Remembering Prolific Lawyer and Shrewd Politician John Luk of SPLA ‘’In his own words and deeds’’

By Deng Vanang,

Justice John Luk Joak, South Sudan's Minister of Justice and Constitutional(Photo credit: supplied)

Justice John Luk Joak, South Sudan’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional(Photo credit: supplied)

June 5, 2020(Nyamilepedia) — In a Nuer youth heated reconciliation meeting around 1999 in the office of his fortnight magazine, South Sudan Post along Adams road, Nairobi, Kenya,, Muolana John requested the erratic rival factions to let Deng Vanang jot down minutes of the meeting for he is a good writer to their affirmative.

The recognition not only encouraged me to propel my infant career in writing he in turn nurtured by purchasing a copy of every book I published either by himself or through his close relative and political confidant, Peter Giel Dawech in his Nairobi home, but also started a low leveled friendship with him.

During the commendable statement I was completely clueless seeing myself eulogizing his colorful life and political career after breathing his last at home in South Sudanese capital Juba on 2nd June, 2020 triggered by cardiac arrest resulting from a prolonged ill-health.

A fairly slim and tall figure who walked with a slight bent, but politically unbowed. Gifted with red lips he constantly wiped with his tongue when raising to put point across. Words of wisdom readily flowed out of his lips when answering friends and foes in serious discussion. For many a man he was in himself: Lawyer, politician, orator, writer and fiery warrior.

John is undeniably to be remembered as one of South Sudan’s eminent personalities of all walks of life whose larger than life image is engraved over decades and decades in the psyche of the populace who will take time to believe he is indeed gone forever.

Family background-1952

Luk was born in Kaibuy, 20 miles West of Akobo township, to an humble rural background in 1952 in Lou Nuer sub-section of Cie-nyak, Akobo County in Jonglei State of Jok Ruac Tiet and Nyamai Wang Bidiet Both. He and two brothers, Yien and Pal have since gone to the Lord, with only one surving elder brother, Lul.

Happily married and survived by two wives: Roda Tito from Maridi and Marry James Gatluak from Akobo, having three children each. Some grown up, rest still below their teens.

Education-1958

Started his journey to education in 1958 at Akobo Mission Elementary school upto Obel II Lower Intermediate where he studied together with renowned personalities in South Sudan.
Among them were medical Doctor Peter Adwok of Nairobi Hospital and Onyoti Adigo Nyikwec, South Sudan’s Minister of Livestock and Fisheries.

Proceeded to Juba Commercial and again to Rumbek Senior Secondary school with flying colors. Rumbek Secondary got closed for political reasons and transferred to Omdurman, Khartoum where he completed in 1969. He then got employed as local government officer from 1970-1971 in Yirol.

Luk scored a gigantic leap to higher academic achievement when he joined Khartoum University, Faculty of Law in 1972 – 1977. Following his graduation he was made Legal Council in the Ministry of Legal Affairs in the autonomous Southern regional government in 1978. In the same year he was nominated to Peoples’ Regional Assembly representing Akobo District up to 1982. In 1982 election he contested and lost to to Pual Anade.

In 1982 he went to study in UK having secured two masters degrees. One in Environmental law at London school of Economics and Political Sciences. And another Masters degree in Mining law at Dundee University, Scotland. Coupled with post-graduate diploma in Petroleum and Revenue management at University of Oslo, Norway. He couldn’t enroll for PhD studies since South Sudanese Students were accused of Sudanese government of clandestinely supporting SPLM/A and scholarships ceased forthwith.

Joining SPLM/A-1984

He transformed his name Luk, a word literally means litigation in his Naath mother tongue, into highly respected law profession defending violated and inalienable rights of his downtrodden South Sudanese people against former oppressor, the Afro-Arab North in the Sudan.

He vigorously pursued through rebellious student politics under the banner of Sudan University Students Association in United Kingdom as its Secretary-General, chaired by Dr. Riek Machar and deputized by Benjamin Bol Akok. The students group changed itself into political entity, assuming the name Sudan Revolutionary Congress {RSC} that joined SPLM/A in 1984. After Bol got detained as representative of SPLM/A in UK by Garang on a visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Luk doubled as acting representative and movement’s official Spokesman.

He continued fighting in different dugged deep trenches while challenging some of SPLM/A’s bad policies, but virtually remained the same revered John Luk of SPLA, pointing to an enduring legacy attested to his past successful defense of the liberation movement in its formative years as first Spokesman.

He came to Ethiopia for military training in Bonga in 1987, commissioned captain above shield due to his towering political stature and deployed to the field as judicial officer in Eastern Equatoria in 1988 and later Waat in 1989. Dr. Garang sent him back to London to continue with the assignment as both representative and official Spokesman of the SPLM/A.
Until he switched side from Garang’s Torit faction to Machar’s Nasir faction following the declaration on August 28th 1991 of latter’s ouster from leadership. Trio making the declaration were Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon, Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin Agoongdit and CDR Gordon Koang Chuol Kulang.

