Saving South Sudan Through Arms Reduction

By Kyle Devry

There are growing concerns that the civil war in South Sudan will escalate to new levels of violence in the near future. Similar to previous civil wars in East Africa, such as Rwanda, the conflict has led to large numbers of South Sudanese to flee their homes. Over the past two years, there have been wide allegations of crimes against humanity between the two major warring parties. As of April 2016, an estimated fifty thousand people have been killed and roughly 1.6 million people have been internally displaced by the conflict[1]. This analysis will explain the causes and current state of the conflict and determine why reducing the amount of arms in the country is an important solution to reduce bloodshed.

The conflict stems from ethnic factions in the country’s ruling political party and affiliated military the South Sudan Liberation Movement & Army (SPLM/A). The SPLM is composed of South Sudan’s two largest ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Neur. While the SPLM had splinter factions, the SPLM was united in the Sudanese Civil War — which lasted from 1983 to 2005[2]. When South Sudan declared its independence in July 2011, the SPLM led the country with President Salva Kiir as president and Riek Machar as vice president. Kiir and Machar are part of the Dinka and the Neur ethnic groups respectively.

A political dispute turned into conflict in December 2013 when President Kiir accused Vice President Machar of forming a coup to topple his presidency and dismissed him from his vice president position[3]. News of Machar’s dismissal incited violence in the capitol of Juba between the Dinka and Neur which quickly engulfed the country. Machar denied claims he was going to overthrow the government, but quickly established a rebel force known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM I/O)[4]. The conflict has been fueled by the trading of arms on both sides. A recent UN report discovered the government bought attack helicopters from a Ukrainian company for a price worth $43 million USD while the SPLM I/O possesses the resources to acquire anti-aircraft missiles[5].

The peace agreement reached between Kiir and Machar in August 2015 has been fragile due to rapid accumulation of small arms acquired by the warring parties. One strategy to reduce South Sudan’s arms trade is for the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the country. The Security Council earlier in the year moved forward to pass an arms embargo, but Russia which has veto power on the Security Council, has been reluctant to support any embargo[6].  Russia is wary of supporting an arms reduction because the country has previously supplied weapons and arms to South Sudan.

A more tangible solution for arms reduction would be a revised peace agreement that incorporates language of the reduction of small arms inventories that the SPLM and SPLM I/O possess.

However, there has been some good news in recent months. The relationship between Kiir and Machar has recently stabilized. President Kiir issued a decree on February 11th that reinstated Machar as vice president[7]. This action is a step in the right direction as Machar and Kiir, with third party mediators, can develop policies to decrease small arms to scale down the conflict. Language needs to be written to establish an accurate collection or data system to develop the estimated number of arms both sides hold. Additionally, there will be the need to have incentives for soldiers and civilians to accept a disarmament. Individuals that return weapons can be rewarded with payment of the South Sudanese pound or be assisted in finding new agricultural development to compensate for farmland destroyed in the conflict.

The hope for peace has not stopped violent clashes between the government and rebels. Reports of both sides training child soldiers with weapons, and committing sexual violence shows the civil war is not slowing down. To ensure a reduction of arms, an African Union peacekeeping mission with UN support should be sent to the country to obtain the weapons and destroy the weapons at a neutral site if permitted by the war’s stakeholders.

President Kiir and Machar with their current stable relationship should create dialogue for small arms reduction in the country. In order to develop a unified government, both sides must get rid of the tools that incite violence and develop solutions of peace between soldiers, rebels, and civilians. Until South Sudan’s government and opposition forces find common ground and strengthen the August 2015 peace agreement with reasonable arm reduction, the world’s newest country will remain mired in conflict.


[1] Global Conflict Tracker: Civil War in South Sudan. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2016, from!/conflict/civil-war-in-south-sudan

[2] South Sudan profile – Timeline. (2015, August 27). Retrieved February 13, 206, from

[3] South Sudan: What is the fighting about? (2014, May 10). Retrieved February 13, 2016, from

[4] South Sudan President Salva Kiir signs peace deal. (2015, August 26). Retrieved February 13, 2016, from

[5] Charbonneau, L., & Nichols, M. (2016, January 26). Exclusive: South Sudan needs arms embargo; leaders killing civilians – U.N. panel. Retrieved February 14, 2016, from

[6] Charbonneau, L., & Nichols, M. (2016, January 26). Exclusive: South Sudan needs arms embargo; leaders killing civilians – U.N. panel. Retrieved February 14, 2016, from

[7] Gladstone, R. (2016, February 11). South Sudan Leader Appears to Take Major Step to End Conflict. Retrieved February 13, 2016, from