with national objectives would set a course of rebuilding a future, mechanized, well train national army. Not the least, in a tribalized, illiterate military setting, a few trained officers would cast some wisdom and light on importance of committing to a military line of duty regardless of tribal sentiments in the military.
If you have seen the Sudan People Liberation Army’s forces running in disarray, in an ambush while matching to retake Town of Bor from rebel, your question would have been: what has happened to the mighty SPLA forces that defeated the Sudanese Army, the SPLA which forced the regime of Omar Hassan el Bashir to accept peaceful solution to the Sudan’s civil war, and the SPLA that did not waver in confronting odds in pursuit of South Sudan’s freedom from vicious Sudanese armed forces? Twice, the SPLA lost Bor town to combinations of defected army and ill-trained White Army civilians coerced into fighting government troops.
Secondly, illiteracy was [is] very high in the SPLA. Nearly 90% of the SPLA men and women are illiterate. An effective, modern army requires education to make it more productive, practical and effective in realizing its role and allegiance to the nation and in executing its missions and objectives.
Educating the SPLA was not realized after peace agreement, but left to naturally take its cause. So, the national army remains with high illiteracy rate to present day, which makes it susceptible to tribal loyalty, an affiliation, judged by December 15th mutinies and defections that proceeded.
Thirdly, the SPLA absorbed various, untrained and tribally oriented militias, immediately, after peace agreement was signed. Such absorption alone should have made it necessary to retain the army to accomplish national objectives. But it was ignored and the result of that mistake was also pronounced by December 15th mutinies and defections along tribal line that ensues.
Fourthly, with war fatigue and exhaustion, it was comprehensible that a sizeable portion of the SPLA force would resign from military into various duties comprising retirement, civil servant, personal business, etc. This was later the case, and by 2009, it was apparent, and reported, that 75% of the SPLA forces were combinations of incorporated militias and new recruits that joined the SPLA after the peace agreement was signed.
Much of what was an OLD Sudan People Liberation Army (the SPLA) forces were discouraged from continuing with military carrier, retired or resigned to doing private business or had joined civil servant. Even though the number of the SPLA swelled, in total, to about 150,000 or more, it was evident that lots of its original members left the military line of duty without proper replacement that left national army to former militia forces dominance and which in turn created disloyalty and vacuum that is now haunting the SPLA as a national army.
As of recent, South Sudan Government official admitted huge number, about [10,000-20,000], defection of former militia soldiers to fight for opposition and 65-70% is feared to defect in total.
Tribal loyalty has cost the SPLA immensely. It has coerced even most loyal SPLA officers and commanders into joining their kin and kiths and sold the SPLA’S tactics, military knowledge and experiences to disloyal, now tribal oriented forces, fighting against the SPLA and the government after December 15th.
Fifthly, from many fronts, and particularly tribalism in the military, the SPLA appears belligerent and near annihilation. Negatively, the SPLA is profiled as a DINKA and NUER dominated army, which created negative sentiments and fear that would make it difficult to adjust the army to meet national objectives without triggering turbulence.
Though such prognosis has truth elements in it, the circumstance that led to such imbalance and dominance were [are] not critically and objectively looked at with intent to reform and modernize the SPLA to meet criterion of an inclusive national army rather than negative propaganda to discredit and destroy the military.
Initially, during liberation struggle, it was a known fact that the SPLA formed on voluntary basis. It occurred that DINKAS and NUERS turned out in huge numbers and formed a core base for the Sudanese people Liberation Army during the years of struggle. Such dominance was not designed nor planned, but a voluntary called that led into an imbalance that could not, at the time, be rejected since a huge army, regardless of the tribe, was required as an instrument to attain the liberation of people.
However, after liberation was achieved and nation building demands necessary adjustment in the military to conform to the ruling system of the country, such imbalance in the SPLA should have been corrected or stand to be corrected to meet the objectives and demands for building an inclusive national army without jeopardizing or stereotyping the integrity of the army. It requires studied policy and plan, both short and long term, to both scale down and promote the army until the objective of forming an inclusive national army is achieve to satisfaction of the system and all [regions] in the country.
Sixthly, and which had equally impacted integrity of the SPLA forces, incorporation of various tribal militias into the SPLA has been negatively stereotyped. It was a noble plan to make peace with militias to attain harmony in the country. The assimilation of tribally dominated militias into national army should not be viewed as a bad idea than strategy intended to achieve stability in the country.
Nevertheless, after these militia forces signed peace agreement with government, training and securitizing them should have immediately commenced to ensure reorientation in order to meet national army requirements. Failure in retaining and orienting militias, after they were admitted into the national army, left militia forces in a tribal euphoria still viewing their role as forces loyal to their respective tribes of which its negative resultant disloyalty manifested itself in defection after December 15th.
Yet, tribalism in the SPLA could potentially lead to the collapse of the army and the nation if not decisively address because December 15th incident has alienated integrity of the military.
