Bringing Stability to Southern Sudan: Views from One NCO

By Bertelson, William B. | Army, May 2010 | Go to article overview

Bringing Stability to Southern Sudan: Views from One NCO


Bertelson, William B., Army


As part of the U.S. government's effort to foster stability in Sudan, in October 2008, the Department of State (DoS) asked U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) for assistance with establishing a noncommissioned officer's academy for the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The resulting process of developing the program of instruction, preparing lesson plans, establishing the facilities and training the academy headquarters staff provided important lessons that may be applied to future security force assistance efforts elsewhere.

USAFRICOM assigned lead responsibility for the NCO academy to me, a U.S. Army civil affairs master sergeant with 18 years of service. As a veteran of three similar missions on the African continent and one civil affairs mission supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, I saw common difficulties arising among U.S. personnel and forces to be trained, regardless of their experience levels.

Personal experiences on my recent mission in Sudan stressed a need for soldiers to know both the mission and the social/cultural perspectives of the various ethnic groups with which they are working. U.S. officials and military personnel must remember that both language and cultural sensitivity are key factors in developing relationships within host countries. These relationships are the foundation for the types of activities in which we have been participating. In addition, our approach to security sector reform / transformation has been too narrowly focused; we must address all levels of training to achieve our goals.

Background on Sudan

Although Sudan has had a lengthy history of violence, the seeds of its current instability were sown under Anglo-Egyptian rule from the late-19th through mid-20th centuries. The British followed a "divide-and-rule" policy that reinforced long-standing separation between the Muslim North and the Christian/animist South. In 1946, however, the British administratively unified Sudan as a single colony without consulting the Southern Sudanese. Independence in the 1950s led to conflict as the North took steps to dominate the South. Two lengthy and devastating civil wars followed: the first from 1955 to 1972, and the second, 11 years later, from 1983 until the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in January 2005.

Among its provisions, the CPA provided for the South to have self-rule for six years, from 2005 through 2011, followed by a referendum on secession, equal sharing of oil revenues, employment splits and the form self-governance would take. The referendum would also determine if the forces of the North - the Sudanese Armed Forces - and the SPLA would merge into a single force, or if they would be the official militaries of separate North and South Sudans, respectively.

U.S. policymakers determined that an important factor in ensuring compliance with the CPA and a stable Sudan was the transformation of the SPLA into an effective security force. Thus President George W. Bush issued Presidential Determination No. 2006-22 of August 28, 2006, authorizing a security sector transformation program inckiding activities with the SPLA.

Planning the Effort

In October 2008, USAFRICOM developed two programs of instruction (POI) and carefully selected one to be presented to the U.S. Department of State, the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) and the SPLA. The POIs marked the beginning of an effort to establish a responsible and professional NCO corps within the SPLA. The selected POI was a six-week program that resembled the U.S. Army's Primary Noncommissioned Officer Course from the mid-to-late 1970s, and emphasized field leadership and instructor-qualification training. This course was chosen based on the program's ability to fulfill the needs and desires of the SPLA: quality leadership training for NCOs and sustainability after the departure of the U.S. government-provided instructors. In early 2009, the SPLA requested through the DoS that USAFRICOM provide an NCO to assist the SPLA in supervising the inaugural class to be conducted by DoS-contracted instructors. …

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