When the John Garang Unified Memorial Police Training Academy opened its doors last January, the facilities awaiting the first group of 6,000 cadets were rudimentary, to say the least.
"Many were surprised when we established this training centre from nothing," recalled the Inspector General of the Southern Sudan Police Service (SSPS), Lt. Gen. Tito Acuil Madut, during the visit of a UN Security Council delegation to the academy in October. "The grounds you are seeing were open savannah bush, shrub and trees back in January, (but) today we can clearly see where we are going."
Located in the Central Equatoria State town of Rejaf south of the regional capital of Juba, the academy is still a modest installation where police cadets live inside olive green tents and lack access to electricity or running water.
But its first class of aspiring police officers graduated earlier this month, and in addition to their basic police training many cadets have also received specialized instruction in referendum security as Southern Sudan heads towards its long-awaited vote on self-determination in January of next year.
As of 5 November, more than 14,000 SSPS officers throughout Southern Sudan had completed the three-day referendum security course that UN Police (UNPOL) advisers began offering last July. Over one-third of them attended that course at the Rejaf training academy.
UNMIS Deputy Police Commissioner Klaus-Dieter Tietz said earlier this year that at least 16,500 SSPS officers will have undergone referendum security training by the end of this year, and they will supplement the 10,600 SSPS colleagues who received similar instruction prior to last April's historic general election.
UN Police will offer the same training to the Sudan Police Force, which is responsible for securing the referendum process in northern Sudan.
Among the 5,500 cadets who recently graduated from the academy are approximately 1,250 who have also received advanced training in crowd and riot control techniques, VIP protection and special weapons and tactics.
They will be assigned to formed police units, and about a hundred of these law enforcement officers have received additional instruction to qualify as trainers within the SSPS.
Some of the formed police unit members demonstrated their specialized skills in front of the UN Security Council delegation by simulating the disarming and capture of a wanted bandit and surrounding the delegation members as though they were part of an unruly mob.
Making a good impression
The exercise made a favorable impression on the delegation's members. As the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. Susan Rice surveyed the police academy and watched the cadets go through their steps, she asked her fellow diplomats at one point, "Why can't we have something like this in Liberia or Afghanistan?"
The SSPS will be responsible for maintaining law and order at voter registration centres and securing referendum ballot materials and voting centres in the run-up to 9 January 2011.
Often derided for the high percentage of illiterate police officers in its ranks, the SSPS now requires all job applicants to have graduated from secondary school.
"At the core of any successful state is a professional police service," noted SSPS Inspector General Madut during his remarks to the Security Council members. "No matter what the outcome of the referendum, we need strong state structures here in Southern Sudan."
He said that the SSPS needs another $15 million to build classrooms and living quarters and provide drinking water to future groups of cadets.
The academy is supported by the UN Development Programme, the United States Agency for International Development, the German Agency for Development Cooperation and the Norwegian government.