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Beating swords into ploughshares
It could be considered one of South Sudan’s most important tasks after the civil war - finding a job for those who fought for its freedom. That is the purpose of DDR: the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme. As one of the key agencies implementing it since 2009, coordinated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the FAO saw more than 1700 ex-combatants settled on farms in communities in Lakes and Central Equatoria states.
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Maliek Akue Kachuol was a child soldier. He joined the army in 1990, when he was 13 years old. Two decades later, dressed in his best suit, he proudly shows us through the hut where he’s stored some of his last harvest. It’s quite a haul. The FAO gave Maliek seeds, a plough and a bull last year, under the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme (DDR). He planted 120 kilograms of groundnuts and sorghum. And out of that, he harvested more than 2 tonnes - almost 20 times his original grant. Not bad for someone who had never farmed before he was given land ten years ago.
A translator describes Maliek’s pride: "So" he said, "I started in 2002 but I’m the best now." It hasn’t been easy. Maliek says he could do with more land and a second bull for his plough. He cooperated with another DDR beneficiary with a bull to cultivate. But he has big plans for the future. He wants to become one of the FAO’s regular suppliers of seed. “He’s hoping that this one manage well so I’ll be one of those who sees others and not need to be assisted,” the translator explains.
Maliek has a special incentive – two new wives and four small children. He said, "I’m not educated. I can’t have any other work apart from being a farmer", so he choose to be a farmer so that he can feed the children and educate them for their future,” the translator says.
The DDR programme has also trained thousands of women to earn a living. Elizabeth is one of them. She joined the army when she was 13. She’d been wounded in conflict and abandoned by her parents. The army offered security, but as she discovered, the price was high. “We were the only women in the army,” Elizabeth remembers. “We worked all day every day- cooking. People came to us with clothes, saying we had to wash them. We were raped by some soldiers. So it was really bad.”
Civilian life hasn’t been easy either. Elizabeth’s the sole breadwinner in her family. She’s supporting three children of her own and four young relatives. While she was given a large tract of land, with just hand tools, she’s only cultivated a fraction of it. “The first challenge is cutting down the trees,” Elizabeth explains. “Clearing the land is difficult because I’m a woman. During weed time, because I’m weeding on my own, it’s also a challenge. Harvesting also, harvesting is difficult because I’m alone.” But things are looking up.
Under the DDR programme, the FAO has given her a bull and a plough. This year, she’s planning to make her seven feddans (29,499 square meters or 2.95 hectares) of land really produce. “I’m going to ask somebody to come and clear this land for me,” Elizabeth says, smiling. “Then I’m going to give one feddan (or 4200 square meters) to the person who clears the land as a reward. And I’ve talked with one of my relatives, who has a pair of bulls and we’re going to get together and cultivate the land with those bulls.”
It hasn’t been a smooth transition for every ex-combatant. Manyang Mawer Malek spent almost ten years in the army. Returning home to Rumbek, the Lakes state capital, the former Captain hasn’t been allowed to leave the conflict behind. He began to cultivate last year. But his first season was cut short by inter-tribal fighting that broke out in eight districts. “There was a group of young men who came and stole a cow,” Manyang tells us. “Violence broke out as a result and one person was killed. A lot of people got involved then and fought. Almost eight people were killed in those clashes and some were injured. So everyone in the area ran away to safety.”
Many would have been broken by the situation. His family of nine was hungry and it was the first time he’d farmed using a plough and a bull. But Malek had gone through much worse and his determination carried them through. “Even though I just cultivated 3 feddans (or 1.26 hectares), the produce I harvested is now enough to feed the children,” he says. “My children now are not looking for food anymore.”
It’s been shown from experience in other post-conflict countries, that unskilled and unpaid ex-combatants, left to their own devices, pose a threat to peace. The DDR programme is an attempt to give them the training and means to earn a living in a more productive way. In South Sudan, the task has been enormous.
The next phase will be even more challenging – aiming to rehabilitate around 150-thousand soldiers. And as conflict on the border heats up and inter-tribal clashes in the country continue, it’s crucial that ex-combatants are helped to rejoin the community.