South Sudan hopes to reboot its economy with ex-soldiers

MAPEL, (IRIN) – Wounded in battle and a former prisoner of war, Kuot Manyok, 33, is trading the military skills gleaned from his service with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) for the life of a welder.

He is one of the first batch of 290 former SPLA combatants, including 18 women, who recently graduated from the Mapel transitional facility (TF) in South Sudan’s Western Bahr El-Ghazal state as part of the pilot phase of the national Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) – a programme to be rolled out to hundreds of thousands of former fighters – and envisaged as a platform to grow the country’s moribund economy after an off-and-on civil war lasting half a century.

Manyok was shot in the knee in 2002 and subsequently captured and interned in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, until the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the now South Sudan, but his limp is hardly discernible. He says it will be no handicap in his chosen trade, which he plans to ply in his home town of Kanajak in Northern Bahr El-Ghazal state. “I can do anything now,” he told IRIN. “I will teach my boys to weld and send my girls to school.”

There are maybe three or four welders in Kanajak, he said. “First I will make beds for my family [two wives and five children] and also to sell, as well as a table and chairs. But I am not sure how much I will make a month because I don’t have any [welding] equipment. so maybe I will join another welder first.”

The cost of welding equipment – he estimates at about 15,000 South Sudanese pounds (SSP) ($US3,570), including a generator because there is no national power grid – is beyond his financial means. He will receive his monthly SPLA salary of 850 SSP ($202) for a year to ease his transition to civilian life, but is still paying off a dowry of 60 head of cattle for each of his wives, and he is 25 cows in arrears.

At 600 SSP ($142) per cow, it is the equivalent price of the welding equipment he cannot afford. The national DDR commission says it is committed to providing trained artisans with the necessary equipment for their new livelihoods.

The general consensus is the first DDR wave (known as the CPA-DDR), which only began four years after the peace accord, failed because of both a haphazard verification process – which saw non-combatants included in the programme – and of the 12,000 combatants demobilized, only about 9,000 received basic reintegration packages and no vocational training.

Around 180,000 combatants were targeted for CPA-DDR, or 90,000 from each of what became two countries in 2011. A July 2013 briefing [ ] by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey (SAS) [ ] said both Sudan and South Sudan “processed only a fraction of its intended [90,000] caseload, and the prevailing political and security situation during the CPA period meant that neither army had the will or intention to downsize its forces. At a total cost of $117 million, the programme had few, if any, human security benefits.”

Hung out to dry

Dut Deng Ayuel, 60, joined Sudan’s Armed Forces in 1975 before defecting to the SPLA in 1983, when the civil war reignited after an eight-year hiatus. He volunteered for the CPA-DDR, “as I heard the rumours of being given a house. I was big in age and wanted to look after my family after my wife died,” he told IRIN. His first-born child is 19 years old and his youngest is 7.

Ayuel received the standard couple of weeks’ small business training and then the dinar equivalent of 1,250 SSP ($297) pay-out. He lives in Aweil, in Northern Bahr El-Ghazal state. “I am selling charcoal to survive now. I make about 10 to 20 SSP ($2.38 to $4.76) a day.” As an SPLA first lieutenant his monthly salary was 1,200 SSP ($285).

Arek Akech Majak, 37, was one of 31 women in a 700-strong SPLA unit ranged against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) [ ] in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan. The 1,250 SSP ($297) DDR package was quickly exhausted when her small business enterprise collapsed. “As a soldier you are trained to kill, as they [LRA] were killing our children. We [women] were not considered brave, but now we have proved ourselves and men see us differently.”

Majak enrolled in the CPA-DDR programme when the SPLA told female combatants that because the war was over they had to return to their families and look after the children. She now cares for her five children and her husband, a police officer, “who is now in charge and I live off him.”

Stuttering economy

After seceding from Sudan, South Sudan, with a population of about 8 million, is ranked the world’s 42nd largest country. Its inheritance was a shattered economy with little to no infrastructure and an almost complete reliance on oil revenues for government expenditure when it became a nation state in 2011.

Roads often become impassable during the rainy season and one of the very few all-weather roads is the 192km Juba-Nimule highway, opened in September 2012, connecting the capital, Juba, with neighbouring Uganda.

A DDR economic mapping survey for the pilot DDR – using a 10-page questionnaire with enquiries from levels of education to the running costs of small businesses – by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC) [ ], provides a snapshot of local economies and the commercial environment the former fighters can expect.

The comments section of the questionnaire reflects common concerns by small businesses and consumers: “Yes, everything in the market is too expensive. Heavy taxation. Lack of power, clean water. Slow business. Roads are bad.”

