Tag Archives: Weapons Proliferation

Ethnic Violence and Weapons Proliferation in South Sudan

17 Jan

*This post originally appeared on the STAND blog.

In South Sudan’s Jonglei state, ethnic violence between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities is a constant characteristic of South Sudan’s internal instability. Along with many structural factors, weapons proliferation is a central cause of increasing conflict. The presence of numerous armed men have increased the casualty rates of cattle raids and undermined more cautious leadership. The South Sudanese government has consistently either failed to address the root causes of the problem, done so ineptly, or lacked the required institutional capacity. It has also aggravated the conflict by relying on ethnic militias to provide short-term security, without a plan to eventually disarm these militias. There are some issues at play beyond the reach of the South Sudanese government, but even in the areas it can control, it has so far failed as a productive actor in decreasing inter-tribal violence.

To understand the role of small arms in facilitating Jonglei’s inter-communal conflict, a brief analysis of causal factors is necessary. This violence, largely between the Lou Nuer and the Murle tribes, is based around cattle raiding, a practice that has existed for generations. Recently, however, these cattle raids have ceased to be solely economic, and as a result of many factors, raiders have begun to attack individuals from the rival tribe, and not just those that physically prevent them from stealing cattle. In the past three years, individual attacks have caused up to one thousand deaths. While climate change has had some effect on increasing competition over land, population displacement, changes in farming practices and the disruption of trade routes have exacerbated the Lou Nuer-Murle conflict. The end of the north-south war has also worsened the conflict, though the militarization of the Lou Nuer and the Murle has been ongoing for more than a decade. The return of armed men undermined tribal leadership structures, which had established relatively peaceful coexistence with other tribes. Both tribes, but particularly the Murle, are politically marginalized within South Sudan, and thus generally distrustful of the South Sudanese government. Therefore, they are less willing to cooperate with government-led violence reduction initiatives. Local politicians also exploit tribal rivalries for personal gain, and though evidence is scant, they may well be involved in actually inciting raids.

The proliferation of small arms is one of the main drivers of the conflict in Jonglei. Following the end of the north-south war, soldiers returning to civilian life brought their weapons with them. Both tribes used this new supply of guns to raid cattle, which has led to higher death rates. Another factor in the abundance of small arms is the presence of anti-government rebels. Former members of the SPLA’s loose coalition of minority militias, including the late George Athor and David Yau Yau, have exploited the availability of small arms for political gain. Though the war has ended, the SPLA continuously fails to prevent its soldiers from returning to civilian life with their weapons, and ammunition is a form of currency in some Lou Nuer areas. Finally, the SPLA has armed both the Murle and the Lou Nuer to fight against Athor and Yau Yau, respectively.

Arms flow to the Murle and the Lou Nuer has risen and fallen over time, and the sources for these arms had also changed. However, the SPLA has consistently failed to effectively disarm its populace. Though South Sudanese authorities undertook disarmament in 2005 and 2006, the effort was incomplete, and the seized weapons were re-seized by ethnic militias due to poorly guarded warehouses. Other SPLA disarmament strategies have failed because they often target individuals who keep weapons solely for self-defense, and fail to target ethnic militias, mostly due to a lack of capacity. The SPLA has repeatedly sexually assaulted and beaten civilians in disarmament efforts, increasing anger toward the state and decreasing confidence in government-led violence reduction initiatives.

In response to ethnic violence in Jonglei, the South Sudanese government must cease arming ethnic militias and attempt to establish a better relationship with Lou Nuer and Murle communities. While the latter task is easier said than done, distrust between a target community and a government severely hampers disarmament efforts, exemplified by the only partially successful attempts at DDR in Burundi. Though the South Sudanese government lacks the capability to fully disarm citizens in Jonglei, it has the ability to facilitate this process. Unfortunately, its current policies are negatively affecting the possibilities of disarmament and violence reduction. If the government of South Sudan truly wishes to end ethnic violence in Jonglei, it must discontinue attempts to achieve peace through further militarization, increase its presence in Jonglei through political inclusion, and focus on community-led negotiations and solutions.

