OPINION: Open letter to Minister of Defense
By Marum Ruon Wicjoat
First and Foremost, let me begin by congratulating Honorable Angelina Jany Teny for winning the trust of the presidency of the Republic of South Sudan under the leadership of H.E. Salva Kiir Mayardit and H.E. 1st Vice President Dr. Riek Machar Teny for having appointed her to the position of Minister of Defense and Veterans Affairs. When the news of selection of Ms. Teny to the ministry surfaced, many received it with mixed reactions and a lot of debates have been conducted on social media concerning the fact that she is the wife to the first Vice President H.E. Dr. Riek Machar Teny. Many took this as a nepotism and all sorts of things have been said about her selection to this position especially some of the supporters of the SPLM/A-IO. Some top army commanders within the SPLA-IO took this as a negligence toward their contribution to the success of the movement and as we have seen, this is has led to the defection of Gen. Koang Chuol Ranley and some of his cohorts citing the decision by the C-in-C of SPLA-IO to select her to the defense ministry as turning the movement into a family business.
On the other hand, many saw her competencies and praised the decision of her appointment as wise and the best decision ever made to bring reforms within the South Sudan national army. As a matter of fact, we have seen the positive contributions she brought to the movement when she chaired the defense and security. Now that she takes the defense and veterans affairs ministry, what do we expect of her? What reforms will she bring to the National Army and National Security? As we continue to read this piece of article, you will go through a list of my expectations from Hon. Minister of Defense and Veterans Affairs Mrs. Angelina Jany Teny.
First female minister of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
What comes to mind when a woman is selected to the top government position? The first impression is that a mother has been given a position that will make her take her duties as a mother. Like a regular mother does to her own children, she always treat them fairly no matter who does what and who is brighter than the other. Having this trust bestowed on you by the presidency of the Republic of South Sudan, you will prove it to the people of South Sudan and the world at large that a mother have been selected to the position she deserve at the time when peace is needed the most by the conflict affected people of South Sudan. Young people like me who have been disadvantaged by the endless civil wars in the history of Sudan and now the South Sudan. People like me who could not have the chance to enjoy their youthful age due to the violence that we have been born into and have happen to have grown up into. People like us me have seen the hardship of staying in Refugees camps and IDP camps across the region and within the Country due to fear of being killed, targeted, assaulted and imprisoned by the same security organs that were formed and took the oath to defend and protect the Country and her people from either external or internal threat to the sovereignty of the Republic of South Sudan. As highlighted above, your selection to this position will shape the future of this great country once and for all. I understand the challenges awaiting you in the implementation of the security sector and the emergence of the deadly Corona Virus which has led to the temporary closure of training centers of the unified forces, but as a reminder, the qualities of a true leaders are seen during the hard times like this.
Define the size of the National army.
I wondered when I searched the African military might at the Global Power Index in 2017 to see the position of the South Sudan army the SPLA by then, according to the Global Power index, the size of South Sudan army ranged from certain numbers to unknown margin. What does it means when we have unknown number of soldiers? It certainly means one of these reality. Either we have intentional corruption happening within the army payroll and spending or properly planned misappropriation within the army budget or we only have tribal militias that were illegally recruited and integrated into the army.
As it has been happening throughout that South Sudan has had undefined number of active and reserve army personnel, now is the time when a proportionate size of the national army is needed to protect this country and her citizens. I understand that the endless rebellions that has become a habit in this country hinders the proper structure and screening within the army. Now is one of the major task I see awaiting and testing your capabilities.
Train them to be a conventional army, not just former Liberators.
We have seen how the generals and the army behave in relation to how a properly trained army perform their national duties. Due to the experience inherited from the previous struggle against the North, South Sudanese have gone so violent in a way that soldiers do not respect the rule of law in the country and the civilians are constantly harassed by the security organs in the country. Now if peace and stability are to prevail in this country, completely transform the army into professionally trained army that instead cause fear and panic to the people. There is a need for proper training and screening for the army to quality for respecting professional ethics and code of conducts. We need an army whose presence give assurance of peace to the civilians. An army that does not take tribal agendas as their core objectives, an inclusive army that will recognize diversity and embrace unity of common purpose.
A separate training of officers is also needed so as to boost their leadership capabilities. This training will help them understand the basic importance of human right, the roles of an army officer in times of urgency, and the importance of keeping personal body guards that come within the properly trained army not just collecting relatives or tribesmen. Because what happens in the case of this country is that soldiers defy orders from their seniors and no court martial take place. If this continues to happen, security will spin out of control and this country will be in the hands of militias and gangs who will operate only on the expense of civilians.
Take Guns away from the hands of civilians.
