What is next after the graduation of the necessary unified forces?

Garang-Yach-JamesAuthor: Garang Yach J
South Sudanese Political and security analyst and PhD Student, University of Juba, South Sudan


The article attempts to answer the question of what is next after the parties have finally graduated the long-awaited necessary unified forces in accordance with the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflicts in South Sudan (RACRSS). It identifies four key issues and their respective security implications at the center of the transitional security arrangements. The author concludes that the graduation of the necessary unified forces is not the surest guarantee of a stabilised security situation although it is a show of political will that has been lacking since the coming to effect of the RARCSS in 2018. Addressing the identified key dilemmas will in turn address their respective security implications thus tranquilise the problematic security situation across the country.

The author ends by giving three pertinent recommendations for policy action if the transitional security arrangements were to set a stage for a democratic South Sudan by the end of the 24-month extended period.


On 12 September 2018, the parties to the conflict signed a power-sharing Agreement-the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (RARCSS) to end the deadliest civil war in the new republic. Chapter II on the Agreement on Permanent Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements forms the backbone of the fledgling agreement. The Agreement to transition the country to democracy was to end in 44 months split into 2 phases. The first phase also called the Pre-transitional Period deals with the unification of the forces and other matters and was to last for 8 months whereas the second phase or the Transitional Period focuses on security sector reform and was to last for 36 months. Besides, the first and second extensions were 6 and 3 months respectively. This is antecedent to the proposed extension of 24 months captured in the 2 August 2022 Agreement. By the end of the new extension aforementioned above, the transition under the RARCSS shall have lasted 77 months. This begs a question as to what would be different under the RARCSS to justify optimism with the finalisation of the Transitional Security Arrangement (TSA)?

Due to a lack of political will to implement the agreement coupled with resource challenges in addition to complex geopolitics, the Agreement was extended twice, first for 6 months and then 3 months in an attempt to accomplish the unification of the forces and have a national army from the former ethnically polarised armed groups. This is critical for the stability of security, a necessary condition for ending the series of transitional periods in the would-be first democratic elections in the Republic of South Sudan.

In a show of seriousness, the parties for the first time voluntarily and unanimously decided to extend the Agreement and the life of the Revitalised Transitional Government of Unity (RTGoNU) for the third time for 24 months from 23 February 2023. Although it was expected, the initiative was not well received by a number of stakeholders who genuinely argue that it was the extension of the suffering and the death of the people of South Sudan. But then, they fell short of providing the optimal and feasible options.


 The Roadmap provides a timeline for unaccomplished activities to be completed within the agreed times and for the first time the parties met the deadline of 30 August 2022 for the unification of forces and graduated 22,000 personnel in the Equatoria region. The graduated forces are part of the total 53, 000 of the first batch of necessary unified forces comprising South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF), National Security, Prison, South Sudan National Police, the Wildlife Services, and Civil Defence.

So, the graduation of the NUF is indeed a commendable show of the political will from the parties to the RARCSS but, it is not sufficient enough to stabilise the security environment to permit the actuation of the remaining requisite benchmarks of the successful completion of the transitional period. Although graduation is the right step to the right path, there remains a lot to be concerned with in the TSA before it could be deemed to tranquillise the security predicaments that stunted security sector reform. Thus, the dilemmas with the graduation of the first batch of the NUF and security implications are imbued.

The dilemmas in the onus of the TSA and security implications: do we have the unified national army and other security organs formed now?

According to the RARCSS, the Necessary Unified Forces were to have been selected, trained and deployed within the pre-transitional period to protect the key government installations, institutions and very important persons (VIPs). The remaining lot of forces were to be trained to constitute the national army which was to be deployed across the country as planned by Strategic Defense and Security Reviewed Board-SDSRB (RARCSS, Art.2.3.5).

The question as to whether South Sudan has its unified national army and other security organs formed upon the graduation of the NUF is dilemmatic or rather problematic. It is so because according to the RARCSS, the heads of the Opposition Armed Groups remain the commanders-in-Chief of their respective forces until the end of the unification process (RARCSS, Art, 2.4.1). This could be interpreted to mean that there still exist commanders-in-chief of the other armed forces that have not yet gone through training and unification and so, they remain under the command of their respective commanders-in-chief. This is refuted and dilemmatic especially when the President declared to the graduands that he is the commander-in-chief and that other commanders-in-chief ceased to be. 

The forces in their respective cantonment sites and barracks remain largely within the remit of their respective group commands. On the other hand, the formation of the national army started with the bit having graduated. The NUF will constitute the nucleus of the national army when it is finally formed. In a nutshell, although the process has started the whole TSA under the RARCSS is still faced with enormous but surmountable challenges if there is a political drive from the parties to finalise it. The parties earlier on formed the army and organised forces first echelon leadership command before the NUF. The second and the third echelons at the level of sectors and divisions to the tactical level are yet to be agreed on and formed by the parties.

Another dilemma is to whose command will a dozen divisions of the SSPDF be if the unification of the necessary forces does not in essence dissolve the former non-state army groups like the SPLA-IO and the South Sudan Opposition Alliance armed forces among others? These divisions according to the RARCSS will have to be trained and unified to form the national army. Resource challenge to the training of thousands of SSPDF and national security divisions currently at deployment across the country is another major impediment before the RTGoNU.

Another argument is though, going by the same, there cease to be various opposition armed groups but the national army in waiting and their respective commanders-in-chief ceased to be because the process of the unification has in principle been effected. But then another question this invokes is to whom would the forces of the supposedly defunct commanders-in-chief be under since the president who doubles as the commander-in-chief of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and the Chief of the Defence Forces do not have the remit of those in the cantonment sites? The RARCSS is silent on this and that presents a dilemma of interpretation which could be amenable to subjective interpretation. This position presents a security limbo if it is pursued.

