Buy guns back from ex-combatants and civilians

adiok Mayik
Sudan as a whole is and will continue to be in oddities from the post-conflict spilt over small arms and their misuse for quite sometime. If we, however, inject some science in this scenario in order to define and justify this eccentricity, it would be logical to see the inter-tribal small arms’ conflict as after-shock from the aftermath of the twenty one years of a brutal war with each other. These definitions and many others will help us find the solutions to effectively disarm civilians and ex-combatants. Many people are troubled with many questions that produce fewer answers, when and how can we end this eccentricity in order to embark on reintegration and peaceful resettlement?

This is the question every Sudanese inside and outside Sudan is grappling with. This article, therefore, looks at the dimensions and the extents of civilian armament in all corners of the Sudan. The article also evaluates exhausted methods of disarmament currently employed and will further explore opinion suggestions of alternative means to obtain these guns without bloodshed from civilians who don’t need them during the time we need peace.

First, let me try to expose a few ways I know small arms got into many wrong hands all over the Sudan. The Government of Sudan used poor youth who flocked to northern towns as national army to suppress the rebellion in the South as the war raged on since 1983. The armament of these tribal youths as a powerful force was of paramount advantage to the government side. Their force helped balanced out a war which dragged on for twenty years with an eye for an eye, revenge for revenge, and retribution for the same in return. These tribal youths hailed from the impoverished villages of the Nuba Mountains, Darfur regions, northern and southern Kordufan regions, southern Blue Nile regions, some parts of southern Sudan, and Eastern Sudan regions. Most of these youths must have been attracted to join several militias in the name of earning petty salaries in return. Others were coerced to join the military through conscriptions. Still others were promised free college education upon enlistment and after military services.

Although the SPLM/A in the south, on the other hand, used almost the same strategies to attract young and able-bodied men to pick up arms, none of its military personnel were paid any salary. This raised another question as to whether the arm race in South Sudan was purely out of patriotism. Of course, an equal force was applied from the southern side to balance the force from the northern government. Because the SPLA’s military personnel were purely volunteers, the challenges to contain the extent of arm bearing were and are still huge even after the war. One of these challenges is how these guns were and are still being used these days. Another challenge is the record keeping of the gun-bearers. Then there is the problem of the deceased guerrilla fighters who inherited their guns. This later challenge haunts both parties of the war. Most of the atrocities and mistakes committed during the war were due to the fact that the SPLA soldiers used these guns to fight the war and to make a living like any other guerrilla movement. Lack of compensation on the side of the SPLA rebellion at the time made it easy for young men in Southern Sudan to go to war on their side to obtain guns.

Now the war has ended and with it comes the force of inertia. An unintended war is dragging on between the people themselves. How do both post-conflict governments get these guns back? It is the biggest challenge facing the north and south at the moment as these guns are now being used for something they were not intended for.

Let me begin with challenges facing the north. The foundation of the Darfur rebellion used the government weapons obtained by their youths who were ready to fight alongside them during the twenty-year old war between north and south. These weapons, apart from their external supplements, were and still are being turned against the masters who provided them. The same occurred in eastern Sudan were the same guns were turned against the bosses. The same challenge, on the other hand, faces the south’s semi-autonomous authority.

Sudan is not the first country to face challenges like these, however. Post-conflict disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe had once been a bloody ordeal. However, these African countries are now peacefully enjoying the results of what they achieved in their conflicts: multiculturalism and economic equity. It is my opinion that the fruits of our civil wars will not be enjoyed for another century unless alternative and peaceful disarmament methods are designed to help address the problems of the post-conflict peace building process.

The spilt-over of small arms in the hands of untrained civilians in Sudan must be seen as a vast regional problem that may subsequently affect lives in the neighboring countries. According to a report presented by the Human Rights Watch, (Gwinyayi, P75), in May, 2002, hundreds of Sierra Leonean ex-combatants still cross into Liberia to fight as mercenaries, loot businesses, and attack as highway bandits. Sudan can easily fall prey into the same situation as it seeks to recover from a deeply rooted destruction of economy, social system, and human capitals.