On one hand, Corruption in the SPLA is another culprit that had impacted effectiveness and positive role of the army. After peace agreement, the SPLA men & women were put in military payroll. But preposterously, elements in the military deployed use of ghost names to swindle from military budget. This unpatriotic act allowed corruption to throttle national army. Many ghost names made it into military payroll, when over ranking number of military officers and commanders increased as well. The ghost’s names used become lucrative business as money goes directly to networks of commanding officers and commanders. Besides, high ranking serves as means of doubling salaries.
In conjunction, these practices created corruption in the military that deprive soldiers of receiving their salaries on time due to money shortage, and as well had impeded developing professional military norms. In fact, some soldiers are said to have several times been out-rightly denied receiving their salaries making some soldiers to quit service or do military as part time work while engaged in doing personal businesses to survive.
Moreover, politics have also affected the SPLA. The SPLA affiliation to the SPLM has adverse effect on the military since senior commanders are presented as politicians than army commanders, when the SPLM constitution declared the SPLA as a subordinated military wing to the SPLM political leadership.
In the past eight (8) years, loyal SPLA military commanders turned governors, ministers, and commissioners depriving the army of its needed leadership when senior and experienced military commanders should have stayed in the army to develop national army. Indeed, after South Sudan gained its independence, military colleges should have been opened and senior military personnel, active and retired, made to teach and train the army in military academies.
Since South Sudan is independent, the SPLA should be developed as an independent institution, loyal to all political parties in the country. Clearly, the SPLA is more inclined to the SPLM party and that connection has deluded and endangered its role has a national army, which would inevitably destroy it, if it hasn’t done already, since the SPLM’S political divide has manifested itself in the SPLA as mutinies, defection in clear support of the SPLM political dissidents.
Today, the SPLA forces are battling enemy within its rank and file and rebels in frontline fields, making it appallingly and apparently difficult to fight rebellion in the country. This should be a clear lesson to the SPLA military, as an institution, to seriously take reforming itself as a viable national army institution, independent of any political affiliation in the country.
The viability and survival of South Sudan as an independent nation depends on the strength of the SPLA. If the SPLA’S integrity is affected by politics or the SPLA divides along tribal line, as is now the case; then South Sudan, as nation, is weaken and would not, surely, withstand. So far we have clearly seen Uganda’s military playing critical role in defending South Sudan’s sovereignty.
Then ridiculously, the Sudan government has volunteered to send in its military to help in protecting South Sudan’s oil fields, a trick or pretext that would possibly allow Bashir, in future, should things turn to worst and South Sudan unable to protect its oil production, to occupy South Sudan rich-oil land legitimately if allowed, because the Sudan has its interest at stake.
And not the least, South Sudan government has revealed its weakness more by asking for IGAD’S military backing to protect its oil fields and oil installations; when the UN forces are invited into the country and are currently doing what only God knows.
In fact, vulnerability exhibited by South Sudan, as a country with vast, rich natural resources, has now prompted forces of doom and darkness to orchestrate regional war in South Sudan to justify their selfish aim.
South Sudan government and the SPLA, as a defence force of our sovereignty, have to wake up and reform to avert looming dooms that are threatening the nation. Allowing foreign forces, whether be it the UN forces or ally army, in form of Uganda forces, to converge in the country is NOT to the best interest of South Sudan and its people.
With the SPLA that liberated the country, South Sudan cannot be that weak to protect its own citizens to merit calling in the UN forces to protect them nor is the Sudan People Liberation Army (the SPLA) that weak to merit Uganda or the Sudan’s protection of its interest.
Unfortunately, foreign intervention to rescue the nation and the UN forces present to protect citizens had already occurred in our watch. This is shameful! The government of South Sudan and the SPLA should immediately stop both external and internal fueling of South Sudan’s conflict in pretext that South Sudan is weak to protect its sovereignty, people or interest.
Specifically, South Sudan government and the SPLA leadership should consider building strong army, free of tribalism and political influences, to decisively fight and defeat its rebellion without foreign assistance and as well protect its oil production and any other interest with no foreign help.
South Sudan government, its political leaders, and above all its national army, the SPLA, should be conscious of invaluable resources that South Sudan possesses. From oil and gas, arable agricultural land, minerals, water, etc., South Sudan is an envy of both friends and foes. Our limitless resources attract both foes and friends of depraved intention to the country, but to satisfy their insatiable greed of acquiring wealth.
We live in the 21st century where the world population hit 7 billion but needs resources to sustain, a 21st century where global warming threaten lifestyle of people who have known nothing but exploitation of the weak. Our vast resources are our problem that needs strong military to fence off adversaries.
This says that we cannot afford depending on foreign forces nor afford having tribalism, corruption and politics that would potentially destroy our national army that is the only viable instrument and armour of our defence. Vehemently, I call for our leaderships, both the government and the SPLA, to step up in reforming and rebuilding the army to safeguard our sovereignty and interest.
To achieve this, requires both leaderships to get rid of tribalism, corruption, politics and illiteracy in the military in order to build an inclusive, effective, strong military force that will not waver in defending country from internal or external aggression. SPLA OYEE!
Morris Kuol Yoll is a concerned South Sudanese Canadian residing in Alberta Canada. He could be reach at: firstname.lastname@example.org.