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John Garang and the Vision of New Sudan by Dr Omer M Shurkian

9/15/2005 9:44 pm

It is very difficult indeed as to where and how to pay a tribute to a man who dedicated all his life to the oppressed people of Sudan. In a recent press interview just before his death, Dr John Garang de Mabior remembered that when he was a child, he used to see himself in every naked, hungry child in the district. This humanitarian outlook turned out to have a profound effect on his life as a soldier, a lecturer, a rebel leader, an ideologue and a short-lived statesman. Dr Garang was, and is, regarded as one of the finest Sudanese leader in the modern history of Sudan: he was extraordinarily charismatic, highly intelligent and unusually popular. He shot to fame following the rebellion of Bor and Pibor Battalions in 1983; since then his name has been inexorably intertwined with the struggle of the masses in the Sudan. Although the Sudan has experienced an array of political leaders in its political evolution, yet few politicians have distinct personalities. Some of them go into politics to give themselves a personality: they have so little sense of self that they are comfortable only when they have some official status. Others start with a personality if only to end up with no personality at all. But Garangs abilities, professionalism, commitment and dedication to the cause of the marginalised population of the country are something all Sudanese politicians should aspire to. Garang rose to this challenge with self-confidence, and his studious study of the under-represented populace in the Sudan was a primary motive in his struggle to redress this imbalance of power and wealth in the Sudanese society. This why around six million people thronged the streets of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to greet him on Friday, July 8, 2005. Better still, Garang was rare among the Southerners in calling for national unity and had, therefore, also raised the hopes of many Northern Sudanese, not only of keeping Sudans one million square miles united, but also of eventually freeing them from the hated fundamentalist Government, restoring democracy and human rights and ending the crisis in Dar Fur and Eastern Sudan.
John Garang was born on June 23, 1945 into a poor family in Buk a small Dinka village in Bor County on the eastern bank of the Nile where no one, he once said, was able even to read. By the age of 10, Garang was an orphan. He might have stayed in Buk, becoming a cattle herder like his father and grandfather before him, had a relative not paid his fees and sent him to school first in nearby Wau, then across the Nile in Rumbek. In 1962, at the age of 17, Garang joined the first Sudanese civil war - that is, the Anya-Nya, but because he was so young, the then rebel leaders encouraged him and others of his age to seek an education, sending him to continue his secondary education in Tanzania. After wining a scholarship to Grinnell College in Iowa, he was awarded a bachelors degree in economics in 1969. He was offered a graduate fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, but chose instead to return to Tanzania as a research fellow at Dar al-Salaam University. There he met a future ally Yoweri Museveni, now the President of Uganda and soon decided to return to the Sudan to join the rebel Anya-Nya movement.
During the Addis Ababa peace talks, a junior officer within the Anya-Nya rank and file called John Garang de Mabior informed Joseph Lagu that he categorically had no confidence that these negotiations would lead to a permanent solution. When he was asked by Lagu as to what had prompted him to think so, Garang, who was then an officer in the Anya-Nya military intelligence, replied that any resulting agreement from this peace process would not last long if it were not to go deep into changing the Sudanese body politics. Garang went on to name these issues as: separation of religion from politics, the question of ethnicities, security administration in Southern Sudan during the Interim Period, the endorsement of the agreement through a popular referendum. He added that there should be, at least, a five-year transitional period before the referendum. Furthermore, Garang warned the Anya-Nya leaders about the unduly hasty approach in absorbing the former rebel fighters into the Sudanese army. No sooner had Garang put these remarks in writing to Lagu than his name was removed from the negotiating team, and sent back to the Anya-Nya headquarters in Upper Nile. Later, history had to prove that Garang was right, and he was thinking ten years ahead of his superiors.
