‘This gun is our food’: Disarming the White Army militias of South Sudan

  • Arnold M
  • Alden C
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This paper highlights policy considerations for the demilitarisation of militias based on the lessons learned from South Sudan’s recent experiences disarming White Army militias (groupings of armed civilians, mostly youth, which coalesced into village-level formations in the 1990s) in Upper Nile and Jonglei states from January to August 2006. The report analyzes the disarmament strategy of the SPLA with a focus on efficacy, the role of other actors to it, and continuing challenges for engendering peace and stability in its aftermath. Particular attention is given to contrasting the SPLA’s forceful disarmament exercise from January to May 2006 in western and central Jonglei State (where combat and pillaging took place) with the voluntary disarmament exercises in Akobo County in eastern Jonglei State in July 2006. Firstly, the article explains the motivations of joining White Army militias (anarchy, need for protection, and commercial advantages of cattle raiding), their modus operandi (following clan/lineal lines), ethnic tensions (Nuer and Dinka cleavages) and reasons for resistance to disarmament (need for security, hate for SPLA). Secondly, the article explores the role of the local communities (in peace meetings), the government (mediating between SPLA and White Army youth), UN (UNMIS and UNDP presence) and NGOs (sensitizing youth) working in the peaceful disarmament process in Jonglei in July 2006. The success is attributed to: the inclusion of all these actors (as opposed to the SPLA acting on its own), the use of a publicity operation by a recognized authority that provided information on disarmament, and a balance between incentives and coercion. However, challenges to disarmament continue resulting from: blood feuds and cattle raiding, the spill-over effects of the Ethiopian/Sudanese border, and the continued need for protection for disarmed communities.

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  • Matthew B. Arnold

  • Chris Alden

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