Soon after South Sudan gained hard-fought independence in 2011, the country descended into a bloody civil war two years later. Fighting between communities and government abuses raged on for years.
Also, armed groups under the umbrella of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in Opposition (SPLA-IO) fought relentlessly with President Salva Kiir’s government forces. However, in 2018, the country reached a peace deal. Part of the peace deal was the absorption of some opposition fighters into South Sudan unified force.
Part of the deal was training 80,000 troops for a unified security force. The implementation of the peace deal has been delayed several times because of its tenuous nature. However, on Tuesday, August 30, 2022, thousands of former rebel fighters swore loyalty to the country at a graduation ceremony held under watertight security.
According to the peace deal, the event was supposed to hold in 2019. Close to 22,000 men and women were drawn from the government side as well as the South Sudan Opposition Alliance side. Commending the peace process made by the country, President Salva Kiir said,
“The graduation of South Sudan unified force was the most challenging of all the agreement chapters. However, it has been the most vital.”
What the graduation of South Sudan unified force means for the country
A large number of the graduating South Sudan unified force were previously members of different fighting factions. However, with the success of the graduation ceremony, those men and women will now be fighting on the side of the government.
This is an important step towards achieving unity in a country torn by civil war for nearly a decade. Members of the South Sudan unified force include prison service officers, police, and the army. Recounting the hard route of the graduating officers, Vice President Riek Machar said,
“More than two hundred of your fellow comrades died in eighteen training centers because of lack of medication for their disease or hunger.”
Reactions trailing the graduation of the unified force
Reactions have trailed the graduation of South Sudan unified force both locally and internationally. Speaking to local media, Defence Minister, Angelina Teny, said her department will commence the deployment of the unified forces to their respective posts.
Also, she also hinted that the second batch of the unified force will graduate in about six months. At home, people are hailing the graduation of the first batch of South Sudan unified force as a heroic moment. The mere thought of a unified force is a reminder that South Sudan is experiencing a fragile peace.
International bodies that were part of the peace agreement have also welcomed the graduation of South Sudan unified force. They see it as a step in the right direction. Emphasizing the importance of the unified force, the country’s special UN representative, Nicholas Haysom said,
“A unified force for defence is one of the glaring expressions of national unity, particularly in a nation that is just coming out of conflict. The establishment will foster inclusivity and become the national identity of South Sudan.”
South Sudan unified forces will play an important role in the upcoming elections. The country’s government announced a transitional government which will be headed by the current administration. The elections are scheduled to hold sometime in 2024.
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