DDR is a core and strongly-supported building block of peace in Sudan. However, the post-conflict environment in Sudan is exceptionally challenging, making DDR implementation a complex task. In order to understand the process in Southern Sudan, it is important to be clear about the nature of these challenges.

In the Southern Sudan, the ability of local communities to re-absorb ex-combatants and women associated with armed forces (WAAF) is limited by a number of factors. Many of those who went ‘to the bush’ were leaving communities which were already highly stressed by war. The families they left behind were in many cases scattered as a result of hostilities. During the extended length of the Sudanese conflict it was often impossible for these families and communities to retain links with their members in the armed forces.

Some of these former combatants were too young, when they enlisted, to have built a clear adult status within their communities. In many cases they sacrificed the chance for a formal education and so lack the basic skills they could utilize in the civilian job market. Their home communities are in many cases rather traditional and culturally change-averse. Finding where ex-combatants and WAAF, with alien habits and ideas, will ‘fit in’ to these communities can be a complex task.

For Southern Sudan’s DDR participants, their home communities, prior to war, were already historically marginalized and economically weak. Southern Sudan was the theatre of a vicious war for over two decades. In the process, these communities were deeply disrupted, and further weakened. As a result they have limited ability to absorb increased populations. Further, returning ex-combatants and WAAF are often competing for scarce resources with settled local populations plus returning internally displaced people and refugees.

Southern Sudan would rank among the least-developed nations in the world on all scales of measurement. Maternal and infant mortality are high, trained medical personnel and adequately-equipped medical facilities few. Illiteracy rates are over 80% and education for school-age children far from universal. Its kilometers of paved road can be measured in the low thousands and large areas of the country are virtually inaccessible for months of the year.

Transport, communications and commercial infrastructures are embryonic and by no means universally distributed. These factors will certainly make it difficult to achieve the economic reintegration of 90,000 ex-combatants and women associated with armed forces.

In addition to these factors, continuing tensions within Sudan mean that the peace is fragile and that special care must be taken to avoid a return to hostilities. In terms of recent Sudanese history, failures in what would now be called DDR, following the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement, have been cited by many authorities as contributing to the return to war in 1983. The stakes for DDR in Sudan after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement are extremely high.

DDR participants may feel some understandable anxiety about entering the process. It is hard to leave behind a life which in many cases is the only adult life they have known. Some DDR candidates are suspicious about why they were selected. Some feel rejected by the army. Some are worried that they will be unable to make the transition to civilian life. All anxiously await the resolution of the thorny issue of the army pension, separate from DDR, which is the traditional post-service benefit.