A friend of mine who was in Bor town, Jonglei State during the fierce clashes in December through March recounted to me something interesting he saw. After the government forces re-established control over the town, civilians from the Dinka community were gathered in Freedom Square and given guns to defend themselves. Everybody around was allocated a weapon, including women and youth. The idea behind it was; next time the ‘White Army’ attacks, no civilian will be caught unprepared. This could explain the unfortunate incident where armed civilians held a ‘peaceful demonstration’ at UNMISS Bor and killed about 57 IDPs at the POC site.

Having conducted several peace building & community security programs in Jonglei State, I am absolutely certain that other communities have equally been re-armed. I am of course using the term ‘re-arming’ loosely because we’re assuming that proper disarmament has taken place in this restive State. One of the consequences of this recent round of fighting in the country is that the entire Greater Upper Nile region is now more awash with weapons than it was 8 months ago. To make matters worse, we could be looking at another 5 years before any peaceful disarmament can take place; the situation remains highly volatile.

Even if Addis Ababa gives us a peace deal that we can build on, the problem of small arms is going to keep following us everywhere like a three-legged dog.

Unconventional Disarmament.

What if we launched a Cash for Guns program?

Before everyone cries “limited resources”, let’s ask ourselves the cost of having hundreds of thousands of SALWs in civilian hands? And how they are the mother of 99% of the problems we ‘re all trying to mitigate in SS. From insecurity to lack of infrastructure and illiteracy, to diseases and famine etc. If we acknowledge this, then we’d be willing to think unconventionally and commit more resources to get arms out of civilian hands.

The ‘how’:

An AK47 goes for about SSP500 or two sacks of Dura and one bullet is about SSP2 in the black market in South Sudan. (Yes, there is a steady weapons black market, courtesy of decades of civil war and an incomplete/ineffective DDR post-CPA).
So how about we offer to buy the gun at SSP350 and SSP1 for each bullet? Or two sacks of Dura for each gun and a tin of cooking oil for a magazine of bullets? Or thereabout… The nuts and bolts of this can easily be worked out.

We start with a broad target of 1million small arms. This translates to about USD 109,375,000. Let’s add another USD 150mil for logistics etc, bringing the total to about USD260mil for a proposed 3year program. Together with this, we do a thorough inventory and serialization of the entire SPLA armory as well as Other Armed Groups. (I’m assuming Addis Talks yield some kind of security arrangements to incorporate the rebels). We do not want a situation where rogue soldiers collude to supply weapons from the armory to their relatives so they can get cash or food.


The program should be designed to run for not more than 3 years. Beyond that and it becomes a quasi economic activity complete with illegal imports from neighboring countries. The message should be very clear that this money-for-guns will only run for 3 yrs and not a day more so that civilians can see it as an opportunity to trade their guns for some cash. A short period will also enjoy maximum focus of resources and better multi-agency collaboration. There needs to be close integration with local community security programming

Who will do it?

UNMISS of course. Part of the scaled up forces for peace keeping should be re-directed to do this. Because surely keeping the peace must involve removing the arms from actors who would sabotage that peace, right? As UNMISS conducts the hardware part, agencies involved with soft programs like peace building, mediation and community security should scale up their activities within this period. Here am thinking agencies like USAID, DFID and the EU. Effective DDR must be carried out; this time donors need to commit significant funds especially to the re-integration end of things. It is high time we, for instance, ask ourselves what the White Army youth will engage in besides cattle raiding and fighting.

For it to be successful, we’ll need firm commitments from the leaders especially the president and rebel leader. There must not be room for equivocation from ALL partners.

Isn’t it time we threw away the old rule book on peace in South Sudan and start thinking outside the box?