It is important to remember that at the time when the CPA was signed, the SPLA had not won the war. It had not defeated the Sudanese Armed Forces and was not even the largest southern Sudanese armed group—if the diverse militia that comprised the South Sudan Defence Forces were combined together, they would rival or even outnumber the SPLA. And there were many other armed groups (OAGs) too. But the CPA made the SPLM into the ruling party in southern Sudan and the SPLA into the army of southern Sudan.

How was the SPLM to establish itself in this dominant position? The answer was to absorb the SSDF and OAGs. Not only did it do that, but others who rebelled, or southerners who left SAF, were welcomed into the SPLA. By the end of the Interim Period, SPLA commanders were even enlisting thousands of disgruntled youth simply to stop them being tempted to join anti-SPLA militias.


Peace did not mean disarmament, demobilization and reintegration! To the contrary, the DDR program was used as a way of retiring female combatants and others considered unfit for service, while the SPLA recruitment continued. And less than 10,000 of the target 90,000 were actually demobilized.

Recently, the senior SPLM member Edward Lino had this to say:

“SPLA has never been a robust united force since we started to incorporate militia into it in appalling numbers. Each formation taken was not fully absorbed, in reality. But was left to wander in uniform commanded by their previous untrained jihadist officers. Each soldier was almost free to take whoever to choose to be commander! … In reality, there was nothing called ‘SPLA’! It was divided and shredded into tribal formations adhering to individual commanders, based on localized tribal understanding.”

The other SPLM strategic goal was independence, and the leadership decided that in order to make sure that the referendum on self-determination went ahead on time, security was provided to every polling station, and President Omar al Bashir respected the outcome, it needed an army big enough to deter the Sudanese army.

Ibrahim El Badawi, Gary Milante and Costantino Pischedda modeled this scenario.

Refer & response

El Badawi and his colleagues conclude that high military expenditure by Juba could be effective in reducing Khartoum’s incentives to react violently to partition. But the key function of the military build-up is to signal intent, and suggest that there are other more effective ways to achieve this—such as by democratization. They observe that “development is the opportunity cost of this militarization by both sides,” and conclude:

“The fundamental implication of our model is that increasing, unsustainable and dangerous militarization is a rational response to the status quo and will continue so long as there is no progress toward democratization. Genuine democratic transformation may be a necessary condition for credible commitments from both actors even if it is only for the pragmatic goal of preventing conflict and war between the two emerging Sudanese states.”

But, for the SPLM and for western countries, democratic elections were just a box to be ticked on the path to a separate South Sudan. And while there is no doubt that there was majority sentiment for independence among southern Sudanese, the referendum outcome itself was not necessarily an advertisement for democratic choice.

election results

Refer vote

These kinds of electoral out-turns are rare in the democratic world, but the declared result was unanimously endorsed internationally. The Republic of South Sudan became independent on July 9, 2011.




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