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We trust guns not governments

Atem Mabior
The Niles correspondent Atem Simon comments on the reasons behind the South Sudanese’s inseparability from their weapons — a serious threat to peace and development.
7.01.2015  |  Juba


It is a fact that the proliferation of firearms among civilians and armed groups in South Sudan constitutes a source of ongoing suffering for the country’s citizens. Communities completely rely on arms for self-protection, a trend that has been fed by the absence of state institutions in many remote regions or areas of armed conflict.

‘If people have weapons, they can seize other people’s possessions – and there is no one to hold them accountable.’

Many citizens have no answer to the question: Can you imagine life without firearms in South
Sudan? And it is a question, which is practically unanswerable right now. All attempts of disarmament have failed for the simple reason that people have more confidence in arms than rules, regulations or government legislation.

A sense of desperation has overwhelmed everyone. Citizens have lost hope to live in a safe and stable country devoid of arms, largely because of the absence of clear policies .The Abyei Now” online newspaper makes a clear link between a gun-free future and a strong state: The dream of a disarmed South Sudan will only come true when the state of the law is established.”

The culture of firearms has become a key trait of many communities, especially rural ones where rustling and child abductions are common according to arms surveys in South Sudan.

As a result, many communities have established their own armies, such as the White Army that was
initially created to defend cattle herds but soon gained power by raiding its neighbours. It has recently thrown its weight behind Riek Machar’s rebellion.

Other communities were organised into youth groups called‚ Titweng”‚ or Gelweng”‚ which sought to protect cattle in Lakes State, central South Sudan. These armies possess light automatic weapons, which they buy, steal or obtain by cutting deals with the army. Some still use weapons they acquired during the previous war.

Confidence in arms and their abundance has become a major threat to the development and improvement of South Sudan. After all, if people have weapons, they can seize other people’s possessions – and there is no one to hold them accountable.

This fuels a culture of revenge and retribution that, unless eliminated by the government with the help of development partners, will become rooted in local traditions, giving rise to folk tales and songs that glorify war and honour the possession of firearms. In this way, we share responsibility for wasting our future through procrastination, indifference and collusion.