On June 23, of the year of our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and Forty-Five, Garang was born to a simple humble Dinka family in the Bor district of Southern Sudan. It was not surprising that how little did the family of de Mabior know that their little baby would grow-up to become an articulate and charismatic man, with gut and mighty confidence, to lead his people in times of wars, famines, hopelessness and despair. In his life that expanded for sixty years, he did not enjoy living in his own country and environment like other normal children in some fortunate parts of the Sudan.
During the early sixties of the last century and at a tender age of sixteen, the repressive policies of General Abboud forced him across the borders of the Sudan after the well-known Sunday strikes. In the Diaspora, he shared classes and friendship with such people like Yoweri Museveni and other African leaders. While in the Sudan, and in elementary, intermediate and secondary schools, he was a colleague to well-known southerners such late Dustin Wai of the World Bank, Dr. Peter Nyot Kok, of Khartoum University, Aircraft Engineer Deng Abiem, late Rudolph Ibrahim Samuel, of the Foreign Exchange Department of the Bank of Khartoum and many others.
His studies in Tanzania brought him into contact with the famous Dar-es-Salam Socialist School, led by the great African thinker Mualimu Dr. Julius Nyrere. Upon concluding his university studies, Garang joined the Anyanya Movement as a commissioned officer in 1971. At the conclusion of Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972, Garang was absorbed as a captain in the Sudan Armed Forces. He attended successfully many staff military courses inside the Sudan and abroad, particularly in the USA. He created friendships in the rank-and-file of the Sudanese Armed Forces with people such as General Abdel Majid Hamid Khalil and General Yusuf Ahmed Yusuf. Garang also successfully did his Masters and PhD studies in the USA, Iowa State University.
Initially, Garang was critical of the Addis Ababa Agreement and predicted its collapse. When dictator Ja’afar Nimeiri scraped Addis Ababa altogether, he lamented the cowardice of the northern politicians who earlier celebrated Addis Ababa as an historic achievement and bestowed on dictator Nimeiri the name of the “Hero of Peace”. As the dictator abrogated the Addis Ababa and introduced the September laws in 1983, the same politicians turned around and sang praises of Nimeiri for doing the ‘right thing’.
As his answer to this cowardice, together with some of his friends, Garang launched the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in May 1983, aiming at creating a pluralistic, united, democratic and secular Sudan—a new Sudanese dispensation that is based on the realities of the Sudan, including both its historical and contemporary diversities. Garang articulated the injustices the successive Khartoum governments have inflicted on the marginalized people of the Sudan, especially the non-Arab Sudanese since 1956. He effectively propagated this idea among the people of the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, the Beja and the Darfurians. He was successful with the first three groups, but failed to convince the last group. However, SPLM/A under Garang’s leadership was able to produce leaders from the marginalized areas of the Sudan such as late Yusuf Kowa Mekki, Malik Agaar, Abdel Aziz Adam al-Hilu and the late Engineer Daod Yahya Bolad.
On the level of the African continent, he was associated with new breed of African leadership such as his friends Museveni, Afowerki, Jerry John Rowlings, Thabo Mbeki, and Paul Kigame. He had good working relationship with elderly statesmen such as Nelson Mandela, Obasanju, Daniel arap Moi, Robert Mugabi, Moi Kibaki, Meles Zenawi, Hosni Mubarak, and Libyan Gadafi. Garang was described by some of African leaders “as one of the most visionary and incisive revolutionary thinkers and nationalists Africa has ever produced”. In his own country, the racist Arabs treated him otherwise. The twice failed and myopic former prime minister al-Sadig al-Mahdi thought he was dealing with the normal southern politicians who spent hours after hours waiting at his doors. Al Sadig was shocked when he found out for himself that he was dealing with a deep thinker. Al-Mhadi must be very relieved now that his only southern nightmare is gone forever. With Mawlana al-Mirghani, he was cordial and gracious, not for any personal preferences, but because he saw Mawlana as a practical politician and who recognized the realities of Sudan politics, and that he needed Garang in resolving some of its problems.
At first, the Islamic ideologue, Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, saw Garang as a danger to his Arab-Islamic Sudan, and therefore rejected any opportunity of peace with SPLM/A. For the purpose of stopping al-Mirghani-Garang Peace Agreement of November 1988, al-Turabi led a military coup on the night of June 30, 1989, establishing the most backward, repressive and cruel regime the independent Sudan had ever experienced. In the name of Islam, he decided to wipe out more than two and half million southern lives. Under his stewardship, crimes of rape, pillaging, slave taking, human induced famines, forced Arabization and Islamization were committed. When al-Turabi’s organization (the National Islamic Front) split in 1999, over power struggle, and those he spoon-fed like al-Bashir and Ali Osamn Taha forced him out of office, realism came back to him. Al-Turabi ran to Garang to save him from his own “boys”, and found the politically skilful Garang every ready to accommodate him.
Inside the SPLM/A, Garang was decisive and mission oriented. No amount of set backs, could dampen his spirit or blur his vision. He dominated the SPLM/A with an iron will, not allowing renegades like his colleagues late Kerubino Kwanyin Bol and late William Nyoun Beny to change the road he had charted for the SPLM/A, but had always stood ready to forget their mistakes and readmit them. If he dealt with Kwanyin Bol and Nyoun Beny as co-founders of the SPLM/A, he treated the rebel engineers, Dr. Riak and Dr. Lam, with the interest of the South at the heart of his forgiveness and compromise. He proved this when he welcomed back into the ranks of the SPLM/A with an open arm, Dr. Riak in 2000 and Dr. Lam in 2001. After they had attempted to drag the South into the failed Khartoum Peace Agreement of 1997, Garang managed to work with them.
Between 1983-2005, Garang did not limit his choices to war only, but pursued peaceful means of settling the grievances of the marginalized people of the Sudan. He therefore set with successive Khartoum governments year in and year out, negotiating with them peaceful options for the problem of Sudan. When the time came and the terms of any peace deal were in favor of the marginalized people of the Sudan, he led them to peace, as he had earlier led them into war with Khartoum. He was ruthless in negotiating peace terms, as he was equally determined in war. On January 9, 2005, a determined and dignified Garang raised the document, comprising the terms of peace in front of the world to see. On that occasion, he declared, “peace will bless us once more with hearing the happy giggling of children and the enchanting ululation of women who are excited in happiness for one reason or another”.
Good-bye “wen Mabiordit”, you had made us all proud, and did serve your people of the Sudan in general and the South in particular, with extreme dedication and competence. We would have wished you to stay with us for some few more years, for more spectacular achievements. Sudan has always been a country not blessed with its competent and visionary sons. I believe the only happy people with your absence would be the present leaders and the likes of al-Sadig and al-Turabi.