South Sudan must reform its huge army to avoid an Inevitable Crisis. (Part II)

PART TWO: South Sudan Must Reform Its Army to Avoid an Inevitable National Crisis! (Part Two)

“South Sudan’s unity and stability lies in having a non-partisan, regionally representative and ethnically balanced national army”

By: Justin Ambago Ramba. FEB/13?2013, SSN;

This is a follow-up article to the first one which appeared under the title of “South Sudan must reform its huge army to avoid an Inevitable Crisis. (Part I)” and a sub-titled “The unnecessarily huge Army is an economic burden on the new state of South Sudan.”!

As the country’s dominant and ruling political party the SPLM is about to bring the whole country under one roof to start the long awaited process of national reconciliation and healing, it is only logical to tackle the project from its true perspective.

Besides the half a century long liberation war that South Sudan fought against its colonizers including the successive Arab and Islamic regimes in Khartoum, it has also during the same period of time fought within itself some of fieriest inter-factional and inter-tribal wars that are marked by horrendous internal massacres.

The fact that it takes two to tango means if a true national reconciliation and healing is ever to be achieved then the people of South Sudan across the various sectional divides must be prepared to incise open their old sores and abscesses and drain the” accumulated pus”.

It cannot be overemphasized that unless the “pus” is drained completely and the wound resulting from the surgical procedure is well dressed and treated, the healing process is likely to be compromised.

All this points towards one important step which must be undertaken before proceeding with all this rhetoric of healing relationships between tribes, leaders, individuals and political parties.

There must be a truth and fact finding commission to start with or else we are better not even starting.

For since the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM] and its former military wing, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army [SPLA] took up the responsibilities of running the new country of South Sudan – the former became the dominant and the ruling political organization and the latter the national army respectively.

And criticizing any of these two organs remains an increasingly risky business in a setting where the freedom of speech and free press are virtually none existent.

In many cases things don’t only stop there for many critics in this kind of situations have been for propaganda purposes called names and often labelled as agents of the “Jallaba” – which means working for the enemy in Khartoum.

Paradoxically though it was in fact the SPLM party top leadership who first openly came out to demand that the military be kept out of politics. So where does this leave the argument?!

On the other hand the SPLA top generals have also tried on more than one occasion to at least give that impression of the army now being divorced from politics, especially so following the official declaration of the country’s independence.

Much of this remains to be translated into action, otherwise it is just a talk, isn’t it?

We all understand why the new country continues to languish under the iron rule of a corrupt, totalitarian party like the SPLM and some of its equally corrupt elements in the SPLA. This without the least doubt has its roots back in the bush days and will need a good deal of political will if things are to reversed for the better.

If you are familiar with the factual background of how these two organizations came into being and how inseparable the two were and are up till the moment of writing this article, then you know that the rhetoric to separate the two is a thing easily talked than done.

The writer would also want to make it abundantly clear here that it’s never this article’s intention to undermine the fact that it was the inevitable need of the liberation war which married the SPLM and the SPLA together.

And this goes on to explain why some nostalgic members of the ruling party remain mentally imprisoned in the old belief that, SPLM should be synonymous with the SPLA and the two should continue to dictate the politics of South Sudan to the exclusion of the other political groups.

In this post-independence era, and after the government’s rhetoric of holding the SPLM party away from the army [SPLA], one wonders as to when the top policy makers themselves will stop misleading the masses into believing that being a citizen of South Sudan automatically means being a member/supporter of the SPLM.

Frankly speaking true nationals cannot be put off by some kind of cheap blackmailing tactics and name-callings, while the true agents of corruption enjoy a free hand in mismanaging the nation’s affairs.

Somebody needs to tell them that what they are being dragged into by their former comrades turn politicians is in fact by all counts unconstitutional and against the laws of the country.

As for the SPLA soldiers they are made to see nothing wrong in politically identifying themselves with the SPLM party.