Conflicts to Watch in 2013 (Part II)

3 Jan

Here goes part two of conflicts to watch for civilian protection advocates in 2013.

Kenya

It’s deja vu all over again.  Another round of elections that comes with the potential of violence.  The elections in 2007 caused 1,500 deaths due to a disputed election split along ethnic lines.  Unfortunately, a very similar result is possible this time around.  The two main contenders are Raila Odingo, a Luo, and Uhuru Kenyetta, a Kikuyu, and both these candidates were accused of personally encouraging and directing violence in 2007.  Like last time, this an election mostly based on ethnicity, considering the similar nature of the candidates’ platforms.  Worryingly, according to some observes, ethnic tensions are even worse than they were five years ago.  Weapons proliferation means that attacks that were mostly conducted with machetes and bows and arrows in 2007 now may be undertaken with handguns and small arms.  Hopefully, everything will go smoothly, but the warning signs are there.

Syria

The new year looks exceedingly bleak in Syria.  A recent casualty estimate by UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay  puts the total at 60,000, which is 15,000 more than even Syrian opposition groups have been reporting.  Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this sort of carnage will end before Assad falls, but even then, there are no guarantees for Syria’s civilian population.  While some have argued that Assad will not fall until he runs out of money (which likely wouldn’t be this year),  the situation in Syria is more complicated than in Libya, where literally the only thing keeping Gaddafi in power was his money.  Assad will almost certainly fall this year, and that’s what the world must prepare for.  I’ve written before on the real dangers of talking about Syria in the framework of intervention while ignoring that the conflict between the FSA and Assad is not the potentially defining moment for the international community.  Post-conflict Syria will not be a paradise: there is a real danger of a genocide directed against the Alawite minority.  While the Syrian National Coalition was quick to condemn attacks against civilians (and contains a more diverse set of Syrians than its identically acronymed predecessor), the FSA’s actions have not stayed consistent with these lofty statements.  Alternatively, a post-conflict power struggle between Islamists and secularists (even if those divides are simplistic) is not out of the question.  2013 is likely to be a very bloody year as both sides increasingly resort to military solutions to political problems.  Instead of focusing on toppling Assad, the international community needs to take a more civilian-orientated approach and come up with strong, concrete proposals to stop the violence as soon as possible.

Central Asia

Central Asia is the only region to not appear on both Foreign Policy’s and the Council of Foreign Relations’ list, which isn’t entirely surprising, considering its under-representation in world media and the lack of an immediate and obvious threat.  Despite the lack of a clear, easily-definable threat in any of the four countries discussed below, poor governance and unresolved conflicts threaten regional stability and the health of each individual state.  Uzbekistan is one of the world’s most repressive countries, and there is no succession plan for 74-year-old dictator Islam Karimov.  In Tajikistan regional tensions between Gorno-Badakhshan and the central government in Dushanbe remained unresolved following a clash in July.  For Kyrgyzstan, the problem isn’t necessarily what happened in 2012, but what might happen in 2013.  While ethnic relations in Osh, the site of attempted ethnic cleansing in 2010, have improved, there has been little international engagement on prevention in the past two years.  Lastly, Kazakhstan has problems on two fronts.  Firstly, a small Islamic jihad group called Jund al-Khalifah has launched sporadic attacks.  While there are debates about how homegrown the movement is, its presence does seem to point to at least some limited organic support for the group.  Secondly, in December 2011, Kazakh police fired on striking oil workers in Zhanaozen, killing several.  Again, there are debates on how representative Zhanaozen is of social relations in Kazakhstan, and while narratives that use the Arab Spring framework to categorize Kazakhstan are simplistic, there are serious problems at the core of Kazakh state and society.