The Government of Sudan is currently under the international pinch to disarm the Arab Militias causing chaos in Darfur. Although the Arab tribes in Kordufan have done the Sudan government a great favor to help suppress the rebellion in Darfur, it is worth noting by token of plain truth that most leaders in Khartoum do not admire the proportion these weapons were used. The solution is simply to hide the embarrassment because how do you disarm someone on the loose; I mean someone who is not on your payroll? I am not saying the government did not arm these Arab militias in Kordufan who are causing terror in Darfur, don’t quote me wrong here. I am simply saying here that most of the small arms Sudanese civilians bear were dispensed with great intentions by the authorities concerned but the implications are now turning out to be too complicated for them to disentangle. The unintended consequences are huge.

The Government of South Sudan (GoSS) is entangled in its own, same maze. Most of the youths who were armed to fight the war did exactly what they were told to do by the movement. However, they also did most of things they were not told to do. For example, they were trained to stay in designated barracks with these weapons. Some of them stayed in barracks as told but some did not. As a result, most guns ended up in the cattle camps where they were and still are used for cattle defense and hunting. The dangers are that the uses of these weapons turned bloody as cattle defense was extended into cattle rustling and hunting animals was extended into hunting members of other ethnic groups.

The episodes in the Jonglei State between the Lou Nuer and Dinka Duk, Lou Nuer and Murle, Dinka Bor and Murle, is a practical evidence of small arms proliferation allusion. The same loathes are observed between the Bull Nuer and Abiennom Dinka of Unity State. Dinka Agar and neighboring ethnic groups of Lake State are in similar maze. The same situation applies in Warrap State between different sections of the Dinka, and the most recent observation between the Mundari and Bari in Central Equatoria is no exception. And finally but not the least, the frequent human hunt in Eastern Equatoria is the oldest of all of them.

All these aforementioned tribal conflicts are what I termed the unintended use of the small arms which got into the hands of unemployed civilians. Now, how both the GoSS and the GNU can get these guns back is the biggest subject of this article. There is no doubt that the Government of South Sudan has tried coercive disarmament without success. Instead, this coercive disarmament turns ugly and brutal as the former and self disbanded ex-combatants who are mostly the bearers of illegal guns respond with similar force. This is practically evidenced in Lake State and Jonglei State where SPLA disarmament unit clashed with armed civilians who were supposed to be disarmed.

Why not try an alternative method of disarmament? As most communities and civilians are settling back in peaceful post-conflict environment, the unemployed ex-combatants are definitely facing uncountable struggles to feed their families, obtain clothing, and send their children back to schools. Can the government of South Sudan, Government of National Unity, and the NGOs working alongside them launch a gun-buy-back program? It is my conviction and opinion that if programs like these are launched with legitimate transparency, honesty, and consistency, it is likely that most ex-combatants who are unemployed and armed can come forward to sell their guns in exchange for money. The lumpsums they could earn out of these sales can be used on their own discretions. They may be informed to use the proceedings to start small retail businesses, send their children to college, buy cows, buy lands, etc.

As I mentioned earlier, small arms proliferation in Sudan is indeed our own problem but a problem we share with the neighboring countries. Sudan can ask for hands from the neighboring countries. Say for example, Kenya, Uganda, Congo, Chad, and Egypt can set their own gun-buy-back programs and stations where armed civilians can opt to drop their guns off for cash. This, I presume, cannot bear fruits in one, one week, a month, a year, two years, or even a few several years. It could be a gradual process which may turn out lucrative on all ends.

The cost of having a well armed civilian populations such as this of Sudan is way more than the cost of buying these guns back honestly from them. Using force to disarm civilians should be completely reserved as plan F. It is easy for these armed civilians to turn into very strong commercial highway bandits and town robbers like what happened in Liberia and many countries of Southern Africa block which have been out of war before us. It is also easy for these armed and unemployed youths to be used by discontented politicians to wage other unnecessary rebellions, which we have already seen happen in Darfur and in eastern Sudan. Coercive disarmament is not going to work and it will continue to cost a lot of deaths.

This writer is a Sudanese National who lives in the United States. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.