CNN Photos

Gun culture plagues South Sudan

A year ago, South Sudan became the world’s newest nation, splitting from Sudan as part of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war. But the widespread availability of weapons has made it difficult to deter violence in the oil-rich region.

Photographer Trevor Snapp has spent much of the past three years covering the birth of South Sudan and has witnessed its unresolved issues firsthand.

“When wars end, peace does not necessarily arrive,” he says. “It must be created, and the tools of war must be dealt with.”

Before South Sudan declared independence, the Small Arms Survey estimated that there were 2.7 million guns circulating in Sudan, more than two-thirds of which were in the hands of civilians.

Advocacy groups say part of the problem is that the government cannot guarantee the safety of its citizens. As a result, few in the country are willing to give up what they see as their only protection from their neighbors.

“Although most tribal leaders hope the country can be disarmed, they will resist allowing their own tribe to be disarmed for fear of attacks from their enemies,” Snapp says.

Fighting along the disputed border regions and ethnic clashes over cattle in several South Sudanese states has led to the displacement of thousands of people and hundreds of civilian casualties.

While cattle herders have traditionally protected themselves and their property with spears, they are now often armed with automatic weapons. In the cattle camps, firearms have also made their way into coming-of-age rituals.

“Receiving your first gun is a rite of manhood in many tribes,” Snapp says. “In other groups, manhood comes after your first kill in battle.”

Despite an abundance of natural resources, South Sudan remains one of the world's poorest countries. Only 27% of the adult population can read and write, while just over half have access to clean water, according to government statistics.

Supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Snapp has teamed up with reporter Alan Boswell to document the struggling East African nation. Later this month they plan on launching the first chapter of “Milk and Blood,” a digital book for the iPad.

Meanwhile, U.N. diplomats are in final negotiations on an unprecedented international arms trade treaty that aims to regulate the flow of arms and ammunition. It wouldn’t immediately end the proliferation of arms in South Sudan, but Snapp says it would be a “critical step.”

“If we can work on taking guns out of the equation, or address the issue of guns and their use, we can begin to help bring peace to the many post-conflict zones around the world where peace has yet to arrive,” he says.

- Brett Roegiers, CNN

Read more about the humanitarian crisis and economic woes in South Sudan.