Sunday, May 29, 2016

The True Picture and Short History of the Southern Sudan Struggle for Freedom

By Pal Chol Nyan*

"History is an event. It cannot be distorted whatsoever."

History is an event. It cannot be distorted whatsoever. The first bullet for the war to liberate the people of South Sudan from slavery and oppression was shot at Torit Mutiny on the 18th of August 1955. This insurrection was staged under the leadership of Gen Emilio Tafeng, Gbattala and Fr. Saturlino Ohure among others. This led to a relative peace with the 1972 Addis Ababa peace accord which had granted autonomy to Southerners but with landmark decisions still being taken in Khartoum. Many Southerners then were dissatisfied with the agreement and staged another war for total liberation of South Sudan because they feel that it did not actually and basically addressed the fundamental root causes of Southerners’ grievances against the Arabs in the North of the country. The Northern Sudanese wanted to islamise the South, introduced and applied Sharia Laws as a source of legislation. 

The rebellion of 1975 was launched by Lt Vincent Kuany Latjor and Sergeant Bol Kur, a Chollo. They joined ranks with Gordon Koang Chol, the Anya-nya-2 C-in-C and were stationed at Bilpam. When the Anya-nya-2 and the SPLM/A disagreed on the objectives of the war coupled with the power struggle or leadership crisis of 1983-4, the two camps clashed resulting in the dislodging of the Anya-nya-2 and capturing of Bilpam with the support of the Ethiopian troops under Mengistu Haile Mariam by the SPLM/A. Bilpam then became the main headquarters of the SPLM/A.  In 1982, the Veteran Lou Nuer Politician Gatjiek Wie, rebelled and walked all the way to Ethiopia and settled at Itang. In his company were some notable Southern Sudanese figures in the persons of Obieny Deng, a Chollo, Gatluak Doamai, Malow Kulang, Par Golong, Dak Riek and Tut Gatpan to mention but a few. They had about 9000 recruits mostly drawn from Lou Nuer and were undergoing military training at Thowkoat with an objective of fighting for an independent South Sudan. Aballa Chuol Deng and Lokurnyang Lado, a Murle (who’d later be summarily executed by the SPLA using the jungle laws), joined Gatjiek in 1983. He was warmly received by Gatjiek Wie. He was accommodated at Tielul 4, and Gatjiek gave him 2 AK 47 rifles with two soldiers to guard him. Pagan Amum, Nyachigak Ngachiluk, Atali Okoth and Oyai Deng Ajak were stationed at Paket, an Anuak territory. Around 1984-5, they joined the SPLA, attacked Boma where they reportedly took hostages of some international mining workers and later released with heavy ransom.

On May the 16th 1983, the Bor mutiny was staged by the SAF soldiers over unpaid salaries. It turned into an armed insurgency or rebellion. The first bullet was fired by Sergeant Yusif Kiir Tang, a Moslem Nuer from Nasir. He was later ruthlessly, without a remorse, murdered by the SPLA so that he disappeared from the screen of the political history of liberation. Major Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, then a SAF officer, by virtue of his seniority, took over the command of the rebellious troops and as the fight ensued, he was wounded. On 18, May 1983, Capt. David Riek Machuoc, a Nuer from Akobo revolted in Pibor and in June Major William Nyuon Bany Machar, a Nuer from Ayod, revolted after a fierce fight with SAF. Dr John Garang, who had expressed reservations on the Addis Ababa Accord, took advantage of these rebellions. In July 1983, Col. Dr John Garang, Chigai Atem, Gany Juc and Lt col. Francis Ngor left and joined  the camp of Gatjiek and his lieutenants. The veteran politician Gatjiek Wei hospitably accommodated his brother Dr John Garang at Itang with his escorts which included Maker Deng Malow, Garang Akok and Gany Juc. They were given  two AK47 rifles for protection. They later assembled at Marol military post commanded by Gik Lew of Anya-any-2. Samuel Gai and Akuot Atem, who were also with Salva at Kur Mayom, reported to Marol village where they all proceeded to Adura. They were then picked up by a helicopter from Adura to Itang. There and then, Thowath Pal, the Security chief of the DERG regime picked them up to Addis Ababa to meet Mengistu Hailemariam where they linked up with the veteran politician Joseph Oduhu who went ahead of them.

Here, after all the courtesies, the issue of the leadership was raised and there was a deadlock on who will lead the Movement. Samuel Gai wanted Akuot Atem to be the leader but with strong resistance from Dr. Garang’s camp covertly supported by Mengistu. Dr. John Garang did not buy that idea. There were sharp differences and they then came back to Itang and proceeded to Adura. The camp headed by Akuot Atem and Samuel Gai clashed with Garang’s camp where Samuel Gai met his fate in 1984 at Thiajak in the hand of the champions of the unity of Sudan. His dead body was repeatedly and inhumanely subjected to beatings by one of the most senior members of the SPLM/A. The people later perished in the same way. It later transpired that many of these veterans, who did not or refused to follow the teachings of Dr. John, died under mysterious circumstances. It was being said that Garang hijacked the movement with the help of Mengistu, installed himself at the helm of power as the Head. He named the members of his movement as follows:

1.      Dr John Garang - Chairman and C-in-C
2.      Kerubino Kuanyin- Deputy Chairman and C-in-C
3.      William Nyuon - he Chief of staff
4.      Salva Kiir as Deputy Chief of staff for operation and security
5.      Arok Thon Arok as the deputy Chief of staff for administration and logistics.

