Saturday, July 29, 2006

30th July 2005: The Day South Sudanese Will Never Forget

By John A. Akec

Few events have ever shaken Sudan than when John Garang de Mabior, the SPLM founder and long time leader, died in a mysterious plane crash on his way back from a visit to Uganda on July 30, 2005. This happened barely 3 weeks from the day of his return to Khartoum on 8 July 2005 after 22 years in exile. On that memorable day of home coming, 6 million Sudanese from all corners of the country and from Diaspora turned up to receive him in Green Square in Khartoum. Garang was inaugurated to the position of First Vice President of Sudan the following day. In itself, a giant step forward for the people of South Sudan and those who have been marginalized from the centre of power in Sudan since independence. Just in mid 1980s, John Garang quipped after turning down an offer of a vice president: “Struggle pays. The more we fire our guns, the more concessions we will win”, to the cheers of his audience.

My favourite line from his July 9th inaugural speech in Khartoum has to be: “O Sudanese [people], open your wings wide and fly, and fly, for your freedom has come!” John Garang was an orator of the first order. He knew how to move and enthuse crowds. But above all, he had a clear vision for the sort of Sudan he wanted: where he is above no body and no body is above him. He stuck to that vision till the day of his burial. A vision for wish he was bitterly criticised by fellow South Sudanese who accused him of hijacking Southern dream for independence and substituting it with an “illusive” and “unattainable” notion of New Sudan. But as many of his detractors came to realise, the vision of New Sudan that Garang advocated for does not necessarily exclude the right of the people of South Sudan to determine their own future. It merely creates conditions for such a right to be exercised freely without fear, coercion, or intimidation from the central government. The advantage of Garang’s vision is that it won South Sudan political allies and sympathisers from all corners of Sudan for the first time. Even after his death, and change of SPLM leadership, Garang’s vision continues to impact and shape the future of Sudan in a big way. It is this far-reaching vision that many South Sudanese suspect is responsible for premature death of their leader. Many suspect that the long arm of the central government might have colluded with third parties to assassinate Dr John Garang.

The relationship between South Sudan and Uganda is similar to that between mankind and the ocean. The man depends on the ocean for fish and good things it treasures. But when the tide comes and the ocean rages, it takes away the very life it once sustained. In like manner, Uganda has been one of the countries we, the South Sudanese, run to in order to escape persecution at home. But Uganda is also the place where our leaders had been most susceptible to assassinations.

For example, one of the founders of Anya Nya movement, Fr. Saturnino Ohure, a catholic priest turned politician, was shot dead by a Ugandan soldier near Kitgum on January 22, 1967 as he was travelling in Ugdanda. A colleague of Saturnino Ohure and his biographer, Fr. V. Dellagiacoma , described him as “a distinguished priest, and an unselfish, prudent, and courageous leader.”

Again in early 1971, a year before the signing of Addis Ababa agreement, the Ugandan government collaborated with Khartoum government of Jafaar Numeri to arrest and extradite Wolf Steiner, a former German mercenary and Nazi fugitive who volunteered to train Anya Nya soldiers. He was handed over to government of Sudan which paraded him over Sudan’s TV as before handing him over to the German government. South Sudanese believed the move was not to help Nazi victims find justice, but was meant to deal a blow to their movement.

As if that was not enough, John Garang met his death after visiting his long time friend, president Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and was travelling on Ugandan presidential helicopter when the plane crashed into a mountain range on Friday night of July 30, 2005. The report of the multinational crash investigation team that was published in May 2006 has thrown open the door to asking more questions than the report was able to answer.

This is the sum total of our troubled, yet enduring relationships with Uganda. Today, the government of South Sudan had defied the international indifference to war in Northern Uganda and has put its energy and resources in helping both the government of that country and LRA negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict. This relationship is best described as bitter sweet. Not sweet bitter. South Sudan cannot run away from Uganda, nor can Uganda. The storm may kill us, but no sooner are our feet on the shore than when we are back in the midst of it.

I find the words in Cressidia Cowell’s children book: Hiccup The Viking Who Was Seasick most appropriate in describing the defiant spirit of Southern Sudan. The words appeared in a song that was sang by Stoick the Vast to encourage his timid son, Hiccup, who was afraid to venture into the sea as all the Vikings used to do fearlessly:

I [the Viking] have blacked the thousand eyes
Of thousand angry Gales
Watch me knock the cockles off
The biggest bluest Whales
I have given walrus nightmares
Who thought that they were Strong
I marooned a huge typhoon
On an Island off Hong Kong
O ancient prawn-y green-ness
The never-ending Sea
Mess with squirmy jellyfish
But do not mess with Me!

John Garang gave all for the sake of our freedom. We will never forget the day in which our hopes seemed to have crashed with him on that mountain range, that gloomy night of July 30, 2006. Garang’s precious memory and his undivided dedication to our cause, together with his forbearers: Saturnino Ohure, William Deng and many unsung heroes will continue to be an inspiration to many generations of South Sudanese freedom fighters, for long time to come.