Can South Sudan learn from DDR failures in Liberia?

The situation in South Sudan is complex at best. In this regard, it is equally challenging to get one’s head around what a successful Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program would look like at this time. Moreover, it seems unclear how new negotiated DDR initiatives would build on previous plans set out in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement[1] (CPA). Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from other countries in the region?

South Sudan’s secession in July 2011 ended the CPA period and thus the legal imperative to undertake the DDR mandated therein. Budget constraints and disagreement between the government and donors over the objectives and modalities of further halted the program. When South Sudan plunged into civil war in December 2013, following less than two years of independence, the situation was further complicated. The current conflict has been one of intense and brutal violence, much of which has targeted civilians merely for their ethnicity or perceived political violence. Women have been systematically abducted and abused. Sexual violence perpetrated by both government forces and rebels, is rampant.

Following numerous broken ceasefires between the fighting factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), an Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) brokered peace agreement was signed on August 26th, 2015 between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar. While the 70-page agreement includes a few clauses on cantonment and DDR, the latter is not discussed at length. But with persisting fighting, any prospect of a new robust and sustainable DDR program seems implausible and, to be frank, rather farfetched. Furthermore, the SPLA has grown in size due to continued recruitment and the absorption of rebel militia groups that has exceeded the DDR caseload.

However, while the situation remains volatile, South Sudan has an opportunity to learn from past mistakes within its own DDR programs as well as from countries in the region, Liberia being one. While the DDR program in Liberia often has been cited as a success or at least a semi-success, there were several issues that could be used as “lessons learned” and shape recommendations for a future program in South Sudan, including but not limited to:

  1. Inadequate screening processes during the disarmament process contributed to a bloated caseload, which presented problems for the subsequent reintegration phase. Recommendation: Ensure adequate screening processes while paying special attention to inclusion, especially of women and children.
  2. To enter a cantonment site, one had to be on a list drawn up by the combatants’ local commander. This gave too much decision-making power to commanders. Recommendation: In order to break command structures, alternative mechanisms have to be put in place for monitoring who is a combatant.
  3. Failure to demobilize and reintegrate women because of labeling them as Women Associated with Armed Groups (WAAG) to prevent them from entering the program through the official DDR channel. Recommendation: Ensure that design and implementation of gender-specific reinsertion and reintegration measures are informed by situation-based, on-the-ground analysis to asses the special needs of women, active combatants and those identified as WAAGs
  4. Cantonment sites did not have adequate facilities for female ex-combatants. Recommendation: Ensure cantonment sites have facilities for women, and ensure security within the sites.
  5. Achieving successful reintegration and sustainable employment was a huge challenge. Recommendation: Follow the Integrated DDR Standards (IDDRS), which suggest community-based reintegration with dual targeting, i.e. community members and ex-combatants with a similar profile should be targeted together to re-establish livelihoods.

[1] The CPA in 2005 was brokered between the dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) factions and the National Congress Party (NCP), the ruling party of Sudan. The agreement stipulated the 2011 referendum that led to South Sudan’s secession.


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