The first impressions while driving into Western Equatoria State (WES) in South Sudan are shaped by lush green landscapes and happy children waving while trying to get to the first ripe mangos high in the trees. These first impressions are quickly overshadowed by the many harrowing stories about the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) atrocities in the border areas with DR Congo and Central African Republic.
South Sudan aims to be independent in July 2011, after having signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. For the citizens in this area however, the peace is far from comprehensive. Many citizens even lament that their security deteriorated since the CPA was signed. The LRA has terrorized the area since their peace talks with the government broke down in 2006. Thousands of people have had to flee, hundreds have been killed and many have been abducted by the LRA. People have been openly slaughtered and horrifying stories abound. Fear for the LRA is omnipresent and people have become desperate.
Who can you talk with when Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, hides in the jungle in the borders of Central African Republic and DR Congo? What does a comprehensive peace agreement mean when your sons are abducted, your wife raped and your father killed?The idea that peace needs to be build up from the grassroots is valid, but how can you talk about peace when the enemy has no clear objective and kills seemingly at random? Who can you talk with when Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, hides in the jungle in the borders of Central African Republic and DR Congo? What does a comprehensive peace agreement mean when your sons are abducted, your wife raped and your father killed?
Because neither the SPLA (the army of South Sudan), the police nor the UPDF (Ugandan army) has been able to provide security in the remote villages along the borders, the citizens of WES decided to take matters in their own hands. Through a network of paramount chiefs (traditional leaders of the communities) a civilian defense force was formed and dubbed ‘Arrow Boys’. The name refers to the minimal amount of weaponry the Arrow Boys have and to similar groups in northern Uganda where the LRA originates. Armed with bows and arrows, spears and ‘fabrications’ (self-made shot guns that are not recognized by the local SPLA troops as arms), the Arrow Boys patrol the dense jungle surrounding their villages. As they have a long history of hunting for bush-meat they are very capable in laying ambushes and following tracks of the LRA. The local population finds that the Arrow Boys “are there at the right time and the right place” and “these boys are our only hope”.
The local Arrow Boys commander, still willing to continue the patrols and sit down for an interview after he has been shot three times in the behind by the LRA, explains. They sometimes stay in the bush for 10 days to hunt down the LRA. The Arrow Boys don’t have many means and lack rubber boots, tents and raincoats. Despite these shortcomings they continue to patrol, something the SPLA hardly does. The commander attributes their ‘hunger’ to hunt down the LRA to their closeness to the families that are brutalized by the LRA. He does not understand why the LRA is here and do the things they do. Is it maybe because they want to wipe out the Zande people? Why else would the LRA concentrate in the border areas where Zande live?
The Arrow Boys have been successful in countering the LRA in the absence of formal security provision. Worries that they would become a rebel group were never validated. The fact that the Zande people are now more secure than in previous years can be largely attributed to the Arrow Boys.
Peace at a national level without local security is not a true peace. But the Arrow Boys show us that local people can protect themselves when they stand together.
Hans Rouw, South Sudan, 19 April 2011.Hans Rouw works for IKV Pax Christi. IKV Pax Christi works with its partners and allies in areas of conflict on de-escalating and resolving violent conflicts and on building collective security and lasting peace.
IKV Pax Christi is convinced that just and democratic relations and respect for human rights are necessary conditions for achieving lasting peace.