Meet Al Khatim Adlan: The Voice of Freedom and Justice for All Sudan
By John A. Akec
Figure 1 Al Khatim Adlan
I have no doubt that a great number of South Sudanese would be familiar with writings and political stands of Dr. Mansour Khalid, former Sudan foreign minister, member of SPLM political bureau, and currently, Sudan presidential advisor. As non-conformist that he is, Dr. Mansur Khalid is well known for his brutal criticism of the Northern political elites on whose shoulders he squarely put blame for Sudan’s destructive civil wars in South Sudan, and was the first high profile Northern Sudanese to join SPLM against the conventional wisdom of the time and stayed on course for two decades until Naivasha agreement was concluded, and only then did he return home in the company of Dr. John Garang to a great reception.
Similarly, many in my generation would have heard of, or read the works of late Mahmud Mohamed Taha, the founder of the Republican Movement, whose aims was to reform Islamic thought in Sudan in such away as to do away with militaristic tendencies of the popular Islamic movement, and to elevate the voice of reason, justice, and universal fraternity above voices of religious bigotry and doctrines of racial superiority.
Ustaz Mahmud Mohamed Taha, paid the ultimate price. He was executed in 1983 for opposing Numeri’s September Laws, by the very destructive forces he tried to withstand through peaceful and intellectual means. While a student in Gezira University in 1980’s, I was so impressed by the power of his teachings, and captivated by his deep sense of humanity (as revealed by his thoughts in his many writings) to the extent of confessing to my closest friends that if I were a Muslim, I would be a Republican.
In contrast, I suspect fewer or modest number of South Sudanese would be familiar with intellectual and political contributions of Al-Khatim Adlan (pictured above), and perhaps not many would be keen to find out who he was. For out of sight is out of mind. This, I have to admit, would be pure ignorance and real tragedy should the ideas and struggles of Al Khatim be eclipsed from our utmost attention, for one reason or another. Read on.
And so I would like to invite my readers to meet Al-Khatim Adlan (in case they never met him), and remind those who knew him and are in danger of forgetting him. Al Khatim is a political figure larger than life, an intellectual giant of immense prowess, humanist, and a great thinker. Al-Khatim tragically passed away while in exile in London on 23rd April 2005 at age of 55, barely three months after signing of Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). By his untimely death, Al Khatim left behind an unfinished business and great political void that will be hard to fill for many years to come.
Figure 2 AL Khatim Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development, KACE
This week, Al-Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development in Khartoum (KACE) (pictured above) is commemorating the fifth of anniversary of his death.
Al-Khatim Adlan is a persuasive and infectious political advocate of first rate. On his deathbed in Wood Green, not far from Palmers Green where I once lived in London, and on the eve of Thursday April 21 2005, precisely two days before he succumbed to his terminal pancreas cancer, Al Khatim wrote:
“Witness of me… and write about me…that I lived all my life spreading enlightenment and fighting superstition…and if I have only two days…or two hours…or two seconds to live, and if I am able within this span of time, I would spread enlightenment..”
In an article entitled “Peace in Sudan” dated January 5th 2005, four days before signing of Naivasha Peace Agreement, Al Khatim Adlan asked very deep and penetrating questions:
“Is it possible to achieve peace while keeping the ideology of war? Are we willing to face ourselves and organise our thoughts? Have we learned anything from our painful experience? Is it possible to bypass this experience without any analysis?” (Al Khatim Adlan, What is Exile and What is Home? Selected Essays, 2006).
He went on to persuade the Sudanese people to erect a more enduring peace by inviting them to embrace a culture of radical change, saying:
“Greats nations are not the ones that did not make mistakes…but those which learn from their mistakes and discover better ways…that is what the Athenians had done when they got rid of 30 tyrannical rulers and established a democracy….Great nations get rid of their internal contradictions and liberate themselves so that they no longer live in accordance to those contradictions… that is what the Americans did when they eliminated contradiction in their constitution between the freedom of individual and legitimacy of slavery…”
Figure 3 Dr Al Bagir Afif, Director of KACE
With a life full of struggle for justice, equality, and fairness, Al Khatim Adlan is by no means a shooting star that appeared suddenly in Sudan’s political skyline, and then disappeared at the same rate as he came; far from it.