Justice Majier, later executed mysteriously, became the legal affairs secretary and Joseph Oduhu for political affairs. The first five later became known as permanent members of the SPLM/A Political Military High Command. In the following years, he [Garang] also appointed 12 officers as Alternate Members of the Political Military High Command as follows:

1.      Cdr John Kulang Puot,
2.      Cdr Dr Riek Machar,
3.      Cdr Dr Lam Akol,
4.      Cdr James Wani
5.      Cdr Kuol Manyang
6.      Cdr Nyachigak Nyachiluk
7.      Cdr Daniel Awet
8.      Cdr Lual Diing
9.      Cdr Yusif Kuwa
10.  Cdr Martin Manyiel Ayuel,
11.  Cdr Galerio Modi
12.  Cdr Gordon Koang Chol.

The SPLM/A Manisfesto on penal code and disciplinary laws was drafted and enacted. The war started in earnest. Many South Sudanese from all walks of life voluntarily joined the movement en masse. Concisely, the first two battalions, 104 and 105, increased with elements from Gatjiek’s Nuer recruits, under the command of Major William Nyuon, shot the first bullet of armed struggle against the Arab garrison at Malual Gahoth in 1983-84. Major Kerubino Kuanyin commanded Jamus battalion which was mostly students and civil servants. With the death of Samuel Gai, the Anya-nya-2 became a bitter foe of the SPLM/A which they wrongly considered to be Dinka’s. Their differences turned into the bloodiest war ever until the merger of 1988 brokered and mediated by James Hoth Mai in 1988.

 It is important to note that that the Bahr el Ghazal group also known as Anya-nya 2, which was commanded by Kawac Makuei, Malong Awan, Lual Diing Wol among others, joined the movement. The war of liberation was prosecuted and reached its peak with many towns falling in the hands of the SPLM/A. Later the question of arbitrary arrests and detention, extrajudicial killings, unexplained disappearances of politicians, lack of democracy, human rights abuses, dictatorship, and lack of functional structures, became a point of discontent among senior members of the movement. In 1991, three Alternate members of the SPLM/A political military High Command decided to raise these issues with the Chairman of the Movement in a bid to democratize the movement and release the political detainees (this referred to those detained because they differed with Dr. John Garang). This did not augur well with him and he called for an emergency meeting of the High Command in Kapoet. It was said to be the first of its kind. In his book, the African Issues, the Historian Douglas H Johnson said, Garang, who had limited democratic credentials, was using disorder to retain himself in power. The abrupt call for this meeting was seen as a trap to arrest those who took issue with Garang especially the three members. In a move to deter and foil Garang’s clandestine plan, Dr Riek Machar, Dr Lam and Cdr. Gordon Koang announced a coup to depose Garang but failed to jettison him out of the movement. There was just a split of the Movement into factional entities. It became known as the Nasir Declaration headed by Dr. Riek Machar and Torit faction, SPLM/A Mainstream headed by Dr. John Garang. The Nasir declaration came as a result of ideological differences over how the movement was run in an autocratic and dictatorial manner by one man in the words of Dr. Lam Akol, the author of the ‘Nasir Coup’ position paper “Why Garang Must No Now.”

The Nasir faction gained massive support amongst almost all the commanders and intellectuals of the movement from all tribes and communities of South Sudan because there was now a laid out clear objectives of the war. This split, in all honesty, had disastrous impact on the government and those towns captured were retaken by the Government of Sudan. However, to give the person his due, the Nasir faction in 1992 revived the issue of the self-determination, abandoned since 1963, for the people of South Sudan in a draft agreement negotiated and signed in Frankfurt, Germany by Dr. Lam and Dr. Ali Al Haj Mohammed. The Torit faction still pursued the course of fighting for a united, secular and democratic Sudan and in the words of Dr. John Garnag,” the Nasir split was the stab in the back when the Movement was scoring major victories against the chief enemy. Having brought into the political discourse, the right of self-determination for the people of South Sudan, the war turned into secessionists (Nasir) against unionists (Torit). In Abuja one and two, self-determination was, faute de mieux, unanimously adopted by both factions of the splintered SPLM/A and the Government of Sudan.

Having shed light on the brief history of the wars of liberation, the intention is to consciously set the record straight. Some disgruntled and tribal-minded politicians, who may be suffering from undiagnosed complexes, took it upon themselves to historically misinform the South Sudanese and misrepresent the facts that there is only one tribe which has fought for and brought the liberation of this country. This is quite misleading and it is sheer ignorance. All the people of South Sudan have participated and offered souls or sacrifices for us to be where we are today. It is neither Nuer nor Dinka who fought the wars as this history speaks volumes. When people switch sides, it is due always to the lack of political directions which others do not want to have it corrected. Now, the people of South Sudan will know where the credit belongs in reference to the history and in the context of South Sudan politics.

 In conclusion, it is an undeniable fact that Dr. John was a charismatic leader, a taciturn and a unifying factor in the Sudanese politics. It was a great loss because many of his closest lieutenants, some of them are leading us now, did not manage to learn some of his exemplary leadership attributes. He did not fail the people of Sudan in general and South Sudan in particular. Many will agree with me that one can destroy the country but history cannot be cheated.


*Pal Chol Nyan is an opinion writer and columnist for Stance English Daily, an independent newspaper which advocates for peace and reconciliation.


Editorial Note: The opinions expressed in this article are solely of the author. "The Philosophical Refugee" [] cannot attest to the veracity of the historical facts cited by the author. For questions, contact the author at

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