Interview with Dr Lam Akol by “El Intibaha” Newspaper, dated 9 February 2017.
Conducted by El Muthanna Abdul Gadir and Malok Mayot.
Feb 10, 2017(Nyamilepedia) —— After a long absence from the political scene, Dr Lam Akol returned carrying so much and interesting stuff on what is going in South Sudan. The Chairman of the National Democratic Movement (The Broad Front) affirmed in his interview with “El Intibaha” the non-existence of a Sudanese-Ugandan Initiative to unite the opposition in South Sudan. That he met the Ugandan President Museveni following the latter’s invitation by the Government of Sudan of a number of heads of the neighbouring countries that are concerned about the issues of Sudan at the margins of the closing session of the National Dialogue Conference. Akol explained that he discussed with him ways and means of resolving the crisis in South Sudan. Akol also pointed out that the NDM is present all over the States of South Sudan explaining that Gabriel Tang was the one in charge of the Training Centre that was attacked by the forces of Riek Machar that led to the killing of Gabriel Tang and Yoannes Okic. He refuted the claim that there was an the attempt on the life of General Johnson Olony stating that Olony is always defended by an arsenal of all types of weapons, light and heavy, and we cannot attack him even if we wished. He explained that they are preparing for operations against the Juba Government. The following is the transcript of Part One of the interview conducted with Dr Lam Akol by phone from his residence in the Kenyan Capital, Nairobi.
Q: Tell us about the differences between you and the Shilluk Reth?
A: I do not want to respond to such a question, it is not the issue now. Please, ask about important political issues.
Q: What is the fate of the Ugandan-Sudanese initiative that was tabled before? And how was it after your meeting with the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni? Why didn’t we hear about it in the media?
A: There is nothing like a Sudanese-Ugandan Initiative. Regarding my meeting with the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, it was after the invitation by the Government of Sudan of a number of heads of states of the neighbouring countries interested in the Sudanese affairs. This was at the margins of the closing session of the National Dialogue Conference. I was in the same hotel as the Ugandan President Museveni and as a member of the IGAD organization he had an effective role in the resolution of the crisis in South Sudan in the period 2013-2015. What is important is that we discussed the situation in South Sudan, and during the meeting he asked me whether I would mind if Dr Riek Machar could join the meeting, and my answer to the President was that I wouldn’t mind. So, Riek was ushered in to joine us, and the three of us continued discussing the situation in South Sudan and the new developments since the abrogation of the peace agreement by Salva Kiir.
Q: We never saw any single operation from the forces of the Broad Front against the Juba regime since its inception to the killing of Generals Gabriel Tang and Yoannes Okic, why?
A: First, our correct name is “National Democratic Movement” which is a broad front embracing the sons and daughters of South Sudan that are concerned with the problems facing the country. The first thing we did was to publish our political statement and embarked on creating the objectives conditions for confronting the regime through the dissemination of the political ideas and military action. When Generals Gabriel Tang and Okic were attacked, they were in our Training Centre to train our forces in the field so as to start operations against the regime. However, as the regime has relations with many quarters that attacked these commanders, they did attack so that we do not carry out any military action. But, we are now preparing ourselves patiently and will not be rushed into reckless half-baked operations for the sake of publicity.
Q: Why didn’t you unite with Dr Riek Machar in one front to confront the Juba regime?
A: We have never been one before because we differ in ideas, principles and methods. Although the aim of overthrowing the regime is one, our political objectives are totally different. The questions that arise are: what next after the change of regime? And what are the means of bringing that about?
These are legitimate questions and as such I would like to discuss the basic differences between us and Riek’s Movement which they insist to call “Sudan People’s Liberation Movement- In Opposition”, SPLM-IO. For us, after the secession of South Sudan, Sudan doesn’t need liberation by us. Second, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, SPLM, is responsible for the war now raging in South Sudan, it is responsible for the political, economic and social deterioration now engulfing the country, it is responsible for the non-delivery of the services to the citizens, it is responsible for the famine that hits the South Sudanese, it is responsible for the more than one million refugees that sought sanctuary in the neighbouring countries. This is the first time in our history of civil wars for the refugees to reach a figure of a million. Hence, the SPLM bears the responsibility for the collapse that threatens South Sudan. It is therefore illogical that we who suffered under the tyranny of the SPLM join it or unite with it. It is out of question that we can become part of the SPLM. Third, all these years we did not come across a coherent political programme of Riek’s Movement that you refer to.
On the other hand, we did publicize our political programme and explained in all forums that we are for radical political transformation of the country. The SPLM broaches just cosmetic changes and seeks to reunite as we saw in the Arusha meetings between the three groups. The movement you refer to is one of these factions or groups. I would like to reassure you that we will not unite one day with Salva Kiir because of the differences in political objectives between us. While our Movement was just a month old then we organized an inclusive conference for the Opposition in Nairobi with the objective of unifying the efforts of these forces to confront the Juba regime through coordination and cooperation that may lead to alliance between the various groups. This conference was held on 18-20 August 2016 and came out with resolutions on common positions in all fields of the struggle: political, military, economic, security, etc. and a common vision for the future including the promotion of this dialogue into stronger commitments. This was dubbed as “The Nairobi Consensus”. The group you refer to did not abide by this cooperation and attacked our forces instead, leading to the killing of our two generals: Gabriel Tang and Yoannes Okic.
Q: Are the differences basically between the forces of the broad front and Agwelek forces or with Riek Machar’s Movement?