In 1969, and as a member of Khartoum University Students Union (KUSU), Al Khatim initiated a fact finding mission that travelled to Wau and Juba in South Sudan to investigate the atrocities committed by Sudan army between 1965 and 1969. These atrocities included Malakia Massacre in Juba, and Wedding Massacre in Wau in 1967. On returning from their fact-finding mission, Al Khatim and colleagues including Abdon Agaw (the current general secretary of GOSS) conducted a press conference in Khartoum that was reported by all the major media outlets in which they exposed and condemned those atrocities. Not long after that, Al Khatim was imprisoned by May regime from 1971 and only emerged from his prison after the political uprising that toppled May regime in April 1985.
Reflecting on his stand on oppression of the South by the successive Northern regimes, Al Khatim wrote: “I have asked myself this question: Am I responsible for the atrocities meted against my people in South Sudan? Have I contributed in anyway to their bloody oppression? Have I done enough to defend them from where I am? I answered with clean conscience that I am completely clean- I have befriended South Sudanese boys and girls since a very young age, and I never felt being superior to them, although there were occasions when I felt many of them to far superior to me…and I never resented it because I have long overcome the illusions of racial superiority…” (What is Exile and What is Home?, pp 52).
Who is this Al Khatim then? And what was his real political affiliation apart from his fiery writings? You are bound to ask.
Al Khatim Adlan was born in Umdaka Al Jaleen village in Gezira in Central Sudan in 1948. He studied at Medani Secondary School and University of Khartoum Faculty of Arts where he majored in Philosophy. As a student in University of Khartoum he shone as a serious political activist, thinker, philosopher, and intellectual of the highest caliber.
At a very young age, Al Khatim joined Sudan Communist Party while he was in secondary school, and rose to be a member of its Central Committee. He was also a fierce advocate of voluntary unity amongst Sudanese based on universal values of equality that recognises Sudan’s religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity.
Al Khatim left Sudan and headed for UK to escape persecution in 1994 where he was reunited with his family in London. Having tried to initiate radical reforms within the Communist Party without success, Al-Khatim and a number of his colleagues resigned from the party in the same year. In 1996, he founded with others the Sudan New Democratic Forces Movement (HAQ).
He summarized his quitting the Communist Party saying: “I realized in the early 1990s how the Marxist project for social change had been proven wrong by history. I have not chosen to fall back on the 30 years I have spent serving that project. I was not paralyzed by fear to form or construct a new way of thinking, and create a new identity. I have not cared for what people will say, dead or living. I declared it to myself and then I went public. I went back to the roots of all our projects – the interests of the people and their right to live in dignity, peace and justice”
He is described by those who knew him closely as a faithful patriot, a true leader who fought on the side of oppressed, and who never walked away from a battle in the defense of the rights of the marinalised, but always willing to sacrifice his own life for the sake of the people, the nation, and his principles.
A great enthusiast of New Sudan project, Al Khatim wrote to Dr. John Garang after signing of Naivasha agreement “you Dr. John and SPLM/A are now living your finest hour. You have ushered into a new era of peace and reconciliation. Democratic governance, social justice, respect for human rights, and acknowledgement of diversity, have for the first time become achievable. [These] are exceptional achievements to which you can lay claim with full legitimacy.”
Dr. Al Bagir Afif (pictured above in his office at KACE), long time friend of Al Khatim, and Director and founder of KACE wrote of him “Al Khatim devoted his life to the powerless, he was not concerned with worldly pleasures of life. He came to life a poor person, and he passed away a poor person. Like them, he lived his short life in purity.”
His long suffering wife, Tissir Mustafa, making a telephone conference call to the gatherers at Al Khatim memorial evening last Friday, described him as “a loving person, a simple man.”
I wonder what would Al Khatim Adlan write or say about Sudan’s elections and what has become of Naivasha agreement and highly touted democratic transformation? I very much suspect he would have been disappointed.
The struggle for freedom goes on.