However not all of South Sudan is blind to read between the lines what the two organization’s intent to sell as a PR while in fact the status quo completely remains unaltered in as far as some ethnic group politics are concerned.

This fact is what drives the hard core of politics in the new state. It may be good for the SPLM party in the short term; however the future repercussions of continuing to politicize the army are likely to cost the country its stability.

We only need to reflect backwards a bit to can see how the double edged practice of mixing ethnicity and politics can produce horrible realities on the ground.

It was barely a year when the SPLA military police driven by emotions and tribal bravado found itself deeply entangled into what was purely students’ campus politics in the University of Juba, the country’s oldest Institution of higher learning.

How did that happen or rather how was it allowed to happen if the SPLA is no longer enslaved in tribal politics remains to beg for an answer.

At this particular moment as the country is ruled by the SPLA’s highest ranking and most senior officer, H.E. President Salva Kiir Mayardit this by itself makes the talk about the separation between SPLM and SPLA at its best a mere PR.

Was it not the necessity of combining between the political leadership and the military leadership – a long known obsession of dictatorial leaders that made the president to make an about-turn and got back into full military service during the run up to the 2010 general elections following a brief period of retirement?!! Therefore anyone who claims otherwise will only be trying to hide the obvious,aren’t they?

Let us be fair to ourselves and face the realities as they are, for without a real overhauling of the SPLA and transforming it into a true professional army, any talk about separating it from the SPLM is in fact waste of time.

In its current shape, composition, and hierarchy of command this army [dominated by only two tribes] is only fit to protect the interest of the SPLM/SPLA top leadership largely at the expense of the entire south Sudanese citizenry.

To narrow the national army’s role to that of serving a single political party, and that of a handful of the so-called liberators is in fact to live contrary to the ideals for which many South Sudanese lives were sacrificed.

It’s within every citizen’s national duty to contribute to what kind of national army they want for their country. If this article rubs some people in the wrong direction, then it’s time that they stand well in the row, for what you read here is in fact what the street is saying.

National issues are national issues, and we should all be able to appreciate that. And regardless of whichever side of the political fence one stands, the bottom line is that there are sets of requirements to be met in order to have a fully functional and professional army.

We have had a lot of lip service from the decision makers in almost everything, and the much needed reforms in the army are no exception.

It should be a basic quality that when people in office preach policies, they must as well make sure that their rhetoric is followed by action. This is crucial when it comes to deciding the fate of a fragile nation like South Sudan.

Our national army is all too important to us as citizens and as such it must genuinely be seen to behave as a non-partisan militia or some kind of tribal vigilante groups. In other words the SPLA that we saw during the 2010 general elections must all together disappear and cease to exist.

For the sake of a grass roots driven democracy, political pluralism, and inclusion, the old styled SPLA whose ranks and files are preached to recognize the SPLM as the only political organization in the country must be no more.

Those oaths and vows formerly administered to these soldiers instructing them to harass, intimidate and undermine the constitutional rights of the other political parties to exist and operate freely in the country must cease as well.

We must look forwards to have a professional, a non-partisan and totally depoliticized army in place of that SPLA that clearly abandoned its neutrality and was obviously muddled in politics when it stood on the side of the SPLM party candidates during the 2010 fraudulent general elections, while harassing and intimidating rival candidates and their supporters.

The citizens of South Sudan are entitled to join any political party of their choice and all that they expect from their national army is a mutual respect.

This army must also change its mindset to be in tune with what the civilian politicians formulates as the highest law of the country [constitution]. It must evolve into an army with without any political affiliations.

It is indeed a high time that our national army becomes psychologically prepared to protect the sovereignty of the country even if the leadership of the country changes.

Political leadership in any democratic country is subject to change at any time through the peaceful transfer of power. And in an event of a new individual rising to the leadership of this country be it under the SPLM party or any other party, it shouldn’t have anything to do with the military.

Unfortunately there will remain much uncertainty and fear in as long as we maintain the current structure of the national army. Its ethnically skewed composition is a direct threat to its neutrality from politics thus jeopardizing the country’s stability.

