Can the SPLA do the role of policing in South Sudan?

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Friday, 29 May 2009 20:47
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Manyok Biar is a regular contributor to The New Sudan Vision

(Texas,USA) - Many newspapers reported that the First Vice President of Sudan and the President of South Sudan, General Salva Kiir Mayardit, has acknowledged that Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is seriously threatened by enemies of peace from within our realm and without. Gen. Kiir even called the problem the "abnormal pattern of insecurity" (Middle East Online, May 26, 2009).

The SPLA General Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Oyai Deng Ajak, said that he wanted to assure Southerners that SPLA is ready to work with the Government of Southern Sudan, State Governors, and County Commissioners to ensure that South Sudan is free of arms (Gurtong, May 27, 2009). This is a good move. The technical situation that needs to be addressed, however, is what role SPLA can play and what role the police can play in restoring order in South Sudan.

We know very well that the role of the army and the role of the police are not the same. The major role of the army is to defend a nation and the role of police is to maintain law and order in the nation. President Kiir has mentioned that “SPLA forces are now transforming into a modern army with modern equipments capable to protect southern territories and its people” (Sudan Tribune, May 27, 2009). This statement might appear as contradiction to SPLA’s recent behavior of keeping away from defending civilians in Murle, Nuer, and Central Equatoria. But that is how a professional army behaves. It follows orders.

Professional police, on the other hand, are trained to keep law and order. Unlike the army, professional police learn basic laws. Some of police leaders are even lawyers in many countries. Police does not just follow orders; they execute orders that are lawful. Police cannot beat a person because they are ordered to do so, they question orders. The army fights large organized attacks, but police force fights small gangs that terrorize civilians in towns and villages.

So, what role can SPLA play at the level of states and counties? General Oyai made it clear that SPLA’s role is to “get hold of all illegal arms” (Gurtong, May 27, 2009). Getting hold of illegal arms means disarmament. This raises another question: If SPLA is willing to disarm civilians and not willing to defend them from any armed attackers, then what does that mean for the disarmed communities?

The above question would force SPLA to consider its role at the broader well-defined manner. SPLA must not take over the role of police in keeping law and order, but SPLA should also not play the role of spectator in a football stadium.

If army’s role is to protect civilians from any larger armed attackers, then SPLA should play that role in South Sudan because it is a national army. Our government should now know the distinction between criminals and tribes. There are things that do not involve the whole tribe. Cattle rustlings in most cases do not involve the whole tribe. Therefore, cattle rustlers must be branded as criminals detached from tribe. SPLA’s role includes protecting any community from cattle rustlers.

Another complication would be how fair SPLA could be in defending communities from any attackers. This is not a difficult question if the government understands that SPLA is a national army and all the tribes in South Sudan are Sudanese citizens. SPLA’s fairness depends on understanding that its forces are defenders of any community they are deployed in. SPLA is obliged to fight any attackers on innocent civilians, even if these attackers are part of that community as it occurred in Unity State. This will make attackers think twice when they prepare to attack any community because they know that SPLA forces are there and they will be the ones to fight the attackers. Attackers would also think twice because there are possibilities that they will fight their own relatives even brothers and sons in the SPLA forces.

Police’s role would then be to arrest criminals that they identified to have involved in attacking another community. If these criminals are more than what the police could handle, then SPLA can be asked by the police to assist. We must know that armed civilians who use their arms to kill other people are not regarded as innocent by law anywhere in the world even if they are not trained as soldiers. Innocent armed civilians are the ones who use their arms to protect themselves from anything that wants to harm them. Any armed person who resists arrest by using his or her gun has declared war against the law.

Most importantly, the action that the government should take against any organized criminal group must be coordinated with community leaders of those criminals. We know that organized attackers in South Sudan always belong to a community even though their actions might not represent the whole community. It is good that President Kiir said that his government will implement “resolutions and recommendations of the chiefs’ conference for the protection of peace and stability” (Gurtong, May 27, 2009).

Lastly, the government must pay salaries of SPLA and police on time. Happy army and police are the ones who do good jobs in protecting the nation.

*Zechariah Manyok Biar is a graduate student at Abilene Christian University, Texas, USA. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.