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SUDAN: Coming to terms with Garang's death

9/1/2005 3:42pm

KHARTOUM, 1 Sep 2005 (IRIN) - Four weeks after the death of Sudanese First Vice President John Garang de Mabior, who was also the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), many southern Sudanese are still uncertain about what the future holds.

Many remain heartbroken over the loss of the man who had given them reason to believe in a future without discrimination, without war and without death.

"The death of Garang was very shocking. When I heard about it I was not able to think clearly for several hours, the shock was so terrible," Alphonse Akol, a 54-year-old southern Sudanese man, told IRIN.

Akol sat in a dusty plastic chair alongside one of the unpaved roads in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, and pored over a local newspaper that bore the image of a young girl's face, wet with tears over Garang's death.

"I had never met Garang, but I knew him," Akol said with conviction. "It was like we all knew him."

Born in 1945, Garang was a Christian of Dinka descent who led the SPLM/A rebellion from 1983 after the southerners took up arms against the northern-based authorities to demand greater autonomy.

Before a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed on 9 January between the north and south, the fighting had killed at least two million people, uprooted four million more and forced some 550,000 to flee to neighbouring countries.

"The death of Garang is a great loss. He was the only one who fought to liberate the people of Sudan. He wanted the world to know that we were unique, special and strong," Akol said.

Garang was killed in a plane crash on 31 July, just three weeks after he was inaugurated as first vice president of Sudan and six months after the long-drawn-out war between the SPLM/A and the government of Sudan ended with the signing of the peace agreement in Nairobi, Kenya.


When the news of Garang's death became public on the morning of 1 August, many Sudanese feared the worst.

"It seemed to me that something was planned, well planned," one southerner said.

As a result of this assumed conspiracy, many southern Sudanese took their anger to the streets and began attacking their fellow citizens of Arab descent, looting stores and setting fire to businesses and cars.

Salah Badri, a northern man attacked during the riots, showed IRIN a large scar in the centre of his forehead and a scar around his right eye.

"They threw about 30 stones at me. I was dizzy and I fell down. When I got up, they threw them again and I fell down again," he narrated.

"In the beginning they began shouting at us, 'Go inside! Go inside!’ They tried to throw rocks at us. Then they broke into the stores and after they took what they wanted, they set fire to them," Mustafa Osman, the owner of a small shop in Dem, a town five km south of Khartoum, recounted.

Osman explained that as his shop was burning, his family hid inside their home and watched. "There was too much smoke and we had an old man inside who we had to take care of," he said.

Recently returned to Sudan after 16 years in Saudi Arabia, Osman had been hoping to start a successful business; his shop had been open less than a month.

The riots that spread throughout Khartoum, its surrounding suburbs and numerous areas in the south lasted three days and resulted in the death of at least 130 people and the destruction of dozens of businesses and cars.


Although the tension between northerners and southerners dates back to the 16th century, it is evident from the attitudes of the Sudanese that the discrimination and mistrust of the past is still alive.

Under January's peace accord, a six-year interim period is due to be followed by a referendum in which the south will vote on unity or secession. Following recent events, however, many fear the consequences of a united Sudan.

"When Garang came, things had changed. We thought the bad feelings would stop, but after what happened, the old feelings have come back and now we fear it could happen again," Souad Babker, a northern Sudanese mother of three, who lost a family business in the riots, said.

Garang was replaced as First Vice President by the SPLM/A's number two, Salva Kiir Mayardit, on 11 August. Kiir, while not as widely known among Sudanese, was one of the founders of the SPLM/A and rose to become its military commander.

Despite his extensive experience, however, many Sudanese still wonder if Kiir has the requisite political clout to follow in Garang's footsteps and successfully negotiate the needs of both the south and the north.

"Everybody knows that Garang was behind a united Sudan. He wanted to be a leader of all people, but they say that Kiir is more for segregation and the rights of the south," Babker said.

Although many Sudanese are uncertain about the merits of a united Sudan, most people would like to see Sudan finally have the peace that Garang was so determined to obtain.

"Sudan can be a very strong country, a very great country ...but that is on condition that the vision of John Garang - the vision of peace - is accepted," Akol said.

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