One of about 20 restaurants in Warrap State’s Kuajok, the Ma Ma Mary Restaurant, owned by Mary Musa Mabor, 31, had start-up costs of 27,000 SSP ($6,428), with the most expensive individual items being a fridge ($833) and a generator ($714). The restaurant employs 11 people. The three chefs earn $95 a month, the six waiters earn $71 each a month, as do the cleaner and the water collector.

Skills vacuum

Apart from an abundance of regionally imported foodstuffs in local markets, artisans from Uganda and Kenya are flocking to the country for work. Majur Mayor Machar, deputy chairperson of the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (NDDRC), told IRIN.

“They [ex-combatants] will become tax payers to the government and sustain their families. They will produce a local economy,” he said. “They [Kenyans and Ugandans] come here and do construction, welding, carpentry and plumbing and then they take this money back to their countries, leaving us with nothing.”

In August 2013, the government banned foreigners in some states from operating motorbike taxis, known as Boda-Bodas, affecting hundreds of Ugandans who had migrated to the country to provide the service. The ripple effect was to stoke tensions against South Sudanese communities living in Uganda.

Machar said the planned reintegration by 2020 of about 150,000 combatants – 80,000 from the SPLA and another 70,000 from security services, such as police, fire and prison services – was to produce a local workforce and counter one of the war’s legacies of a vocational skills gap.

“You have to pay for peace and security, and also reward those people [former combatants]. They are not simple people. You cannot treat them lightly. They feel it deeply. We are investing in these people in two aspects. They are going to be the manpower in developing the country, and also it will allow us to free up resources for a professional army,” Machar said.

“It’s like going to fetch water with a jerry can with a hole it. When you reach the house the can is empty. That is what is happening in the country. Oil revenues go out immediately [to foreign workers].”

Funding remains a major impediment to successful integration through retraining former combatants. Machar said the German government had provided $2.76 million to support the reintegration of the first batch of demobilized fighters, and other governments and donors were being engaged for further funding to erode the 150,000 caseload.

The government has committed to paying the salaries and transport costs of former combatants for a year, while other donors, such as the UN Mission In South Sudan (UNMISS), paid for the construction of the training centre in Mapel, and is building two other training sites at Pariak in Jonglei state and Torit in Eastern Equatoria.

Machar said there had not yet been a cost review, but the current estimate for training and providing equipment for each combatant was between $1,500 and $2,000. However, the second DDR wave has already seen severe cutbacks from the original blueprint. Initially, 10 training centres were planned, one for each state, with a pilot programme caseload of 4,500 former combatants. This was reduced to 500 from Mapel, but only 290 graduated on 18 September.

Chan Moses Awuol, of the NDDRC, told IRIN the cost of the packages was an investment. “A lot of our people have no skills. People who are doing productive things come from outside the country. Electricians, for example, we don’t have [South Sudanese] electricians. In the short term it looks expensive. In the long term it is good for the country.” He said the reintegration packages for the graduates would be distributed to state capitals in late October.

Great store was put on President Salva Kiir Mayardit attending the Mapel graduation, illustrating a political will absent from the CPA-DDR process. The SAS briefing points out that South Sudan cannot afford a “welfare army” of 300,000 that diverts finances from development, especially with 2015 elections on the horizon. “For them, [government] ‘rightsizing’ the army to around 120,000 people is fundamentally an economic imperative.”

Family cooperatives

Unlike arid Sudan, South Sudan is verdant and its agricultural potential is seen as largely untapped. Lual Nhial Mangong, 50, chose the three-month agricultural course at Mapel and although he had farmed before, by his own admission his knowledge of food production was limited.

After a 20-year stint with the SPLA, where he rose to the rank of sergeant with a monthly wage of 1,030 SSP ($245), he plans to enlist his three wives and eight children as part of an agricultural cooperative on his eight hectares of land in Warrap state, and pass on his skills to the next generation.

“I won’t miss the war, you can’t miss war. But people eat and they need food,” he told IRIN. “I learnt how to cut a nursery bed – a proper nursery bed to produce seeds and generate seedlings and cash crops. I will establish tomatoes, onions and cabbages, and this will make me a pioneer in the state [for these crops].”

SPLA veteran Marill Madol, 46, has similar plans to use his 13 children and three wives as the kernel of an agricultural business on his scattered 10 hectares of land in Lake state. He told IRIN his primary concerns are building fences to prevent marauding cattle destroying his crop, obtaining agricultural inputs, and insecurity. “Life will change, but I worry about banditry. If I am forced to stay in the town, I cannot farm, as I have no gun to defend myself.”






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