SECURITY DESK: Is SPLA failing its first post-war challenge?

Category: Commentary
Published on Monday, 02 February 2009 18:26
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mariar_2_0(Pittsburgh, USA) - After three years of trying to get Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to settle its war with National Resistance Movement (NRM) government through negotiation, the SPLM hierarchy finally did what was well overdue – it went for stick instead of carrots that were not yielding any measurable results. The operation had been in the work for a while and was considered a last resort should LRA fail to sign peace. Instead of using peace talks and visits to Mr. Kony’s hideout to gather credible and actionable intelligence, the SPLA assumed that it knew LRA enough to launch any operation at whim. The outcome was predictable. LRA has now been dispersed all over the South, D.R. Congo, and probably Central African Republic. Citizens of Western Equatoria State are now bearing the brunt of botched operation. The SPLA hierarchy should demote and reassign whoever is in charge of the operation against the LRA.

The SPLA is getting a lion’s share of South’s budget because it is our sole insurance from any external aggressors – especially north. However, it is also required to protect citizens of the South from terrorist groups (both domestic and foreign). If the SPLA is failing in such a spectacular way against marauding LRA, shouldn’t we worry that it will fail when the CPA is abrogated? Southerners have a right to ask why their resources are devoted to such an incompetent army. While the SPLA is probably not devoting much of its fighting force to operation against the LRA in fear that the northern front posture will be weakened, and unable to withstand any future tests, the SPLA should still be able to deter LRA from murdering citizens across WES.

An operation involving disparate forces from different countries and command structure is likely to face problems. This is probably the case with the operation against LRA. D.R. Congo army is particularly weak and unable to protect its citizens. We have been reading horrible stories about how the LRA is terrorizing civilians in D.R. Congo with impunity. Uganda People’s Defense Force does not enjoy an illustrious track record either. In fact there are stories that LRA always looked forward to its skirmishes with UPDF and dreaded any encounter with SPLA during its war in 1990s. The UPDF is corrupt and being mismanaged. Some of its generals have been convicted of misappropriating money by employing shoddy procurement practices. SPLA is not doing great either. It is still wary of North’s intentions and preparing itself accordingly. Unfortunately, it has become a gateway to quick riches and an instrument of access to power. With these three armies with rather weak record trying to coordinate their operations and command against a well-established terrorist group, the outcome was rather preordained.

For mediators who wanted to continue talking to LRA for as long as it takes without any hope of reaching peace, it is their opportunity to point out that they were right and those advocating force will regret their hasty decision. They are waiting for this operation to fail so that they can become relevant again and pursue their endless courting of Kony. From a strategy point of view, it would be a colossal mistake to run back to the negotiating table without scoring a decisive blow against the LRA. Failing to achieve this victory will embolden the LRA to make unrealistic demands. In fact, the LRA will be negotiating from the position of ‘strength’ and not weakness. So, what should be done differently to achieve victory or at least force the LRA leadership to understand that their survivable lay in a negotiated settlement?

First, the SPLA needs better intelligence than what it has been getting. That intelligence must be secured from even SPLM leaders who are probably already compromised anyway by the North’s intelligence services. LRA is not to be taken lightly and dismissed as a regular terror group confined to the jungle in eastern DR Congo. They get quality intelligence on latest developments from their handlers in the North, because the North has interest in seeing that LRA is not defeated. This is how they keep Museveni in check. It is conceivable that some NCP intelligence elements have a stranglehold on what is happening in South and what SPLA is up to. So, for any element of surprise to be effective, SPLA has to operate on what the LRA never expected them to get their hands on.

Second, SPLA should not just send regular soldiers to this fight. This is the only opportunity where SPLA can form a special force and test it against the LRA through covert operation. If you are going to wage a cat and mouse kind of fight with an experienced guerilla force like LRA, you need to train a group to act and behave like LRA. It is not that hard to recruit and train a covert force. All you have to do is find a select group of determined youth, put them through hell, and see if you have any left. This group will form the nucleus of future SPLA special force. Train them to fight under a set of conditions that an ordinary soldier might find difficult and let them loose on LRA. This is how a special force is formed in many countries. A nation’s army is usually faced with a rather unusual opponent that it realizes that it is lacking something in its arsenal. It then goes back to the drawing board and study the challenge and come up with a remedy. SPLA’s inability to deal a blow to LRA indicates that it is not prepared for task.

It is difficult to ascertain where the problem lies but one can conclude that the SPLA is losing its reputation as a disciplined force. We are no longer enjoying the protection of glorious Koryom and other units that served marvelously during a crucial period in the rebellion in late ‘80s. Vast majority of these units are either totally lost to war or maimed. Today, SPLA is populated by those seeking to protect their own and not the country or those seeking quick access to oil share dollars. SPLA needs to undergo an indoctrination policy that sensitizes service members to be non-affiliated group with a singular objective of protection the country. Recruitment standards need to be strict to weed out those signing up for economic reason and not pride in serving. When this is achieved, we can sleep soundly knowing that we have a professional army protecting citizens. At the moment, the SPLA is not up to the standards we expect from a guerilla that forced Islamists to concede to our demand for self-determination.

Mariar Wuoi is a New Sudan Vision columnist. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.