Despite all his reservations, Garang joined the Sudanese army as an absorbed officer; and, when he was asked by Lagu yet again as to why he did accept the absorption into the Sudanese Armed Forces in spite of his scepticism? Garang replied: I am still sticking to my opinion that this agreement will not last, but I want to give it a chance, and let us wait and see. Nonetheless, Garang made use of opportunities provided by the Sudan army to pursue further studies both academically and militarily. When the aforementioned first civil war ended with the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972, many rebels Garang among them, as stated earlier, were incorporated into the Sudanese Armed Forces. In 11 years as a career soldier, he rose quickly from captain to colonel, completing the Infantry Officers Advanced Course at the US Army Infantry School in Fort Benning, Georgia; but taking a four-year study break to get a masters degree in agricultural economics and a doctorate in economics at Iowa State University. Through working in the Sudanese army in the North, Garang acquired skills and experience in dealing with Northern fellow countrymen, understanding their mentality, witnessing the deprivation of other socially and economically marginalised population in Northern Sudan, including the Nuba, the Funj, the Beja and the people of Dar Fur. The Sudanese society is infested with countless episodes of social diseases, including racism, tribalism, religious bigotry, sectarianism, exploitation, cultural assimilation, gender discrimination and so forth. In the Northern communities, Garang witnessed a great deal of this manifestly practised misdemeanour in Arab jokes, folklore, neighbourhood relations, mass media, employment opportunities and Government policies. As a Dinka tribesman, Garang might have come across an acrimonious, personal experience when he was not in his army uniform. These were the sorts of issues that motivated Garang and his colleagues to launch an underground movement to agitate for socio-political change in the Sudan. They were emboldened by President Nimeiris meddling with, and rescinding of, the Addis Ababa Accord that put an end to fratricidal hostilities in 1972.
However, no settlement which contravenes the principles of eternal justice will ever be a permanent one. Let us be warned by the example of the Addis Ababa Accord of 1972. The results of undue haste in some respects and the overlooking of or putting aside important matters were to have catastrophic consequences later on. As to why the second civil war started in the Sudan, it had been a controversially polemic issue. Few wars, if any, have a single origin. The outbreak of conflicts comes from a clash of various causes. This was certainly true of the First World War, yet it was overlooked by the peacemakers of 1919. Exhausted, physically and mentally, by four years of slaughter, four years of hysterically hating the Hun, they picked up one reason for it all: Germany. And this was written into the peace treaty, and, therefore, into the peace implementation. The result was the Second World War. Much to the point, all the Israeli-Arab wars are the result of previously unsettled conflicts, with the 1948 conflict as a seminal factor in the current disputes. The US war in Afghanistan in October 2001 was a consequence of the unresolved dispute that was egged out by a struggle to expel the Soviet troops from the Afghani territory. The recent Iraqi war is connected, in one way or another, to the unfinished business of Iraq-Kuwait war in the early 1990s. And so the second Sudanese civil war was a direct result of the failure of the first one to deliver a sustainable settlement of the dispute; and, if a new war were to start in future, it would be because either a number of groups came out of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement bitterly unsatisfied or the agreement itself were tampered with.
Sudans domestic history during the last fifty years that followed its independence in 1956 consists largely of the struggle of orders, whereby a large section of its population sought protection from, and then political and social equality with, the minority ruling class who monopolise the state and control power, wealth, education, business and so forth. Poverty has increased the economic difficulties of small farmers, many of whom, because of the harsh laws of loans, are falling into a state of virtual serfdom. Constitutions are drafted, passed and amended, but with little effects on the people they are supposed to benefit from them. Legislations are enacted, but with cobwebs inefficiency that could allow the influential people to go through, but hold back the weak. Worse still, the gap between the centre and the peripheries in economic development, literacy, social services, the standard of living, income generation, medicare, child malnutrition, the rate of infant and maternal mortality, life expectancy and so forth continues to get wider and wider. Against this backdrop, civil wars have been fought in the Sudan. In 1983, Dr Garang was sent to crush a mutiny in Bor by 500 Southern Government soldiers, who were resisting being rotated to posts in the North. Instead, he started a rebel movement, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), which was opposed to military rule and Islamic dominance of the country, and encouraged other army garrisons to mutiny against the Islamic laws imposed on the country by the Nimeiri Government. This mutiny marked the beginning of the second phase of Sudanese civil war, which resulted in more than one and half million deaths and over four million internally displaced persons and refugees in over twenty years of bloody conflict. The excesses of human rights violations in war-stricken parts of the country by the Khartoum regimes soared incessantly to the point that the citizens of these war-affected areas began to rethink their position on the slogans of national unity. The basis of statehood, and of unity, can only be general acceptance by the participants if justice, equality, egalitarianism, freedom and social development are the practices of governments, and not only being beamed out as mere texts enshrined in constitutions. Surely, when more than twelve million people have become convinced that they are rejected in a country in which they live, and that there is no longer any basis for unity between them and other groups of people, then unity has already ceased to exist. You cannot kill thousands of people, and keep killing more, in the name of unity. There is no unity between the dead and those who killed them; and, worse still, there is no unity in slavery and domination.
