OpEd, Politics

More soldiers are armed with axes than guns

After military training, soldiers would never be graduated if they are not armed with guns. However long it may take, they wait until the guns are brought. In the history of South Sudan, it was last year the soldiers graduated with sticks because the government had its hands tied on the back by the renewal of the arms embargo.

A soldier who graduated without a gun is like a cow without a tail. Flies could find it a very good opportunity to feed on it. If South Sudan were not at peace with her neighboring countries, enemies would find it an opportunity to defeat her. But the truth is that a big number of soldiers are armed with guns. Holding guns during graduation, soldiers swear to protect the country and the people.

Because soldiers in South Sudan are not paid and though paid, the salary cannot buy a 5-kg sack of flour, the resort is to pick an axe, go to the forest and cut down trees for charcoal to earn a living. As one soldier picks an axe today, cuts down trees, and puts food on his family’s table tomorrow, another soldier picks an axe tomorrow. Another soldier picks an axe next tomorrow and the whole lot continues.

As more soldiers pick axes and go to the forest to cut down trees for charcoal to earn a living, barracks begin shallowing because those who have decided to make charcoal for survival divide themselves into those stationed in the forest, those transporting charcoal to towns for sale and those stationed in towns to sell charcoal. They hardly return to their respective barracks. Some of them return when there is a command from above, but a majority throw their hands in the air and say, “To hell with whatever we are needed for”.

Let us talk facts. There are so many soldiers residing in the bushes where they cut down trees for charcoal to put food on their families’ tables. Barracks are almost empty, and the authority feels good about it. Frankly speaking, some soldiers have sold their guns to sort out some of the burning issues facing them. Some have their boots and uniforms spoiled a long time ago and no other new ones are distributed to them.

When there is a parade, they wear uniforms and boots which look like they were collected from the cemetery yesterday and given to them today to wear. Uniforms with holes on the knees and shoulders, and boots with holes on the edges and have never been polished for about 3 years now.

Are we joking with the army? Is there another army prepared and kept somewhere to protect the nation if external aggression arises? Is there another army that is taking the services of the SSPDF? If the government has devised an initiative to send soldiers to forests to cut down trees for charcoal as a business to generate money, then it is time to leak out that information so that lovers of humanity like us cool down. But the truth is that they are forced to go to forests by hunger.

Now that more soldiers are armed with axes than guns, how would they protect the nation in case Kenya, for instance, breaks into war with South Sudan? Can a soldier armed with an axe attack a soldier armed with a gun? As a soldier armed with an axe raises his axe to hit the head of that soldier armed with a gun, the one with a gun releases the bullet and shoots him dead.

It is high time the army should be reformed to look like an army of a sovereign state. The salary is one thing, but transforming the army to wear a blue helmet somewhere in Africa as a peacekeeping force is another. If not today, then when?

The author is a medical student, University of Juba.

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