A: General Johnson Olony as an officer of Riek’s Movement is part and parcel of that Movement. Therefore, we hold Riek’s Movement responsible for what took place regarding the killing of Tang and Okic. In fact, we didn’t expect conflict between us for we thought- and we were mistaken- that we were united by the objective of fighting the regime. Hence, we did not expect a fight between our forces as we were preparing for coordination among us to confront the regime. This is why we established the Training Centre to produce soldiers that can take on the regime, especially at Wadakona garrison which was frequently attacking our forces at Thurumba area and Machar’s forces at Kola area. It was assumed that there would have been joint efforts between us. However, these people came with a force from Kaka and attacked our centre knowing very well that Gabriel Tang didn’t have any trained forces to attack Agwelek forces. This was our first training centre in Upper Nile, but we have forces in big numbers in other States.
Q: But, your forces are accused of making an attempt on the life of General Johnson Olony. How do you respond?
A: This is a baseless lie and fabrication. Johnson Olony is always protected by a big number of tanks, rocket launchers and other weapons. Who in his right mind can think of penetrating such a concrete wall. What was said about us in this regard was nothing more than mere rationalization and excuses to cover up their actions.
Q; Is it possible for you in the near and far future to unite with Agwelek forces?
A: General Johnson Olony is part of the SPLM-IO led by Riek Machar. We do not like to use such terminologies; we should call people by what they call themselves.
Q: The forces of Agwelek mentioned that you have no forces in the area?
A: This is not true. Now, we are present in the area in which the attack took place. We are in a guerrilla warfare and cannot be limited to towns but are in the bushes.
Q: Do you conduct military operations against the government?
A: The forces of Salva Kiir are the ones on offensive now and have not yet reached the areas we control and when they arrive we will definitely engage them in self defence.
Q: Dr Lam Akol from a politician to a military commander?
A: I was both a military commander and politician at the same time since 1986. If you have a political programme you would want to promote and you are not allowed to carry that through because the regime closes all avenues for peaceful action, no alternative is left for you except armed action. I was in Juba when the war took place between the two groups in 2013-2015 and we did not take part in it because we believed in peaceful opposition to the regime. But what did the regime do?
The regime prevented us from taking part in the peace talks, prevented us from leaving Juba to participate in the Addis Ababa talks and prevented us from promoting our ideas in the media despite the fact that we are the second largest political group in Parliament and the Leader of Opposition came from our party. It is a well-established democratic tradition that the official Opposition has the right of reply and debate to the Government’s positions in all forums. This right was denied in Juba. We were denied freedom of expression in public media which we believe do not belong to the government but to the people. At a certain stage, I was put under house arrest and prevented from travel inside and outside South Sudan. I remember when my colleague and friend, Dr Peter Nyot who was formerly Sudan’s Minister of Higher Education around 2005-2006, died in Germany his body was brought to Juba to be taken to Rumbek for burial. I wanted to accompany the body to take part in his final farewell. I was prevented by the security at the airport from travelling. Therefore, the regime in Juba closed all doors for peaceful political opposition for the politicians and journalists. There were many journalists who were harassed, tortured or killed in Juba, and some of them escaped with their skins outside the country. Hence, the regime forced people to look for other means to demand their political rights.
Q: It is reported that there is a connection between Johnson Olony and Taban Deng Gai. Is there any element of truth to this?
A: I do not want to talk about Johnson Olony. But what I definitely know is that since Taban Deng’s schism with Riek Machar, he did not shoot a single bullet against the government. I know his connection and that of his so-called Governor with Taban Deng and Juba. This is not new in the public domain. I told them in a meeting of the three of us and produced to them the documented evidence I had linking them to Taban Deng and Juba. They did not deny my information.
Q: There is emerging a talk that links Pagan Amum with the leaders of Agwelek forces. What is your take on this?
A: We know that the political group with Olony is all from the followers of Pagan Amum. They are the ones controlling political matters within Olony’s group and they are the ones who also influence decisions of Johnson Olony. This is known by keen observers. People in the area know each other. For instance, to which group does Joakino, his Deputy and the brother of Pagan Amum who is the political Aviser, belong? There are also an array of Ministers, Commissioners and Advisers who belong to the same group. This is not a discovery but a clear fact known to all concerned.
Q: In your last visit to Addis Ababa it was reported in the news that you called for an all inclusive conference for all the opposition factions and groups. Tell us about the nature of such a conference.
A: Yes. I did state that the problem of South Sudan cannot be resolved except through an all inclusive dialogue. Of course, Juba doesn’t mean well in what it called for. National Dialogue needs security, stability and peace. Juba talks of a bottom-up National Dialogue, fine. Where is that bottom (base)? Are they the ones in the war zones or in displaced camps or those who sought refuge in neighbouring countries? Therefore, the requirements of a National Dialogue are not available. However, the all inclusive dialogue will be a forum for all stakeholders, armed and unarmed, to stop the war and achieve peace. There was a big mistake committed last time when attention was focused only on those carrying arms. The main objective of the all inclusive dialogue is to address the root causes of the war and to arrive at a sustainable peace, after that it will make sense to talk of national dialogue for all political sectors of the South Sudanese society that will address national issues such as diversity and identity. We are dealing with 64 different ethnic groups, different geographical zones and different ethic tendencies. These people need to discuss so as to arrive at common understandings that will bring them together in the interest of South Sudan. This is what we aim at.
Throughout the history of South Sudan, our unity has been a reaction to our real or perceived enemy. There have never been objective intrinsic elements that united the people. Now, the time has come to ask ourselves as to what future we want for South Sudan. We must get clear and convincing answers outside the shell of the narrow tribalism that is now killing South Sudan. Our thinking should focus on what unites these diverse groups within the map of South Sudan. This calls for an all inclusive dialogue.