Although I’m writing this from my cushy office in northern Virgina, It seemed like relative calm had returned, at least, to Juba after the outbreak of violence across parts of South Sudan in mid-December. (For background on the roots of the current crisis, see Radio Tamazuj’s Nine questions about the South Sudan crisis: A guide for confused observers and South Sudan crisis: A guide for confused observers (II).) However, gunfire broke out at the SPLA barracks at Giada, which was also apparently the same barracks in Juba where the mid-December gunfights started. The cause of this morning’s fighting, in which at least five soldiers were killed, appears to have been a dispute over pay, and may have involved some soldiers from Salva Kiir’s presidential guard, the Tiger Division. Brig. Gen. Malaak Ayuen, an SPLA spokeman, stated “This is purely an issue of salaries. It is not political and will not spread… Soldiers have not been paid since January, why I don’t know, and went to the commander seeking answers.”
It appears that a new procedure for distributing salaries was the cause of this morning’s dispute. The Government of South Sudan had created a new payment system to prevent the payment of SPLA salaries to “ghost soldiers,” thereby requiring soldiers to collect their payments in person. Cabinet affairs minister Martin Elia Lomoru stated ““The whole intention was for the good of the country. It was not meant to deny anybody their rightful dues…the intention was to build confidence in our financial systems so that the issue of transparency and accountability is not ignored.” From the few media reports of the events surrounding this brief outbreak of violence, it appears that miscommunications about this procedure prompted the gunfight as soldiers were queued waiting for their payments.
Like the mid-December gunfights in Juba, it’s very difficult to piece together what exactly happened, but the three most helpful news sources I’ve seen thus far have been:
- Soldiers missing from payroll open fire on officers at SPLA headquarters from Radio Tamazuj
- Salary dispute within South Sudan army triggers heavy gunfire in Juba from Sudan Tribune
- Pay dispute, sounds of war rattle S. Sudan capital from AP
I’m not an expert on military compensation, but when you have segments of the military that, as one security consultant previously described it to me, are being paid not to fight the government, it’s probably best to make sure they’re paid within a reasonable period of time. Especially when you might need them to (re)establish the government’s monopoly on the use of force and retake territory held by anti-government rebels. Just a thought…