On this occasion, the Sudanese authorities should find a way out of the bloody dispute in Dar Fur region, Eastern Sudan and the simmering resentments in far Northern Sudan. Let us not wait until injustice, suffering and human rights abuses reach their zenith to the degree that the population of these regions start to call for the right to self-determination, because extremism begets extremism at the other end. The situation in Dar Fur dictates a second thought. States are made to serve people; governments are established to protect the citizens of a state against external enemies and internal wrongdoers. It is on these grounds that people surrender their right and power to self-defence to the government of the sate in which they live. But when the whole machinery of the State, and the powers of the Government, are turned against a whole group of the society on the grounds of racial, tribal or religious prejudices, then the victims have the right to take back the powers they have surrendered, and to defend themselves. With the exception of the religion factor, the crisis in Dar Fur is similar in effect and intensity to the one once existed in the South, the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile before the conclusion of peace deal. But why peace between the Sudan regimes and the SPLM/A was an elusive matter for so long a time? The post-Nimeieri regimes were either influenced by the sectarian and dogmatic parties and, therefore, not negotiating in good faith - or dithering was the means utilised to evade peace overtures.
When the generals of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), who took over power from Nimeiri in a popular uprising in April 1985, invited Dr Garang to Khartoum, he replied to their request that they were not bishops to go to Khartoum to give a blessing to what the archbishops had done there! We should have been consulted, he added. He called the TMC May II that is, the May regime without Nimeiri, but with his lately promoted defence minister at the helm that is, Lt-Gen Abd al-Rahman Swar al-Dahab: this fact, then controversially, was later proved by the political development in the Sudan to be correct and that the SPLM/A was right. In actuality, governments are institutions not individuals. Truly speaking, Nimeiri was overthrown, but his repressive institutions remained intact. These were what the National Alliance for National Salvation called the vestiges of May regime; they include the notorious package of September laws, the sacked civil servants and cashiered army officers, the abrogation of Addis Ababa Accord and the wide spread of corruption which crippled the Sudanese economy. Had Garang accepted this tantalising offer from the TMC, he would have been promoted to major-general or lieutenant-general only to retire in a years time and together with him retire the aspirations and hopes of the socially marginalised people for whom he was fighting. Pensively, Garang pondered the Sudanese ailments for which the deprived Sudanese population are suffering, including injustice, economic marginalisation, illiteracy, rampant diseases and so forth. He came up with a socially engineered solution - that is, the New Sudan, which was widely publicised in his public speeches, media interviews and published theses (John Garang Speaks, London, 1987; The Call for Democracy in Sudan, London, 1992; and The Vision of New Sudan: Questions of Unity and Identity, Cairo, 1998). He called for the Sudan in which democracy prevails, free from sectarianism, secessionism, and religious, social and/or racial discriminations and prejudices. Garang caused a political furore in the conceptual thinking of Southern Sudanese politicians which had been centred, for a very long time, on the separation of Southern Sudan; this call has been oscillating from a demand for federalism in the early days of Sudans independence from the Condominium Rule in 1956 to a total secession from the central Government that was, and is so much so, dominated by the Northerners ever since the creation of the modern Sudan. The Southerners have, therefore, come to believe that liberation from this yoke of domination lies in dismembering the country. Garang, on the other hand, refused to surrender to this existing reality, and, instead, embarked on a new venture which advocated the destruction of the old Sudan and reconstructing, in its place, a new one according to a new empirical formula in which the Southerners and other marginalised people of Sudan should not become the guests of the central authority, but original partners in power- and wealth-sharing. Rejecting the political process in its old clothes, Garang called for egalitarianism as the norms of the day, and advocated a country in which justice and the rule of law were practised. Like John F Kennedy who once said: Let us not be Democrats nor Republicans, but let us be Americans, John Garang also reiterated more than once that let us not be Northerners or Southerners, but let us be, first and foremost, Sudanese.
