The increasing number of South Sudan's armed forces is costing more than 50 percent of government's expenditure by some estimates – despite a two-year-old US$55 million demobilization and disarmament programme (DDR) sponsored by international donors.
Only about 12,000 people in South Sudan have completed the DDR process that targeted 90,000 ex-combatants.
Guy Lamb, a senior researcher at South Africa's Institute for Security Studies, told IRIN the integration of militias into the SPLA was increasing as the 9 July 2011 date of independence drew nearer. “The SPLA's current strength of approximately 194,000 will continue to rise as additional South Sudanese soldiers from various external forces are being integrated.”
All armed groups in South Sudan are being consolidated under the former rebel army, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), and its political wing, the Sudan's People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), will form the country's first government after a referendum held earlier this year overwhelmingly voted to secede from Khartoum-ruled Sudan.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) told IRIN in a statement the DDR programme - established as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the North and South after a 21-year-long civil war - aimed for the re-integration of 180,000 ex-combatants by 2012 - or 90,000 from each country.
The apparent failure to entice soldiers into civilian life is both a consequence of the country's desperate poverty, the relatively high salaries paid to soldiers and the delays encountered in starting up DDR.
Lydia Stone, author of the Small Arms Survey (SAS) report, Failures and Opportunities - Rethinking DDR in South Sudan, told IRIN, “It is not always the case that ex-combatants want to return to civilian life, or that they feel stigmatized by their role in the conflict; nor is it necessarily the case that DDR automatically brings greater security in a post-conflict setting.
“For example, for the time being... greater security is achieved by keeping the soldiers in the army and paying them a salary than by pushing them out into a civilian life that offers little hope of finding a livelihood,” she said.
In many cases DDR is utilized in post-conflict states because, if left to their own devices, armed, unskilled, unpaid ex-combatants pose a clear threat to the success of the peace dividend in post-conflict states, 40 percent of which return to war, according to some estimates.
“The concept of ‘reintegrating' ex-combatants back into a civilian life is largely redundant. This is because the dividing line between combatants and civilians is extremely blurred. Furthermore, the ‘normal' society of Southern Sudan had been broken down during the war, so it wasn't as though there was a ‘normal civilian life' to reintegrate into,” Stone points out.
There is also an absence of stigma attached to SPLA fighters, unlike members of abusive armed armed groups such as Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone, who were reviled for their war-time conduct. “The SPLA are seen as heroes, the liberators of Southern Sudan,” she said.
“There is not the same shame attached to having been a soldier during the war, nor the same imperative to leave the soldier's life. In fact, quite the reverse… So not only do SPLA soldiers have pride, they also have money. Clearly, this is not the target group envisaged in the ‘traditional' DDR model.”
A DDR specialist closely linked to the process, who declined to be identified, told IRIN: “The most severe problem was DDR was not introduced at the right time. It should have begun about six months after the CPA's signing and then it might have worked. It would have been messy, but what DDR programme isn't messy?”
''The most severe problem was DDR was not introduced at the right time. It should have begun about six months after the CPA's signing and then it might have worked. It would have been messy, but what DDR programme isn't messy?''
UNDP told IRIN in a statement that although DDR encompassing both North and South should have commenced within a year of the CPA, the “preparation and endorsement of the national strategy itself took almost three years.
“Though the project document was signed between government and UNDP in July 2008... funds only started coming in phases from the beginning of 2009, allowing UNDP to deploy adequate staff at the end of 2009,” the statement said.
In the intervening period, SPLA soldiers and those integrated into it became part of the SPLM's payroll in 2006, with the lowest-paid ranks receiving about $140 a month.
“The military standard of living has become much higher than that of civilians, the vast majority of whom earn about $1 or less a day… It will be difficult to reintegrate people [in the military] into poverty,” the specialist pointed out.
“The civilian side of the SPLM is very aware of the problem that such a large military force poses, which is basically comprised of a bunch of militias,” he commented. There was “no choice but to salvage DDR, but the process has to be done gradually, as it could lead to another civil war”. Another round of DDR is expected to begin in 2012.
The government's wage bill accounts for about 80 percent of the military budget, he told IRIN.
