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Small Arms in South Sudan and Sudan: Is that the agenda for Bahir Dar Talks?

Our Articles 1 to 3 and 5 to 43 were situation analyses of the conflict in South Sudan. Our articles 4 (A), 4 (B) and 4 (C) were the first of our series on “Who is Who”. This article 44 is dedicated to an issue that has never gained its right order of priority in research, UN DDR, or the IGAD Talks. 

We raise the open-ended question: Is it an integral part of a durable political settlement to address the issue as both stand alone and intertwines with Security Arrangements and security sector reform? 

What the article did not address is the massive effect that the SWAPO/Namibia deal of arms dumped in Maban when Namibia got its independence and Tiny Roland and Jerry Rawlings paid for the arms to support the SPLA. It polluted the entire region of Upper Nile and West Ethiopia. 

Guardian Africa network 

October 2nd, 2014 

‘Africa’s arms dump’: following the trail of bullets in the Sudans 

Sudan and South Sudan are among the most heavily armed countries in the world. The Niles investigates how this came about and the consequences of spiraling bloodshed 

Sudan was awash with arms long before the country split in two. When South Sudan seceded in 2011, it was estimated that there were up to 3.2m small arms in circulation. Two-thirds of these were thought to be in the hands of civilians. Since then, arms have proliferated on both sides of the recently devised border – with fatal results. 

In Sudan, a country often dubbed “Africa’s arms dump”, the number of arms is rising by the day amid armed conflict between government forces, paramilitaries, rebels, hired militia, foreign fighters, bandits as well as inter- and intra-communal warfare. This aggression is fuelled by the global arms trade and smuggling from neighbouring states. 

A similar story is heard in South Sudan, where ownership of guns and small arms is estimated to have sharply increased during its three years as an independent nation, partly due to the number

2 of rebel and militia groups that sprung up in Jonglei and Upper Nile states in 2010 and 2011. Arms are a common sight and ammunition can be bought for around US$1 per cartridge at some local markets.

The arrival of firearms Illegal gun ownership in both countries can be traced back to major historical events. Guns arrived with the invading armies of Muhammad Ali Pasha in the early 19th century. Firearms were also introduced by the British-led Anglo-Egyptian Condominium forces during the reconquest of Sudan in 1898. It wasn’t until the 1950s that civilians started to own firearms in significant numbers, research shows, partly because of the 1955 mutiny which sowed the seeds of the first southern rebellion.

During these years, southern Sudanese soldiers raided military bases, stole weapons and fled into the forest, just one of the ways that light weapons found their way north into the hands of various groups located on what would later become the border.

Meanwhile, research has shown the international role in weapon supply, with former West Germany introducing automatic small arms in vast numbers to Sudan, which, until then, mainly had old British carbines. West Germany also set up the ammunition factory in Sheggera, Khartoum, in effect, providing the bullets to keep the guns firing. In the 1980s, East Germany responded by supplying the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) with AK47s via Ethiopia. In this way, Cold War animosities were played out in the Greater Horn of Africa.

Historians say liberation movements, especially those in neighbouring countries, fanned the spread of firearms in Sudan and the trade in illegal weapons. A rare evidence of how politically motivated arms deals spiralled out of control as guns proliferated followed the assassination of Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba. The first transitional government after the 1964 October revolution in Khartoum supplied West German G3 assault rifles to the Simba rebels. When they were defeated in 1965, the Southern Sudanese separatist rebel group Anyanya acquired many of those German guns.

Then, in 1976, forces associated with Sudanese opposition figures attacked districts in Khartoum in an attempt to seize power from President Jaafar Mohammed Al Nimeiri, troops which had been trained and equipped in Libya. Within three days the attackers were driven back, but they left a lasting legacy: thousands of small arms and other weapons made their way to civilians in western Sudan. Historical records show that arms proliferation in Darfur, meanwhile, dates from the 1960s.

In a published working paper, Sudanese researcher and retired Major Abdel Karim Abdel Farraj highlighted other ways guns spread in Sudan. Conflicts, including the Libya-Chad war of the 1980s, “contributed to the influx of small arms and light weaponry into Sudan, and in particular Darfur, which, due to the region’s vast size and the lack of control of both central and local authorities, received weaponry that outmatched the arsenal of both the police and armed forces.”

According to Abdel Karim Abdel, the decades-long southern war was the primary source of the weapons inundation, especially after 1983, when the late Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi supported the opposition forces, stoked by his personal animosity towards Jaafar Al Nimeiri. The arming of proxy tribal militias was the handiwork of elected governments in Khartoum in 1986-89, who provided weapons for the Baggara to fight against the SPLA.

The Libya-Chad war of the 1980s “contributed to the influx of small arms and light weaponry into Sudan, and in particular Darfur, which... received weaponry that outmatched the arsenal of both the police and armed forces. The organisation Saferworld says arms were distributed among citizens by the Khartoum government or the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) in the years before the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement. “In Lakes State (in today’s South Sudan), the SPLA provided weapons to cattle keepers to enable them to protect themselves and their communities from cattle raiders. The arming of these youth groups, known as the gelweng, allowed the SPLA to shift their focus and efforts from community security to the ongoing war with the north,” Saferworld wrote in a report.

And even after the government signed the peace treaty with the rebels in 2005, ending the decades of civil war, civilians – including the gelweng in Lakes State – kept hold of their weapons, in case they needed to defend themselves.


To Continued on Monday

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