Civilian disarmament in South Sudan

A legacy of struggle

After an extended struggle South Sudan succeeded in becoming an independent country on 9 July 2011. Independence however, does not represent the end of the effort, but the beginning of a struggle that may in some ways be more difficult than the conflict that preceded it. Among concerns of how the government will provide basic services to the population of South Sudan, there also exist worries over how the government will provide security to all citizens to assist in creating an environment that will foster growth and development. Currently, the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) does not have a monopoly on the use of force as arms are largely unregulated and are frequently used to commit crimes and create instability within the state by an array of actors.

This report reviews civilian possession of small arms and light weapons (SALW) in South Sudan and processes to control this possession, including civilian disarmament. It begins with an overview of the history of South Sudan, followed by an analysis of the factors that have contributed to SALW proliferation and ultimately a ‘gun culture’ in the country. It then provides an overview of the problems that SALW are currently causing in South Sudan, from increasing the levels of deadly cattle raiding to the (re)formation of armed groups such as the White Army.

Approaches to control civilian possession of SALW are examined, including through civilian disarmament efforts, the formation of the Bureau for Community Security and Small Arms Control (BCSSAC) and regional arms control agreements. While not providing a comprehensive analysis of every civilian disarmament exercise within South Sudan, the paper examines selected experiences to draw out lessons that are relevant to the country as a whole.


“South Sudan's historical ‘culture of the cow’ has devastating ramifications when combined with the modern ‘culture of the gun’. Cattle rustling between communities used to be carried out using spears, respecting certain rules about not attacking women and children and therefore resulting in few deaths... Present-day cattle raiding is carried out with small arms, resulting in much higher levels of injury and death, and in revenge attacks which create a vicious cycle of violence.”

Civilian disarmament in South Sudan