Security implications

Whilst it is important to acknowledge that with the necessary unified forces redeployed in the towns, there will be an improved security situation in the areas of their deployment, the spike in insecurity in the rural and sub-national will continue. The reason being that 53,000 of the NUF constitute what would be the National Army, National Security, National Police Service, Civil Defence, Wildlife, and Prison Services. The graduated NUF numbers are not proportional to the armed civil population in violence-infested communities. They can never stabilise rampant insecurity across the country. The effect of the UN-imposed arms embargo is another factor that may debilitate the effective delivery of security services.

 The rampant insecurity though has no sign of waning soon despite the prospective redeployment of the NUF, as the nuances of the security sector unfold at a limited pace. The self-militarised communities across the country will continue to derange themselves in cattle rustling, revenge attacks and counter-attacks while the insurgency against the state endures so long the St. Egidio’s led peace talks between the RTGoNU and hold-out groups make no tangible headways and the permanent ceasefire is not respected. So, in essence, the security dilemmas especially at the sub-national level will continue to present themselves insofar as the national army remains unformed and unification is not completed.

Screening, training, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration.

Another dilemma that comes with the graduation of the Necessary Unified Forces is the fate of the forces in the cantonment sites awaiting screening and training which should have begun by 30 August 2022. The long-delayed graduation of the first batch of the NUF led to delays in the screening of the second batch and subsequent training making some of the forces to desert cantonment sites and therefore, losing touch with their respective forces and commands. The presence of these deserters in the communities enhances the fragile security situation and hardens the chances of returning to the regular security sector under the RARCSS.

Another aspect of the security sector reform in the grand project of the formation of the national Army is the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) which should have gone concurrently with the screening of the candidates for NUF training by the Joint Transitional Security Committee (JTSC) from the onset. Although the DDR Commission is reconstituted as per the RARCSS, the Commission could do little toward its mandate due to resource limitations.

The effectiveness and efficiency of the security forces first lie in the physical ability of the individual forces. The screening is meant to demobilise individuals who are physically unable to endure the strenuous involvement of military exercises as well as rightsising. Because of the impending challenges facing the RTGoNU in the effort of the SSR, the DDR takes backstage as insecurity continues to characterise everyday life in the communities. Secondly, the individual soldiers cannot be disarmed, demobilised, and reintegrated into the militarised communities with no meaningful dividends and expect secure and peaceful coexistence.

So, the dilemma of sacrificing DDR for the training, and formation of NUF and the national army is a self-defeating initiative that needs rethinking. It is not a quick bullet to tranquillise the rampant insecurity although a critical aspect to reckon with. The RTGONU could have chosen to carry on with the screening, training and DDR simultaneously but the resource limitation and a glaring lack of will to expedite the TSA confounded by invisible hands in the implementation of the TSA undercut and remain major setbacks. For instance, the DDR Commission although it has identified candidates to be demobilised during pre-training of the first batch of the NUF, these candidates remain unintegrated owing to the resource limitations.

Other impending milestones with TSA.

The RARCSS demands assorted military activities be carried out during pre-transitional and transitional periods. However, these critical activities remain outstanding. The Agreement on the Roadmap to a Peaceful and Democratic end of the Transitional Period of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) signed by the parties on 2 August 2022 gives renewed timelines for the collection of long-range and medium-range heavy weapons and redeployment after graduation. It also provides an opportunity for the implementation of Phase-2, on the cantonment, screening, training, re-organisation, unification, graduation and redeployment of the forces.

The accomplishment of these activities within the extended period puts the TSA in an optimum position to proceed with other democratic processes that end the transitional period to its logical conclusion. The success of the RARCSS, therefore, is dependent on the genuine implementation of the TSA wholesomely. In lieu of this, it is not yet secure for any prospective democratic transition to happen.


The graduation of the NUF is not the surest guarantee of a stabilised security situation but a show of political will that the parties have finally broken the tip of an iceberg of the transitional security arrangement that remains largely unimplemented for the last 4 years since the signing of the RARCSS. The event opens ways for a series of security activities to stabilise the security predicament bewildering the country. The dilemmas in the onus of the TSA are the disillusionment with the graduation of the first batch of NUF that it is not implicit of the national army. This is far from the end although they constitute a portion of what will become the national army.

Finally, the implementation of the other outstanding milestones of the TSA that would finalise the TSA and usher in the conduct of democratic elections would expedite the security sector transformation.


  • The RTGoNU should mobilise necessary resources to expedite the training of the second batch of the NUF and fast-track the unification of the forces to complete the formation of the South Sudan national army.
  • On the same, the grand programme of the SSR should be completed alongside the unification of the forces and formation of the national army. The army then conduct blanket disarmament of the armed civil population and reintegrate the disarmed and demobilised ex-combatants through the DDR Commission
  • The parties to the agreement dissolve their respective armed wings, delegate the leadership of the forces in the cantonment sites and barracks to the Joint Defence Board since the high command leadership of the army and other organised forces is already formed under one commander-in-chief of the armed forces. This follows in the event that the unification cannot be completed within the 24 months extension period.


About the Author:

Garang Yach J. is a South Sudanese Political and Security analyst and a PhD Student at the University of Juba. The title of his PhD thesis is “Human security transcends national security in the horn of Africa: A comprehensive analysis of state’s manning safety infrastructure in South Sudan” He can be reached on email: yachgarang1978@gmail.com

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