The scale of the DDR task in South Sudan, according to the UN Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Resource Centre (UNDDRRC), is immense. Decades of civil war “meant that virtually every male has been involved in the fighting in one way or another [and] a large number of women have also participated in the war, either in a combat role or a support role”.
However, Stone said since its inception, the South Sudan DDR Commission (SSDDRC) strategy had just been to repeat the CPA DDR text, which says: “The objective of the DDR process is to contribute to creating an enabling environment to human security and to support post-peace agreement social stabilization across Sudan.”
In the SAS report, Stone questioned whether the SSDDRC chairman, William Den Deng, grasped the issues of DDR after he told her in a July 2010 interview that “the purpose of DDR is to replenish the army, ‘taking out the old so that the new can enter'”.
“The question must be asked, ‘What is DDR in South Sudan aimed at achieving?' Is its purpose to improve human security in South Sudan, as stated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement? If so, the organizers - SSDDRC [Southern Sudan Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Commission], and UNDP, etc., have not yet demonstrated how the current or proposed programme achieves this,” Stone told IRIN.
Lamb said South Sudan's DDR programme tended to be “an expensive livelihoods support programme for a limited group of people” while the DDR specialist believed the problem was the failure by UNDP and UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) to entertain “any kind of substantial involvement of either the government in Khartoum or Juba… and it is something we should try to avoid at all cost for the next phase”.
Lamb said verification of ex-combatants needed to be improved and cited as an example encountering a woman during a recent trip to Juba who was running a trading store and who had received DDR benefits even though she was not involved in the war, but her mother had been. “It's a good livelihood story, but not a good DDR story.”
As of 3 June 2011, according to the SSDDRC website, 12,525 of the targeted 90,000 people had been demobilized.
UNDP said the DDR programme was “based on optimistic assumptions” that maybe did not appreciate the extent of rural poverty, lack of economic opportunity, limited education levels and almost non-existent infrastructure that affected the programme, which contributed to the high start-up costs.
“In the South, capacity of local NGOs is extremely low and even international NGOs are struggling to deliver services effectively,” UNDP said.
“The proportion of UNDP personnel and operating costs has gone down in 2010 and should continue to decrease in subsequent years of operation. The overhead cost is planned to decrease from 37 to 22 percent in 2011,” UNDP said.
The SAS report said South Sudan independence could be a watershed in the DDR process, as the CPA period draws to a close and the SSDDRC would be “obliged to rethink the objectives of the DDR programme… to demonstrate how it will contribute to human security and social stabilization”.
Stone said: “To date they [SPLA] have used the DDR programme as a sort of retirement programme for individuals they no longer require, or as a benefits programme for former soldiers.”
She said many of those entering the process were “already disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated a long time before they entered the DDR programme. However, that is not to say that they were not people in great need. Illiteracy and innumeracy are higher among people who served during the war than any other group in Sudan, particularly among women. A livelihoods programme to help these people would be a wonderful thing - just don't call it DDR.”
From the outset the programme's international partners called for “particular attention” to special needs groups, such as female and child combatants.
Stone said the “strong emphasis” on women had created conditions for thousands to receive livelihoods training. During the civil war women were mainly engaged in support roles, such as portering, nursing and cooking, and although trained in the use of firearms, they “rarely took on combat roles”.
“To a degree not seen in other DDR programmes, the South Sudan DDR planners catered to these ‘women associated with armed forces [WAAF]'”, Stone said, but the WAAF terminology also created tensions with the SPLA, who rejected the term as “DDR language”.
The term is seen as derogatory as it implies female SPLA colleagues were “bush wives” or sex slaves.
“The women will tell you, ‘We were helping our brothers in the fighting', and were offended by the inference they were chattels of war, Lamb said.
More than half the DDR caseload are women whose services were no longer required with the advent of peace, the SAS report said. Apart from being ejected from the SPLA, women were vulnerable because they may have given birth outside marriage and could not return to their families without a dowry, were widowed or separated from their communities.
“As these women are predominantly illiterate and often without alternative support structures, the DDR programme has effectively offered them a lifeline,” Stone noted