He co-founded first ever SPLM/A faction magazine named Southern Sudan Vision to advance self-determination Nasir faction championed. When asked by popular Robin White in a BBC focus on Africa interview as to why Nasir faction claimed to have ousted Garang who still maintained the title SPLM/A leader, Luk simply replied: ‘’Nilotic culture dictates a man traditional retains the bull’s name even after the bull is long dead, a clear pointer to his sense of tact and humor.’’

Frankfurt deal-1992

Went on to be member of the Nasir delegation led by Dr. Lam Akol in January 1992 met Khartoum government delegation headed by Dr. Ali Alhaj Mohammed in Frankfurt, culminating in partial agreement slated to grant Southern region Self-determination, which two Dinka members {Tellar Ring Deng and Dengtiel Kur} of the negotiating delegation termed as naked sellout and quit the group in an utmost rage.

The same Frankfurt secret agreement’s ghost caused strain in previously cordial relationship between Dr. Machar and Dr. Lam Akol leading to mistrust and subsequent dismissal of the latter from SPLM/A-United faction by the former in early February, 1994.
In late 1994 he parted ways with Machar he accused of being a lone ranger in making wrong miscalculations on which he later refuses to be blamed. He and Gordon Koang Chol got detained by Machar the same year in Nasir on charges of plotting a coup against his leadership. They were shortly pardoned, released afterwards and reconciled with him.

Founding SSIM/A II-1995

Patience ran out again when he, Dr. Peter Adwok Nyaba and Maker Benjamin Bil Lual announced in Chester house, Nairobi to have toppled Machar as leader of SSIM/A in late 1995, blaming Machar for rubbishing Lafon declaration touted as the best bet in re-uniting Garang’s SPLM/A and his SSIM/A. CDR William Nyuon Bany was new replacement of Machar.

Before the announcement of the coup turned ugly split and Uncle Nyuon hit the ground running into the grave in the then Southern Sudan killing fields, my good friend Gai Thurbil took me in the afternoon to Gatbany’s rental home at South-B estate, Nairobi where I sat and ate with him a Biblical last Supper for the first and last time.
In his usual element, he was restless with hands up gestures and a humorous man of his words and action he was. He kept engaging directly late Thurbil he repeatedly referred to as his nephew {sister’s son} as he emphasized his determination to fight ‘’Tut-dhoali’’ or bull boys this year, an indirect reference to Machar residing in Kileleshwa with hardcore loyalists, mainly from his {Nyuon} Fangak Nuer section, he sarcastically called potatoes-eating clique without naming names.

Alluding to the future uphill battle to uproot Machar from Nuer leadership and which truly materialized, Gatbany told us like he said to many pointblank he would fight Machar and if rendered powerless, he would be better off being a mad man torching Nuer homesteads supporting Machar in Southern Sudan.

When meeting him in his Nairobi home at Lavington neighborhood in March 2018, Luk revisited the dark episode down the memory lane and told me if Machar were a politically shrewd strategist he could be the President of an independent Republic of South Sudan today.

Because to him, Lafon declaration was a sure Riek’s lifeline when he was still militarily powerful and desperately sought after by Garang to get back onto the SPLM/A’s fold as deputy to the former he could have succeeded following his deadly helicopter crash and not Salva Kiir Mayardit.

He further explained the reason FDs leaders including him turned down Tabang Deng Gai’s request to join SPLM/A-IO which fought for their release. He volunteered to say 2013 crisis was a political problem demanding political solution and not bloody armed struggle Machar and group are waging against Kiir’s government. Absolutely right he was since eventually it is peaceful settlement that won the day with Machar returning to deputize Kiir than violent ouster of the latter.

Return to SPLM/A-1996

Overpowered after CDRs William Nyuon, Manyiel Kueth and Koang Banypiny’s killing in confrontation with Machar’s SSIM/SSIA in 1996, Luk humbly rejoined unbeatable Garang’s SPLM/A. Garang appointed him to the position of Secretary for Information and Culture. Relieved and transferred to SPLM/A’s Peace Desk.

Cracked thereafter developed in relationship with Garang rendering him redundant, but propelled him to a new flourishing adventure of journalism career when he founded Southern Sudan Post Magazine in 1999 chronicling events of war against Sudanese government and Southern Sudanese inter-factional politics.

He returned to liberation politics occasioned by Nuers’ attempt to build a movement parallel to John Garang’s Dinka dominated SPLM/A on the request of Americans concerned by heightened ideological and ethnic rivalry destructive to South Sudanese political future between Garang in the bush and Machar in Khartoum, implementing unimplementable peace deal with Omar Hassen Al-bashir’s led National Islamic Front’s junta.