The national army cannot performed their duties if the civilians still hold fire arms. For the full return of peace to this nation, and the army to function without interference from the civilians, all Guns must be remove from the hands of the civilians. Though disarmament processes have been carried out in the past, this post-conflict disarmament needs to be carry out properly with care and in stages. The first stages is to educate the communities on dangers poses by the possession of private arms by the civilians and the threat that destabilize National security. Communities should be assured that guns will be removed from the hands of all civilians in this country regardless of tribes or region. The civil population will also need assurance that they will be protected from all kind of threat whether internal or external by their national army and the police. The second stage will be peaceful disarmament which will be conducted through the support of community leaders and areas local authority. This I assume will take away about half of private arms in the hands of civilians. This stage needs to be accompany by small compensation to all who voluntarily surrendered their firearms to the disarmament teams. This of course needs proper accountability because if no care is taken, Guns will be sold back to the civilians and the funds will be embezzled by the officers in charge of the process. The third stage in the disarmament process is forceful disarmament, this will clear the remaining huge number of uncollected firearms. This can be met with resistant from the few who have no intention of surrendering their weapons. At this stage all forceful means have to be used so that no weapon is left behind as this may threaten the security of rival communities whose guns have been disarmed. When all this is done firearms tracing needs to be put in place and full deployment of the army and police has to initiated without favor to some communities.
This disarmament process, if done accordingly, will see this nation peaceful and the true powers of the national army and police will be seen across the country. If this cannot be done, how can we have full stability when thousands of youths mobilize to attack another community in the watchful eyes of the national army and the army does nothing? And how can the army do something when the armed youths in most cases outnumber the deployed government forces? This is a proven fact that the national army cannot and will not be fully independent when we stills have firearms with the population. But the question is how can we do a complete and trustworthy disarmament process when the same arms collected from the civilians are always sold back to them by the same army generals collecting them? This cycle if not broken will always keep the population of this country armed to teeth and peace will never take hold. Take a look at the situation in Jonglei state where a person is killed every day because of communal violence. Take the issue of Lake State where hundreds die every month in the watchful eyes of the authority because of cattle raids and revenge attacks between the armed youths. This cycle of killing happens almost everywhere in this country and the prime reason is that the armed youths sometimes are supported by their general in the national army. With the weakened arm control in the country, peace will never materialize and insecurity will be everyday topic on our national Televisions, Radios, Social Media and the front pages on our newspapers. This cannot keep on happening forever, something has to be done and now is the time. We can no longer wait to see civilians dying because of something that can be prevented.
Separate the national army from the politics.
The habitual selection of army commanders into civilian positions negatively affect the system in which the country is being run, if I am not wrong, most of the army commanders hold political positions which in turn leave the country to be run in a military style, thus not giving room for freedom of expression, human rights and rule of law. My appeal on this point is to set up a system where if one is willing to relinquish his military position and want to turn to politics, they should completely resign from the military, leave their ranks and join politics as civilians and will be recognized as former veterans instead of holding two title at the same time. That is why it’s very common in South Sudan, you will see a governor or a county commissioner for example, if angry; will promptly put on their military uniform and fight the system military. Not to be misunderstood, my point here is; any citizen has the right to decide to either be a soldier or a civilian but if one chooses to be a soldier, they cannot at the same time want to run for the civilian positions and vice versa.
Restructure their pay scale, compensation, timely payments and retirement benefits.
During the height of this crisis, we have seen the importance of timely and restructured army payment. Because when the army is fully motivated, they follow orders, they refused bribery and they concentrate on only fulfilling their sole obligations of protecting the country and her citizens. This also goes with army discipline. This is one of the most important reason I wrote this article to you Hon. Minster, as a graduate of Accounting I have looked deeply into financial system in the government of South Sudan and have seen the discrepancies in the system which led to endless corruption even in the offices of the top government officials, poor or lack of accountability, misappropriation of public resources by individuals holding government offices everywhere in this country. I understand the biggest share of the national revenues is allocated to defense ministry and this with proven facts have never changed the pay scales of the army, the allocated defense budget have never improved the living conditions of our national army, no proper medical care for our wounded patriots, their wages at the lowest while their profession carries the biggest risk ever while at the worst, their monthly salaries always delay and are received semiannually or quarterly. I know no other country does this only our beloved country. What caused delayed salary payments? I know you cannot answer this question because you were selected recently to this position. Does it means the money is not available to be paid or does it means some people invested the money somewhere, get their share of interest and then release it to the army late? All these can be wrapped up to a weak system of governance.
The issue retirement benefits and the compensation for a disabled veteran, South Sudanese army is tired of 6 Months pay policy for a deceased hero. How can we simply forget those who died for this country just within days they got themselves killed for a caused that’s bigger then themselves? All this can be corrected and I believe and trust that you are right person to reform our national army. There are a lot of points and reasons not mentioned in this articles but they all goes to making this country great again you can work on the elaborated observations.
we have seen how countries reformed and transformed from the worst state of leadership to a better nations and the Republic of South Sudan is not an exceptional to this reforms. I foresee a country with one of the best trained and reformed army in Africa, a country where a human right violation will not be a topic of discussion on our national Televisions and news websites. A country with the most disciplined army in Africa and a country where a civilian will proudly honor their soldiers and police and consider them as their sole protection from all kind of threat. I believe all this can be done and will be done through hard work and determination with patriotism to one`s country. May our almighty God help and protect all those who believe in a better unified South Sudan.
Marum Ruon Wicjoat, a Graduate of Accounting, is a concerned South Sudanese who envision a brighter nation where all citizens hold hands to push this country to peace, stability and developmental reforms. He can be reached through Email address email@example.com or at Skype Marum.ruon