Should a new leadership emerge, a thing much needed if this young nation is to ever come out of the current political and socioeconomic stagnation, there is much fear that the heavily politicized and ethnically biased army is likely to make an already risk situation even riskier.

Can the much talked about April 2013 national reconciliation and healing be able to fix all that has been spoiled by the decades of political militarism in the absence of true democratic values!!

Author: Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba. Secretary General – United South Sudan Party [USSP]. He can reach at: or

“The unnecessarily huge Army is an economic burden on the new state of south Sudan.”

By: Justin Ambago Ramba, UK, FEB/07/2013, SSN;

In South Sudan as it’s the case with the rest of the African continent, what is often rumored around is in fact a true story. Last year while the country’s president was away on an official visit to the Peoples’ Republic of China, a certain foiled military coup was rumored in Juba. This story was however quickly dismissed by the government spokesperson!!

Since then talks about the military which had been a no go area for the journalists and media houses, have now become one of the most discussed current issues the countrywide. It might also not be a coincidence at all when the president in a very sweeping move recently dismissed 38 of his most senior army officers.

Much noticed is of course the radical changes that went on to involve all the deputies to the Chief of Staff as they were replaced by new faces.

The public opinion on the other hand was quick to endorse the move and the media comments were largely in favor of more of such dismissals. In fact in the eyes of the public the army is viewed to have become increasing too huge when compared to the total population of the country [8.5 million according to the disputed 2008 national census].

That far the latest shake-up in the military did not really come as any surprise to those who have keenly followed the political developments in this new country.

Even going by the much preferred population projection in the same year that puts the figure roughly at a range between 13.5 to 15 million, one would have still expected a smaller army to what this new country has now. The force may range from anything between 50,000 to 200,000 depending on who does the counting and for which purpose.

If we are to restrict the count only to able bodies that are still physically fit and actively serving, we may probably just end up with the former figure of around 50, 000 or so.

However if we were getting the data from the army’s monthly payrolls, then we probably will be talking about the latter figure of 200,000 which is evidently designed work of corrupt senior officers who continue to drain the country’s coffers with much impunity.

It is indeed a national duty and an important one to pay attention to the size of the army because this huge and ever increasing army has since 2005 taken up nearly half of the country’s total revenues. With a free access to nearly 50 to 60 % of the country’s total budget and open to continuous expansion.

The prospects of this reckless and illegal over-spending are already reflecting negatively on a country that was once not only paralyzed but was in fact completely destroyed by years of a ruthless civil war that consumed both the dry and the green.

Much of the infrastructure needs to be reconstructed while in the majority of cases it’s true to say that everything is to be constructed for the first time.

If the leadership was at all being considerate of the needs of the country, then these are where much of the scarce resources of this poverty stricken state should be going as a token of peace dividend.

Needless to overstress, South Sudan still remains largely insecure. The few existing government institutions are weak and corrupt while the majority of the much needed ones are actually non-existent in vast areas of the territory.

And to say the obvious we are probably dealing here with a country which has one of the world’s worst law enforcement agents.

Everywhere in these parts of the world uncertainty is high on the list and continues to be the order of the day, while illegally armed groups exist almost all across the country. Unfortunately this huge army’s role in combating insecurity and bring the situation under control is yet to be seen.

From our own experience as a population that had lived under war situation for well over half a century, we should know better that many of the insecurities that continue to ravage our country can only be settled politically and economically.

Take the situation in Jonglei State as an example and you will realize that no amount of isolated military intervention can bring stability and peaceful co-existence amongst its various warring factions.

The true nature of our problems though well known to us, unfortunately we tend to intentionally misrepresent them.

The fact of the matter is that what manifests itself now as inter-tribal crisis and conflicts are in actual fact manifestations of illiteracy, poverty, backwardness, all of which were made worse by the fierce competition over scarce resources [grazing land, water, land and others].

Finding a long lasting solution to the above problems is not impossible, however the military options often resorted to as the first choice in these cases have time and time proven to be the least effective.

