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The Disintegration of the Military Integration Process in South Sudan (2006–2013)

Originally published by Stability: International Journal of Security and Development on September 27, 2016)

Abstract: This article argues that military integration served a critical purpose in 2006, arguably preventing large-scale conflict within South Sudan and ensuring a level of stability prior to the CPA-mandated referendum on self-determination in 2011. Nonetheless, integration was poorly-conceived and implemented, and received limited support from third party actors that were more focused on rightsizing the SPLA and transforming it into a conventional, professional military. The de facto open-door nature of South Sudan’s integration process created incentives for armed rebellion, while failed rightsizing initiatives increased pressure on the military integration process as the most expedient way of mitigating the threat these groups posed to stability. Integration thus became an end in and of itself rather than a transitional measure to contain former combatants while the government worked out a more long-term solution for South Sudan’s security sector. Consequently, the SPLA was in a state of arrested development, preventing efforts to transform the military from gaining traction, and making the force more likely to fragment along factional lines during periods of heightened political competition.

(Read the rest here.)

Lesley on Africa loves #ThingsILoveAboutSouthSudan

I may have had a liberal relationship with the truth when I said I was in Twitter exile. Over the past few days, it appears that the hashtag  #ThingsILoveAboutSouthSudan has been trending, as those who have spent time in South Sudan share their positive experiences of the country and its people. Earlier this week, BBC wrote about this trending hashtag and the use of Twitter to share news and as a support network since fighting broke out last month.

I have my own story about my affinity for South Sudan, but the inputs from tweets I’ve embedded below and the hundreds, if not thousands of responses on Twitter are well worth checking out:

Don’t read too much into U.S. evacuating AmCits from South Sudan (w/correction note)

Correction: After I posted this, a colleague corrected my references below to a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) from South Sudan. Apparently, what happened was not technically classified as a NEO, since ALL personnel depart  in a NEO (as opposed to South Sudan where the Embassy still has essential staff), and it usually has more military involvement.
Yesterday, the U.S. Embassy in Juba, South Sudan started evacuating American citizens from South Sudan.The Juba airport had been closed on Monday after fighting broke out in the capital city on Sunday night, so evacuation by air was not possible until the government of South Sudan announced that the airport would reopen by Wednesday. Since the Embassy announced an ordered departure of non-emergency U.S. Embassy personnel from Juba and that it would assist other U.S. citizens in their evacuation, I’ve been asked several times what I think this indicates. And let me clarify here: what I’m about to write is my own opinion on what did – or did not – influence this decision.
I believe the decision to order the evacuation of non-essential personnel from South Sudan needs to be disaggregated from what’s actually going on in South Sudan. It should be understood purely as the United States trying to get AmCits out of harm’s way, and not an indication that the situation is necessarily going to get worse. There are other operational – and political – issues at play in making a decision like this.
Operational Variables
On the African continent, South Sudan is probably one of the toughest Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) to pull off. It’s landlocked, has poor infrastructure, and hundreds of AmCits are scattered throughout the country. On top of a crisis on steroids that deteriorated rather quickly, there were firefights near the (closed) airport for much of Monday and Tuesday, raising serious force protection concerns for anyone trying to access that area. Once the decision was announced to open the airport, it only made sense for a NEO to be ordered then because of how near-impossible flying AmCits out would be without a significant risk of casualties. And since there was a window of opportunity in which the airport was open and violence subsided, it only made sense to seize that window before it closed again.
To put things in perspective, since the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in September 2012, there has been much debate in the U.S. about why the military was unable to respond in time. Benghazi is a coastal city and is proximate to Europe, from which U.S. military assets and personnel would most likely deploy. If somewhere as proximate as Libya would have been a tough operation to pull off, imagine South Sudan.
A related, and very important issue is that U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has very few, if any, assigned assets. The NEO that occurred in South Sudan involved two C-130s and a chartered aircraft. (See a Flikr photostream of the U.S. military forces involved in this operation, brought to my attention by @RomanDeckert.) The team that supported this mission was the East Africa Response Force (EARF) based at Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa in Djibouti. But while this joint team was based on the continent, the C-130s were probably chopped from other Combatant Commands (COCOMs). Yes, the U.S. military has various levels of presence on the African continent, but I doubt they just have 2 C-130s sitting around in Africa. So the point is, on top of South Sudan being a tough NEO and an impermanent window of opportunity that opened up, it takes significant time and planning to get the personnel and the assets to get in and out of these situations.

Political Variables

I hate to say it, but Benghazi may have been a political variable that the U.S. considered. As a frame of reference, there were 25 NEOs on the African continent between 1990 and 2011, but I don’t think there were any from 2003 to 2012. In 2013 alone, there have been four situations (Algeria, Mali, Central African Republic, and now South Sudan) in which there’s either been a NEO or ordered departure of some sort. (I’ll admit I haven’t determined if Algeria and Mali were actually NEOs, but it appears that CAR and South Sudan were.) In particular, the case of the Central African Republic – another challenging NEO – was telling. The U.S. Embassy in Bangui ordered the departure of Embassy personnel in December 2012 – three months before Bangui fell to the seleka rebels, and while the rebels were still hundreds of miles from the capital. I saw that decision the same way I see the decision to evacuate South Sudan – it’s a hard operation, and we’re not going to wait around to see if it gets harder. And considering the political wrangling that has gone on in the United States after the unfortunate events in Benghazi, you can see why the government would want to be proactive in getting its citizens out of harm’s way.
So that, in a nutshell, is how you should understand the U.S. decision to evacuate its citizens from South Sudan.

