Cloud of grief hang as forces graduate in Maridi

Cloud of grief hang as forces graduate in Maridi
The forces were taken through the final rehearsal ahead of Tuesday’s graduation [Photo: Keji Janfer]

Marko Luklang was among the thousands of civilians who turned up to witness the graduation of unified forces in Maridi, Western Equatoria State on Saturday. Had fate decided otherwise, his younger brother would be among the 2146 forces who graduated under the unified command.

Unfortunately, his brother’s name fell in a completely different set of data – he was among the 42 soldiers who died in the course of training that would stretch well beyond three years as their graduation dates kept on being postponed for various reasons.

“My brother died of anaemia. He was in his early 20’s; a strong and ambitious young man. At the time, he needed quick medical intervention, [but] the unforgiving poor road network in Western Equatoria State stood between his life and death. He had the zeal to play his part in defending his country from external aggression,” says Marko.

Marko is hopeful – despite there being no surety – that the government will reward the widowed and their families, for the price their departed families paid to the country – patriotism.

Marko is not all alone. There are scores of soldiers countrywide who would have wished to graduate with their colleagues but unfortunately could not.

“My nephew had been in the training for many years. He was one of those who chased away the Lord’s Resistance Army from Western Equatoria, fought the Atong Tong group and I saw no point of keeping such an experience and qualified soldier to train with the fresh recruits for another three years,” says John Ladu, whose nephew decided to abandon training.

A source told City Review that the training camps were not for the faint-hearted. It was either the way of the trainers or the highway. And that is how a significant number decided to call it quits long before the graduation date was set.

“How could I have continued to stay in the camp for all three years? I decided I rather cultivate land to feed my family. Besides I have been away in the bush for a long without supporting my family, it’s now time to work hard and help my children,” said an anonymous deserter.

But it was not all gloom. For those who were in good health at the time of graduation, smiles were written all over their faces. Peter Anisa, one of the successful trainees who were in the Army under Division Six Battalion, says despite being an old soldier and having undergone strenuous training sessions, he has already pledged his loyalty to the President of the Republic of South Sudan, who assumes the overall command of all the forces immediately they graduate.

He now looks forward to working in an improved and organised system within the army, where there will be no segregation but a unity of purpose that would propel the country forward.

Defence Minister Angelina Teny promised the cadets a review of their salaries and deployment to other locations. Peter is optimistic that this promise will turn around the forces’ morale and welfare.

“Our salary has always been SSP 2,700. This could only buy soap and salt to eat our half-cooked beans with at the camp,” he said.

The South Sudan Minister of Defence Angelina Teny in her speech called upon all the graduates of the unified forces to protect and defend the country from the enemy and not to take the law into their hands.

Angelina called upon the graduated forces to now be under one umbrella of South Sudan and not belong to any party again.

“I urge you to remain faithful to one government, no more different political parties,” she said.

Angelina says all those who have graduated will be deployed to various locations across South Soudan as the second batch will soon be advised to report to the training centres.

Western Equatoria State has been the second to graduate the forces after the first graduation was done in Juba on August 30, 2022.