The short lived movement and christened Upper Nile Provisional Military Command Council {UPMCC} brought together opposing Nuer splintered factions on 4th November, 1999. The movement later broke up into two, one under CDR Peter Bol Koang Nguth, a Machar’s loyalist and another renamed SSLM/A under the Chairmanship of Dr. Michael Wal Duany, an american University Professor in Political Sciences and Adviser to Dr. Riek Machar of UDSF, a coalition of signatory Southern Sudanese factions including SSIM/SSIA to the Khartoum Peace Agreement of 1997-2005.

Soon irreconcilable differences arose between him and Dr. Wal, a fellow Lou Nuer in Akobo County from which they both hailed and reconciled with Garang who appointed him to the membership of newly established Upper Nile Task Force Chaired by Uncle Philip Obang.

The Task Force under the sponsorship of US’ funded Star Program became the straw breaking the back of Machar’s SPDF, a movement he formed after jumping off the sinking chip of Khartoum Peace Agreement in late December, 1999.

SPLM/A Re-unification-2002

South Sudan minister of East African Affairs John Luk Jok (Photo credit: Unknown)

The Upper Nile Task Force of which Luk was the prominent member participated in the final re-unification of John Garang’s SPLM/A and Riek Machar’s SPDF on January 6th,2002 that prompted Lam Akol’s SPLM/A-united and Dr. Theophilus Ochang Lotti ‘s Equatoria Defense Force to follow suit.

He became legal Adviser to John Garang in a team that successfully negotiated CPA which led to the independence of South Sudan in 2011 after nearly half a century of conflict with Afro-arab North successive regimes in Khartoum.

The prolific Lawyer and shrewd politician was indeed a rare breed of politician who scaled the heights of politics by sheer intelligence, trustworthiness and hard work than via popular support and neither gun-wielded dictate nor cronyism. Being the reason he nearly missed the nomination to parliament thanks to Thomas Duoth Guet’s pleading with Lou Nuer politicians and elders not to leave Luk out in a landmark political transition in history of South Sudan in particular and Sudan in general.

He had to thank as well late Uncle Bidiit Deang, popularly known as Bidiit Rialchar, who vacated parliamentary seat in Juba for him and went to Jonglei State Assembly in September, 2005.

The great save came after Luk turned down President Kiir nomination he saw as demotion to TGONU in Khartoum to deputize as State Minister of Energy and Mining Awad Ahmed El-Jaz, an Arab colleague who in student days politics of 1970s at Khartoum University hit him in the face, causing much visible scar on his forehead.

His former nemesis, Dr. Machar bailed him out of the embarrassment of deputizing an enemy with whom he never reconciled. Machar persuaded Kiir to appoint him as a cabinet Minister of Youth and Sports, a lackluster post he embraced despite public disapproval of it by the Nuer community and in particular Reverence Mathew Mathiang who asked him whether he should be congratulated or condoled shortly after Presbyterian congregation Sunday service following Saturday government formation in Juba. A question he swiftly answered by saying do as you like. He afterwards made Kiir build trust and confidence in him which saw him head one influential Ministry after another.

Mid-term elections-2010

He for the first time in his long political career contested in 2010 election, losing a parliamentary seat on the lucrative ticket of ruling SPLM of which he was the member of its highest decision-making organ, Political Bureau to an independent candidate he refused to rig out as was the ruling SPLM government’s normal norm countrywide at the time, a resolve attributed to his strong ethical values and entrenched cardinal principles he espoused. A loss pundits linked to sustained political shadow boxing with Machar suspected of having supported his local political rival, Timothy Taban Juc who won the hotly contested seat. His indispensability and maturity soon prevailed in South Sudanese politics after President Kiir appointed him Minister of Legal Affairs.

The alleged underground rivalry came to the open surface in Nuer politics when Kiir assigned him the honorable task to head the team that drafted the interim constitution of South Sudan {2011} which awarded Kiir the overwhelming authoritative powers, while indirectly clipping constitutional powers and privileges of Vice President who was none other than Machar in the run up to the independence proclamation in July the same year.

South-South civil war-2013

The constitutional document he midwifed was later blamed for causing 15th December 2013 he regretted and apologized to South Sudanese masses for forgiveness in October, 2014. The resultant massacre of his Nuer ethnic group’s members almost claimed his dear life in treasonous detention after he and Vice President among others fell out with President Kiir and summarily dismissed them from first independence cabinet on 23rd July, 2013.

Later released with his colleagues who included SPLM Secretary-General, Pagan Amum Okiech and SPLA’s Chief of General Staff, General Oyai Deng Ajak owing to grim lack of evidence in Supreme court of South Sudan into exile under friendly patronage of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Muolana Luk was finally re-instated to the cabinet in April, 2016 as Minister of Transport and who again on March 12th 2020 bagged the docket of East African Affairs Ministry in reconstituted cabinet where till his untimely demise did a commendable job in leaving behind a shining legacy worth remembering.

Deng Vanang, a friend to Muolana John Luk Jok and family, is an author and UDRM/A’s Secretary-General and member of SSOMA Leadership Council. He can be reached through his email at dvanang@gmail.com


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