The time when Salva Kiir nuked his large tent

Today, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir sacked his Vice President Riek Machar and dissolved the government, leaving undersecretaries of various ministries to run said ministries until further notice. Although there had been a few recent indications of internal fissures within the ruling Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the cold war between Salva and Riek had been heating up since the spring, I don’t know that anyone had been anticipating anything this…drastic. I mean, we all expected Salva to eventually fire Riek, but I don’t think anyone expected him to nuke his entire cabinet.

For those unfamiliar with the history between these two men: Riek and Salva were both senior commanders in the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) during Sudan’s Second Civil War (1983-2005). In August 1991, Riek along with Lam Akol and Gordon Kong issued a paper entitled “Why John Garang Must Go Now” criticizing Garang’s leadership and launching a breakaway faction of the SPLA. (This is a vast oversimplification of the events leading to what is called the Nasir Coup and what the implications were for the SPLA and South Sudan, so I recommend reading Douglas H. Johnson’s The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars, Robert O. Collins’ A History of Modern Sudan, and John Young’s The Fate of Sudan: The Origins and Consequences of a Flawed Peace Process.) The split within the SPLA was detrimental because up until that point, the SPLA had been beating the Sudanese military on the battlefield. (Matthew Arnold & Matthew Leriche’s South Sudan: From Revolution to Independence is a great source for understanding the ebb and flow of SPLA strength from 1983 through independence.) However the SPLA’s rear base in Ethiopia and support from the Derg regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam went away when the Derg regime fell in May 1991, leaving the SPLA extremely vulnerable. Thus, on top of the crisis of losing Ethiopia’s support, the Nasir Coup not only further weakened the SPLA, but also fanned the flames of a brutal decade of South-South (Dinka-Nuer, Nuer-Nuer) violence in the Greater Upper Nile region (present day Unity, Upper Nile, and Jonglei states) from which South Sudan is still recovering.

The Nasir Coup did not, in fact, result in an uprising against Garang within the SPLA, so over the next decade Riek went on to lead many alphabet soups worth of rebel movements and even formed a tactical alliance with the ruling National Islamic Front (NIF) / National Congress Party (NCP) regime in Khartoum. He reconciled with Garang in 2002, and became Salva’s VP upon Garang’s death in July 2005. Due to Riek’s betrayal of the SPLA in 1991 and the fact that the Nasir Coup precipitated South Sudan’s “civil war within a civil war” in the 1990s, his presence in the government had always been a marriage of convenience, and even of necessity. As a former rebel leader and a influential politician from the Nuer ethnic group (second largest in South Sudan after the Dinka), having Riek in such a high position was one of the ways to demonstrate that the Republic of South Sudan would not suffer from “Dinka hegemony.”

To fast forward to today’s events – fortunately (or unfortunately?) Salva’s entire cabinet has been sacked, so this hopefully will not be interpreted as specifically targeting Riek or collectively, the Nuer, for marginalization. Note that Deng Alor (former Minister of Cabinet Affairs, and previously Foreign Minister; Dinka) had been sacked last month and is said to be under investigation for corruption, while Pagan Amum (SPLM Secretary General, from the Shilluk ethnic group) was also part of today’s mass firing. Therefore, until we see what South Sudan’s new cabinet looks like, it’s going to be difficult to see who’s been marginalized and speculate as to what they might do about it. But just to plant this idea in your mind – the previous period of political competition in South Sudan leading up to and following the 2010 elections corresponded with a proliferation of armed groups led by or supported by individuals excluded from the country’s new political dispensation. So the recomposition of Salva’s cabinet and how the SPLM handles the runup to the 2015 elections will be critical in determining whether or not we see armed movements re-emerging.

For insight on why today’s developments are such a big deal – and to explain the title of this post – I highly recommend International Crisis Group‘s April 2011 report Politics and Transition in the New South Sudan. By many accounts, comparisons between Salva and his predecessor, the late John Garang, distinguish between Garang’s authoritarianism and Salva’s efforts to be more conciliatory towards his opponents inside and outside of the political elite. This approach, one could argue, is what enabled southern Sudan, which was emerging from South-South violence during the 1990s, to come together to vote for independence in the January 2011 referendum and to become the Republic of South Sudan just over two years ago. Conciliation and compromise on the part of Salva Kiir led to him bringing former adversaries into the SPLM/A fold – into his large tent, as the report describes it. Viewed positively, these characteristics led to the signing of the 2006 Juba Declaration, which neutralized the threat armed groups posed to the government of South Sudan in the immediate aftermath of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Viewed negatively, Salva’s need for consensus coupled with the weakness of his government meant that he could, until recently, only pay lip service to tackling massive corruption within his government, lest his allies and former adversaries turn against him.

Throughout his time in power, Salva Kiir has played a delicate balancing act, trying to remain in control of South Sudan while bringing rebels and dissenters into the fold. Sacking the entire cabinet and dissolving the government, doesn’t track with anything he’s done as a leader thus far, which is why today’s events are such a big deal.

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