Garang the great theorist knew instinctively how simple ideas, when repeated over and over again, could work best like fire on dry grass on a mass audience; he also knew how to appeal to the emotions of his listeners, and how to reassure them that they were not to blame for Sudans ills, but it was all the fault of clique-dominated Government in Khartoum; thus came the idea of the SPLM/A as a movement in lieu of a political party at the inception of armed struggle. The call for a New Sudan is a serious response by the SPLM/A against the attempt by various Khartoum-based regimes to build a monolithic Arab-Islamic state to the exclusion of other parameters of the Sudanese diversity; this constitutes the Fundamental Problem of Sudan and defines the Sudanese conflict. The Sudanese state has excluded the vast majority of the Sudanese people from governance, and, therefore, their marginalisation in the political, economic and social fields. This provoked resistance by the excluded. There have been wars and there continues to be wars in the Sudan simply because the majority of the Sudanese are not stakeholders in governance. The Arab-Islamic state in the Sudan ended up being imposed by force, rather than by consent of the governed through a consensual social contract; and force has been responded with force. The solution to this Fundamental Problem of Sudan is to evolve an all inclusive Sudanese state, which is called the New Sudan, because the previously tested minoritarian-based rule is the antithesis of majority aspirations. As Sudanese citizens, the population should enjoy civic rights in a country which there should be a progress towards human rights and social welfare, the eradication of poverty and putting an end to the cycles of hunger, the achievement of primary education to all and the promotion of gender equality, and an endeavour to attain development based on stronger emphasis on basic human needs - such as, reasonable health, access to clean water and the equality of opportunities.
The vision of New Sudan Garang was championing was to be achieved through a two-tier process: a military struggle and a political dialogue that could lead to a peaceful settlement. This is why the SPLM/A continued to talk to the Government of the day in Khartoum, regardless of its nature. The Sudanese people, as well as political observers and pundits, may wonder what is different now between the Addis Ababa Accord of March 1972 and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of January 2005 as signed in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The difference is that the ultimate concession of self-rule and the opportunity for self-determination have been grasped by the Southerners from the Northern Government. Previously, the 1972 agreement focused on integrating the Southern rebels into the national army, unlike the present agreement that will see the evacuation of the garrison towns in the South, which the Sudan Government had previously concentrated its might, and the redeployment of SPLA troops to those areas. It is hard to underestimate the importance of this element of the agreement. After 22 years of struggling to control and defeat the rebel SPLA, costing the lives of countless young soldiers, civilians and students, the Sudan Government is now walking away from the South. In this current agreement, we must not allow any sense of exploitation, any spirit of greed nor any grasping desire to over-ride the fundamental principle of righteousness. Vigorous attempts will be made by our empowered partner-in-power to bully the new comers to make them depart from the strict principles of right, and to satisfy some base, sordid and squalid ideas of avarice, but let us resist them all.
On Saturday, July 30, 2005, alas, Garang died after the Ugandan presidential MI-72 helicopter he was riding crashed. He died with five of his personal bodyguard namely, Lt-Col Amak Malwal, Lt-Col Ali Mian Majuk, First Lieut Deng Majok Kwang, Lieut Juma Mian Deng and First Lieut David Oboko Obur, and seven Uganan crew members. He had been returning from a meeting in Rwakitura with his long-time ally, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Great leaders and prophets never reach the promised land; take, for instance, Prophet Moses who died in the wilderness before taking the Israelites to the promised land only to bequeath the onus of the mission to his lieutenant, Joshua; take also Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, President Samora Machel of Mozambique and Yousif Kuwa Makki, to name but a few. The post-Garang SPLM/A leaders should strenuously strive to ensure the Sudanese people that Garang did not die in vain, and that his legacy, vision, teachings and aspirations are attained as his widow asserted immediately after receiving the bitter news that her husband was dead. The Sudanese masses have been deceived far too long that they lost confidence in the Northern-based political process, party system and factional squabbles. Based on a false hope that the entire people could be fooled all the time, the policies of the National Islamic Front regime became a bitter source of controversy, and the catastrophic situation in the Sudan had made people flock to the SPLM/A vision, as laid down in the programme of New Sudan, which has attracted, and continues to attract, more and more people. It is easy to get depressed about the quality of modern political leaders in the Sudan, about how readily we are taken in by plausible promises delivered in a plausible manner, but Garang was not given a chance to live up to his pledges to the Sudanese people. His life was cut short by death that we are praying today for his soul and that may Almighty God give him peace in his eternal life and give the disconsolate Sudanese people courage and wisdom to follow in his footsteps.

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