South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF) (Sudan)

Country: Sudan
Details of Formation: In 1997, SPLM breakaway factions united in Khartoum to form one front, which was also known as United Democratic Salvation Front. In 1997, these militias signed the Khartoum Peace Agreement and thereby became a formalized pro-government umbrella organization with the name South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF) (Arnold 2007). Signatories of the Khartoum Peace Agreement were the South Sudan Independent Movement/Army (SSIM/A) of Dr. Riek Machar, Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (Bahr al-Ghazal group) of Kerubino Kwanyin Bol, Kawa Makwel-led South Sudan Independent Group (SSIG), Equatorial Defence Force (EDF) of Dr. Theophilus Ochang Loti, the Union of African Parties (USAP) led by Mr. Samuel Aru Bol and the Alliance of Bor Citizens led by Arok Thon Arok.
Details of Termination: The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 stipulated that all armed groups had to integrate either into the SPLA or the SAF by January 2006. In January 2006, the Salvo Kiir, president of South Sudan, and Paulino Matiep of the SSDF signed the Juba declaration, by which the SSDF was to join the SPLA and Paulino Matiep became the SPLA’s deputy commander in chief. Soldiers adhering to the program then received the same salaries as SPLA soldiers (Arnold 2007). Although a large majority of SSDF declared allegiance to the SPLA, not all SSDF members joined the SSDF. Some were integrated into the PDF (Young 2006). Still others reorganized under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Gordon Kong and maintained an armed presence in South Sudan. These activities were in contradiction to the CPA, but the army continued to (now unofficially) provide the group with arms. This part of pro-government SSDF after 2006 are coded as separate PGM, SSDF informal, as government-relation changed.
Purpose: The SSDF fulfilled several purposes for the Sudanese government: The SSDF contributed to generate general instability in the South and thereby function as political argument against the SPLA. The instability also functioned as an argument to delay the withdrawal of Sudanese troops from the South (Arnold 2007). The government profited from the two ideologically rebel factions – SSDF and SPLA – fighting within the government’s policy of promoting internal divide. Moreover, the government profited from the SSDF’s control of southern territory to gain access to oil fields (UCDP). The SSDF was considered to be the most effective tool in the government’s fight against the SPLA. They were much cheaper than using official government forces. As SSDF members died in action, the death of government forces could be averted and political costs for the government were reduced (Young 2006).
Organisation: Cooperation between the Sudanese government and the SSDF was formalized in the Khartoum peace agreement. It allowed rebel factions to keep their militias in exchange for helping the government fight the rebel SPLA. The SSDF had little internal coherence; this lack of coherence was actively supported by the Sudanese Armed Forces who bypassed the SSDF command structure to interact directly with individual commanders. Individual soldiers were under the direct control of their respective commanders and did not respond to an overarching chain of command. SSDF units had little day-to-day contact between each other, except for senior officers in larger cities. Many SSDF commanders held formal positions in the SAF (Arnold 2007). They were rapidly promoted in order to gain allegiance. In contrast, rank and file soldiers were only supplied by the army with weapons and left for looting in order to promote antagonistic relations in the local community (Young 2006). The SAF was the near exclusive supplier of material support to the SSDF. The SSDF’s leaders were Riek Machar (until he defected in January 2000), Jathum Jathum, Gatlauk Deng, and especially near 2005, Paulino Matiep (Arnold 2007).
Weapons and Training: The SSDF mainly used small arms and a limited number of mortars and heavy machine guns. They acquired weapons from past battles and bought ammunition from soldiers and officers in the SPLA who were sympathetic to them or corrupt. Some individual soldiers sold cattle to buy arms. The Sudanese Armed Forces supplied the SSDF with arms and ammunition (Arnold 2007).
Size: According to a news source from 2004, the SSDF was comprised of about 25 militias that had several thousand members who could mobilise thousands more. At its peak, the SSDF comprised a significant number of members. Estimating membership is problematic, as recruitment of some groups was ongoing and the SSDF member groups were non-regular forces, making the dividing line between civilians and combatants very grey. Some fighters identified themselves as affiliated with the group at one point, but did not adhere to the SSDF anymore after a certain objective was achieved. Although a large majority of SSDF joined the SPLA after the Juba Declaration, the informal SSDF loyal to the army still numbered around 6,000 (Young 2006). The actual number of SSDF membership prior to 2006 was thus probably much higher.
Reason for Membership: Recruitment occurred locally and was personality and ethnicity driven. Many SSDF members were convinced that their force would be necessary until independence of South Sudan was assured. SSDF commanders received direct cash payments from the Sudanese Armed Forces. Senior commanders also received houses and cars in Khartoum. Some SSDF commanders, such as the Murle commander Ismail Konyi, passed parts of their payments down to their soldiers, but this was not the case for all SSDF members (Arnold 2007). The payment, together with fears of Dinka domination through the SPLA and the dislike of the rule of rule of John Garang, were motivations for SSDF members (Young 2006).
Treatment of Civilians: A news source reports that the SSDF originally were thought to defend the civilian population against the SPLA rebels. However, the SSDF themselves soon became agents of destruction and looted villages. In 2004, at least one civilian was killed.
Other Information: SSDF is an umbrella organisation that unites Southern militias in their struggle against the SPLM/A. Members (25 in total): SSIM/A, SSUM/A, SSIG, SPLA Bahr el Ghazal, Bor Group, EDF, USAP, Murle Forces, Mundari Commandos, SSDF Tanginya, Thourjikany Forces, SSLM/A, etc (remaining are unknown). Some of these groups still act independently (SSIM/A, SSUM/A, SPLA Bahr el Ghazal, EDF, Murle Forces, Mundari Commandos, SSDF Tanginya, Thourjikany Forces, SSLM/A) and are coded separately. The political wing of the SSDF is the United Democratic Salvation Front (UDSF). Many SSDF militias are based in oil-rich Upper Nile. In contrast to the SPLA, which fought the government but advocated for a unified Sudan, the Khartoum-allied SSDF fought for Southern independence. The SSDF leadership was mostly Nuer, although there were also significant numbers of Dinka members (Arnold 2007). The Khartoum Agreement gave SSDF members a sense of identity, a rationale for their tactical alliance with the government, and a measure of assurance that others would come to their defence if they were attacked (Young 2006).
References: Arnold, Matthew B. 2007. “The South Sudan Defence Force: patriots, collaborators or spoilers?” Journal of Modern African Studies 45 (4): 489-516.

Uppsala Conflict Data Program. 2019. “SSDF.”

Young, John. 2006. “The South Sudan Defence Forces in the Wake of the Juba Declaration.” Small Arms Survey HSBA Working Paper 1. ISBN 2-8288-0077-6.

Information was taken from news sources listed in the PGMD