Ethnic Militarization: The Privatization of War in South Sudan

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Thursday, 02 February 2012 00:20
Written by Julius Nyambur Marko-Wani, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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NEW YORK, USA - There are, in principle, at least two basic reasons why private individuals are not licensed to conduct war. The two prohibiting standards are: justice for war and justice in war. The just war tenet provides that any just war must be declared by a lawful authority. Complementarily, the justice in war dogma stresses the observance of proportionality and discrimination in war.

Although what constitutes a war is still quite controversial—not as defined by its magnitude, but as typified or gauged by the number of casualties—widespread tribal conflicts, such as those for which South Sudan is now infamously known for, can, nonetheless, be termed as wars.

Mortality statistics arising from inter-tribal fighting since 1985 can countenance this claim.

That conflict is an integral and inevitable aspect of human existence is undeniable. What is debatable, nevertheless, regards what entity is permitted, if circumstances necessitate, to engaging in war. This, in essence, is the thrust of this article.  

There have been, unarguably, more fateful tribal conflicts in the present South Sudan than prior to the signing of the CPA. Most, if not all, of the clashes involved arbitral use of modern weapons; for example, guns. How these weapons were, and still being, acquired is one puzzle; how and why they are being used ominously unprecedentedly is quite another.

Up frontally, I do not envy supply or possession of any weapon as such, but I definitely loathe what they are begrudgingly being used for—committing heinous crimes. This invites the question: where do armed civilians get their guns? How much are they paying for these guns?

The context in which tribal tussles are executed nowadays, are egregiously destructive than they used to be in the past. My senses—or lenses— tell me that individuals and groups are illegitimately militarily armed to tooth. Any disagreements between them are thus more readily confronted through the barrel of a gun. Sadly, the results are often more deaths. This is because ethnically-privatized wars are not constrained by institutionalized law or conventional morality. In short, they are illegally-sponsored wars, in the guise of tribal rustlings.

During the Sudan civil war, almost every tribe, one way or the other, managed to secure guns. It’s immaterial whether the guns were acquired for the purposes of preemptive or preventive reasons, but it matters and, actually bothersome, that those weapons are being directed not for the mission they were intended, but for criminal proclivities.  

Therefore, it’s not a far-fetched aberration to conclude that there are as many more guns in the hands of non-combatant crooks across tribes as there are in the hands of authorized soldiers within the SPLA army. The thesis here is not that tribal clashes must be eradicated, but that in an era where modern weapons have proliferated onto the hands of uneducated masses, conflicts are more likely to be privatized by tribal or regional kingpins, who can only misuse unfortunate events to bait for hierarchy in a fledgling state such as South Sudan. See what I am saying?

South Sudan is a product of the CPA. The CPA was a product of the South-South Dialogues. The South-South Dialogues were the sideline negotiations literally equal to the SPLM-NCP main negotiations, the difference being that South-South Dialogues were conferences of tribal and political headpins. Hadn’t the kingpins’ demands been met by SPLM, truth be said, we wouldn’t be talking of South Sudan, today. We can bet and I shall take all the bets, Osman is my witness.

Could it be that ethnic kingbolts are playing the highest fiddle in perpetuating the instabilities in the South? How comes reports from eyewitnesses revealed that some of the attackers were in uniform same to that worn by SPLA? Could the looters be escapees from the SPLA army?

Here is why I am afraid that privatizing the “wars of convenience” is not healthy for the newest republic: Ethnically-privatized military wars do not engage in just wars, neither do they observe justice in war. This is because: (1), they are not waged against a standing army and thus lack a centralized unit which can be held accountable for their war crimes; and (2), they are pathetically based on the primitive notion of “tit-for-tat” as a game—not as a just cause, using just means.

Besides, ethnically privatized wars can easily be taken advantage of, by warlords, who are either blindfolded by patronage greed, or despondently ignorant about the imperatives of justice in war. The incidences that happened in the State of Jonglei, South Sudan, are typical examples.

Advice: the government of the Republic of South Sudan must know that the main task of the government is to ensure national security, at whatever price. The government is the only entity within a state, licensed by its codes of law to control violence within groups, and regulate the destructive power of violence. RSS’s failure to intervene somehow supports the above thesis.

The main difference between the state and individuals, insofar as conflict goes is that, in the pursuit of interest, preventive, or defensive wars, a state prescribes certain standards that must be adhered to, while proscribing any digression from those rules. Contrarily, individuals are driven by intentions, and will engage in conflict for various motives. Individually, human beings are selfish; collectively, they are custodian of law and protectors of grand interest.

The government of South Sudan must not allow ethnic privatization of conflict to flourish within its territories; it can’t afford joining the league of failed states. This is how simple or twisted my independent advice runs.

*Julius Nyambur Wani is the author and he can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He can also be visited at - The Independent Advisor