Let us face it, for since the root causes of most if not all of these problems can be traced down to politics and economics, then it’s only logical that they can only be settled through addressing both the political and economic needed of our people.

If the above arguments are true and which they are, then the need for keeping such a huge army becomes irrelevant as the solutions to our main problems doesn’t really warrant their roles. In fact as of late most inter-ethnic crisis has only worsened when the military were wrongly pushed into it.

It’s all too common in South Sudan for soldiers to desert their units in the SPLA in order to fight alongside their tribesmen as witnessed in Jonglei State and other parts of the country. This became too common especially during forcibly disarmaments of the civilian populations.

The army is now largely viewed by the civilian population throughout the country as both a sociopolitical and an economic burden on the new state and its people. It is badly in need of self-criticism and appraisal since it has by all means become very unpopular due to its poor records on human rights and professionalism.

In whichever part of the country where this army has been deployed since its inception, the missions have often been compromised and overshadowed by stories of widespread torture, harassment, rape of the civilian population and looting of their properties, all orchestrated by none but the very who were supposed to them.

Whether the above heinous acts were strategically allowed during the civil war to achieve certain ethnically driven motives or simply a way of settling political scores with particular ethnic groups presumed as the enemy within, the official declaration of the country’s independence on July 9th, 2011 should a clear line to spread between the new and the old era.

For whatever reasons these rogue behavior of some elements in the army cannot be allowed to remain the same especially when this army is now a national army of an independent country that is a member of the United Nations and other regional bodies.

From the above narrative, it is clear that our national army is nowhere near professionalism. And its huge size is even a hindrance to the introduction of any modernization since this means having to spend more money.

The other important issue of course is to see how trainable is these men and women who we would want to upgrade into modern and professional soldiers?

Our borders issues will always be there and especially so with our northern neighbor the Republic of Sudan. However for practical purposes we cannot be able to militarily patrol this 2010 kilometer long border even when we have this huge army.

The lack of adequate logistics will still be a problem in achieving that. And these are some of the main reasons why we should opt for a small but highly sophisticated modern army rather than a huge ill-functioning one.

Equally of concern undoubtedly is the fate of our territories that have been annexed by the republic of the Sudan during the time pre-independence era.

These areas are known to us and we have to pursue legal and diplomatic channels in order to reclaim them. These issues can never be settled militarily, unless of course we intend to go back to an all-out war.

On the other hand it is very important that we take our independence very seriously, and the best way to defend this hard earned independence is by playing the game according to the rules.

As a full member of the League of Nations, South Sudan is no longer on its own in facing outside threats. And as a UN member state our political independence is an irreversible fact of history unless of course we are willing to undo it ourselves!

The above points are very important, because as a member of the United Nations, South Sudan is also a signatory to its treaties that seek peaceful solutions to political problems whether within the country or with its next door neughbours.

We should not allow ourselves to be consumed by the fear that someone out there will invade us militarily and repeal our political independence. Those days of Napoleonic and Hitlerism are long gone!

We are all familiar with the failed so-called Argentinian military invasion of the Falklands and the invasion of Kuwait by the executed late president Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

Both incidences cost the invaders many lives and losses in properties and they too lost the lands that they lay claim on because neither moves were accepted by the international community.

If these two lessons of history are not enough for us to learn from, can’t we learn from our own confrontation with the international community when our gallant SPLA forces overran Panthou [Heglig] and took it from the El Bashir’s forces?

And where is Panthou [Heglig] now? Were we not condemned for reclaiming it militarily and forced to withdraw from?

The bottom line of this article is first to awaken the so-called concerned citizens to practice their full rights as citizens of this wonderful homeland , south Sudan without any need to fear or be forced into self-censorship anymore.

The main message remains that there is an urgent need to downsize the numbers of men and women now serving in our army if we are to have a modern, well trained, and well-armed and a professional national army.

