The SPLA Requires More Than a Name Change

By Brian Adeba

President Kiir has mentioned that he will decree (used as a verb here) a name change for the SPLA soon. When the decree is implemented, the SPLA will become the South Sudan People’s Defence Force. While a name change for the SPLA is long overdue, the renaming should be more than the words of a decree on a piece of paper. A name change must be the outcome of strategic thought that takes into account the vision of the army we want the SPLA to be.

At the moment, the reputation of the SPLA is more than sordid. A true people’s force does not unleash violence on the very people it is supposed to protect. So a name change must be accompanied by prolific reforms within the SPLA for it to have any meaning. This should be a chance to uplift the image of the SPLA. Below are some suggestions of what the name change should be accompanied by:

1-Shelve the name change for now. Embark on a strategic assessment of the security forces of South Sudan. Notably, this assessment should be based on the strategic review stipulated in the recently signed agreement. Anyone worth their salt and is engaged in reviewing strategic outcomes in the SPLA will arrive at the following:
i) Need for a nimble, trimmed parade that exhibits rapidity of response. This will cut down the bloated size of the SPLA. Modern armies are no longer about the number of boots but the technology the soldiers wield. Efficiency is the key. We are in the age of drone warfare. Cyber just became a new fighting domain, yet the SPLA still has no clue about cyber warfare.
ii) The uplifting of education and training in the SPLA. Basic literacy levels need to be lifted. In the interim period (2005-2010), the SPLA’s own internal assessment found that 90 percent of its soldiers were illiterate and only 70 percent of the officer corps was literate.
iii) Training on respecting human rights. Human rights education needs to be incorporated at all levels of training for the SPLA. This should be a continuous process across the ranks.
iv) The need to attract young and bright minds to the SPLA. The SPLA should not be viewed as the part of the public service in which the undesirables and losers of society end up. The SPLA should become the MOST prestigious sector of the public service. This can only happen if it incorporates modern training, pays good salaries, and is seen as representing the ethnic and regional diversity of South Sudan.
v) Make the SPLA truly subservient to civilian authority as stipulated in the constitution. As long as the executive can recruit ethnic axillaries without legislative oversight, we are undermining the process to form a truly national army and abusing the constitution.

2-Launch comprehensive branding campaign to accompany name change: The worst way to enact this name change is to announce it via a decree without the requisite changes desired in this army. The first step should be to enact a comprehensive reform of the SPLA and overhaul it entirely based on some of the steps outlined in 1 in this note. (Which by the way are not comprehensive enough. A needs assessment should be conducted to deduce the plethora of changes needed). After this, a strategic communications policy should be designed to implement the name change. Things to consider: Do we need a new logo for the SPLA? On what platforms should this name change be announced to maximize its potential? We need a much friendlier face of the SPLA. How should the country realize this friendlier face? How should we reach soldiers on this name change? How long should the campaign last?

Conclusion

A name change is not just about changing the nomenclature of the SPLA. It should be about the ethos and doctrine of the SPLA. Once the state has realized the transformation of the SPLA, situated its place within the framework of a national security and defence policy, then should it embark on changing the name. Anything short of this will be a half-baked process that will not advance the strategic objectives of South Sudan in the security sector on the domestic and global fronts.

Brian Adeba is a PhD student in War Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada. The views here are his own and not of any employers past or present.

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