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South Sudan - Defense White Paper 2008

The long-awaited SPLA Defense White Paper provided a concise overview of SPLA's mission and objectives, while highlighting capacity issues and a framework to tackle them. The challenge would be in its implementation - the document codified the military's weaknesses that require support and repair. It also created new institutions and policy subsets that would require resources and action. The white paper established an SPLA Command Council, reservist force, and Inspector General, in addition to parameters for DDR and civilian conscription. While less comprehensive in the areas of personnel and financial management, the white paper succeeded somewhat in defining the roles of the Minister for SPLA Affairs (strategic policy) and SPLA Chief of Staff (operations). The paper charted out a defensive-oriented SPLA force structure with a sizeable peacetime support mandate subordinate to civilian agencies. However the paper was thin on definition of force requirements; once it more clearly defined its strategic posture, the SPLA would need to focus on rightsizing and DDR because the current size of the SPLA was not sustainable.

The white paper's own development was a testament to the challenges facing the SPLA. Competent, qualified drafters were in limited supply, critical operations and policy personnel were temporarily felled by serious illness, and tensions and proxy-conflict between Khartoum and Juba took many officers tasked to the DWP -- to include its Chairman -- away from the business at hand. What began as an historic joint civil-military undertaking (a task that shut down the Government of Southern Sudan for seven days in September 2007 and saw participation by a majority of the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly and more than two-thirds of the South's governors) subsequently simply broke down in internal paralysis and capacity problems. It took constant pushing by US-funded Security Sector Transformation Training/Advisory Team Members and two sets of US military advisors to finally bring the DWP to completion, with generally complementary assistance from the British development agency DFID.

Although the DWP was submitted to the SSLA once it opened in the spring of 2008 (its opening date had been thrice postponed), the white paper did not require legislative approval. The document had been approved by President Kiir, the Southern Sudan Defense Council, and the GOSS Council of Ministers.

Critically, through its division of labor between military command roles and ministerial-level policy oversight and implementation, the Defense White Paper (DWP) filled a void left by the Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan that had exacerbated long-standing personal friction between the SPLA Affairs Minister Dominic Dim Deng and SPLA Chief Oyai Deng Ajak. The Minister held formal responsibility for all acquisitions, financial oversight and general policy formation, whereas the Chief of Staff was responsible for determining personnel and equipment requirements, and also the design and management of military support units (signals, medical, engineering, intelligence, etc.) His duties included management oversight of special staff functions, to include the Inspectorate General, Military Justice Unit, medical corps, and military police. US-funded Training/Advisory Team members had been advocating for placing such units under the Minister for SPLA Affairs. Save for one member of the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly, Government of Southern Sudan policy-makers were absent from the final drafting session in Addis Ababa. This may have impacted this component of the paper.

The DWP also established two new regulatory agencies: the SPLA Command Council and an Inspectorate General (though there was little detail on how the IG would function). The Command Council was charged with oversight and "ensuring coordination between the Ministry and SPLA military command." It was to be composed of at least thirty individuals, to include Commander-in-Chief Kiir, Deputy Commander-in-Chief Paulino Matiep, Chief of Staff Oyai Deng Ajak, Ajak's five deputies, fifteen division commanders and all SPLA branch directors. Ostensibly a coordination mechanism, the white paper's description of its duties reflected continuing tensions between Minister Dominic Dim Deng and Chief of Staff Oyai Deng Ajak, exacerbated since the Minister's appointment by what SPLA officers, rank-and-file, and observers alike described as Dim Deng's "in the weeds, micro-managerial style," and a consistent pattern of "over-reach" into the operational depths of the SPLA.

The DWP rolled out a new SPLA force structure, one that soberly assessed the military's budget constraints. Minister for Regional Cooperation Barnaba Benjamin announced during the Canadian Foreign Minister's visit to Juba on 27 March 2008 that the SPLA's budget would decrease starting in 2009. The SPLA's decision to maintain a light-infantry focus - albeit one supported through civil air defense -- reflects "fiscal realities which limit growth of mechanized capabilities." Despite known cash influxes from other sources, the white paper's stated force structure mirrored this mindset: an active ground-based military force supported logistically via air and riverine transport.

Revealing the degree to which a skills-transfer program was essential for DDR, the DWP identified two areas of SPLA support to civilian agencies. The SPLA would support Organized Forces (police, fire, prison, and wildlife brigades) only when directed by President Kiir. The transformation of the SPLA engineering corps into road construction battalions and their secondment to the Ministry of Roads and Transport was an innovative use of occasionally underutilized manpower - one with immediate public relations dividends. Moreover, it offered actionable means by which the SPLA can build financial self-reliance in the near-term and provide vocational skills training to soldiers.

The DWP fell short of adequately defining personnel and force structure requirements. The paper did not address any "rightsizing" or DDR issues, no doubt because the SPLA was actually in a "wait and see" mode regarding whether it should be on a war footing or should shift to a more defensive posture. However, over time maintaining a 180,000-strong force was unsustainable. Moreover, the DWP was lacking in clarity on the management and structure of it military force. The document addresses the establishment of a reservist force, civil service, "Recruitment Command," and civilian conscription, which make policy sense but are, in fact, divorced from the reality of the South. This may be an example of the DWP "saying the right thing" without fleshing out a serious plan.

Another problem was that the DWP appears to abandon the current "in-house" training approach in exchange for targeted recruitment or conscription of skilled professionals. However, the Ministry of Health states there were only 42 formally trained nurses throughout the South. In addition, the Ministry for Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development (MOLA) Minister faced immense difficulties attracting qualified (and English-speaking) legal personnel - this despite the fact MOLA paid the highest civil servant salaries of any GOSS institution. The MOLA Undersecretary made approximately USD $150,000 per year. The white paper's premise that the SPLA can hire consultants should volunteers prove insufficient forced the SPLA to prepare for additional expenditures.

The DWP's commitment to provide for its troops was surprisingly robust, but out of touch with current resource realities. There was currently no pension scheme in place for either the GOSS or SPLA, yet the DWP promises soldiers would be provided with pay, pension, housing, water/food, health care, education, sports and recreation opportunities and awards.

The SPLA deserved credit for the establishment of an Inspector General position with both inspection and audit capabilities. However, the white-paper fails to establish guidelines for enhanced procurement regulations and commits the SPLA to adhere to currently non-existent SSLA anti-corruption legislation.

The strengths and weaknesses of the DWP, and the long and sometimes tortuous road to its final production, was typical of the functioning of the GoSS/SPLA. Starting off with the best of intentions, a lack of capacity to maintain a sustained effort to complete the task meant months of delays and breakdowns. Managerial talent in the South was spread thin and was subject to the pushes and pulls of conflicting priorities and the demands of constant management by crisis. Although, as noted, some of the DWP's goals are clearly beyond the reach of the GoSS, it set at least the stage for a possible thoughtful, managed transformation of the SPLA into a more capable regular military force.

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