By all reasoning there isn’t any sound ground to justify the enrollment figures as high as 50,000 in the army of a poor country like South Sudan, when it can hardly provide the most basic services to its citizens.

At the time of writing this article a vast majority of the local population in impoverished parts of the world depend on foreign aid, NGOs and charities for everything from clean drinking water, food, medicine, education, and shelter.

This huge army might have been undertaken in the context of the South-South dialogue to mean inclusiveness, yet because it was based on wrong concepts, unfortunately this inclusiveness have never been achieved and the SPLA remains largely dominated by only two tribes in a country that has over 77 tribes.

If we are to survive this century of advanced technology, then we must move fast in the direction of having a smaller but modernized army both in personnel and equipment. The army must be reduced to a size that can allow for efficient and proper training, while stressing its fair representation of all regions, ethnicities and minorities.

Nonetheless nothing comes easy and the initial step may frustrate other people, however it must be undertaken. All those who for practical purposes cannot be trained, and they are indeed in huge numbers, must be decently laid off.

The lack of money has on many occasions been cited as the main reason why soldiers or other government officials are not being sent into retired as dictated by their age or physical and mental health status simply because the state cannot afford to pay them their dues.

This is in fact a fallacy, for as these people are allowed to keep their jobs which are already costing the state much money for no services in return; this very money can be used in partially settling these so-called post service dues. And why not?!!!

The second step would be to confine our efforts on training, upgrading and promoting the young and the educated.

The rest who are physically fit and can still handle the rifle perfectly well, but do not for one reason or the other fit in the above categories should be decently relocated to the much need agricultural and construction sectors, while keeping them on the reserve list should their services be needed in the future.

Author: Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba. Secretary General – United South Sudan Party [USSP]. He can be reached at: or

N:B More on the topic next week.


  1. Aj says:

    With no money to pay the men and women in uniform plus corruption, the men in uniform will loot their own citizens. They cannot stay starving and yet government in Juba fill their stomachs with nyama choma with stolen public money. I really feel for the south Sudan men in uniform. The military are supposed to be paid more because their lives are limited.


  2. Martin. L says:

    Brother Ambago, this is a very constructive and balanced criticism of our national army. A job-well-done. I hope someone from the RSS government will listen!

  3. Mtoto says:

    Dr. Ambago, you want the country’s army of south Sudan to be reformed, while our issue is yet not solved with Sudan and it wants to take our areas by force. Whom do you think is to defend our nation from SAF aggression? The 38 officials whom you talk about as dismissed were not completely dismissed but they were put in reserve list and they are still in rank and file of our national army. You don’t have any right to talk of south Sudan army, or reform, since you don=’t know how to defend the country from external aggression.

  4. Dr.Justin Ambago:
    You do not have to support military transformation in the South Sudan Republic while the peace talks agreement signed in Kenya, in 2005, has not yet finalized! It is very early for President Salva Kirr Mayardit to do it! There are very many things going bad in South Sudan government in Republic, food insecurity, lacking of medical care, education, jobs opportunities and many more! Again,the ruling party SPLM in the South Sudan government in Republic has debarred SPLM-DC leadership in the South Sudan. Dr.Akol Ajawin and other political forces as well! He could have done later when the peace talks agreement CPA has done completely! Also another problem, there is no good federal system in the South government in the country at all!

  5. Anyangaliec says:

    Ignores him all. The author is too naive and shortsighted man who can’t see what many could. Savvy and farsighted beings like President Kiir and his team know exactly why they had to have such number in the first. So, who’s he to question their wisdom?

    • Change is good for the goodness of change. We need a stable South Sudan free of intimidation and harassment. We have been at war for so long, now is the time for development. We need the freedom that we fought for and nothing less. South Sudan belongs to us all as south Sudanese.

  6. umoja says:

    All fighting doesn’t depend very much on numbers but quality does.


  7. Deng says:

    South sudan president, it’s not right time to retire the SPLA officers, you are supposed to complete the peace process with North sudan, war isn’t over. D.D

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