Contributor's Daniel Wuor Joak

The Rise and Fall of SPLM/A Leadership by Late Daniel Wuor Joak

By Daniel Wuor Joak,


April 21st, 2018(Nyamilepedia) — Major General Sadiq El Bana planned to attack the mutinying soldiers in the three garrisons of Bor, Pochalla and Pibor but this did not take place until May 16, 1983 when he ordered his forces from Juba to attack. Major Kerubino Kuanyin Bol led the mutinous soldiers at Bor while Captain David Riek Machuoc led the soldiers at Pibor and Pochalla respectively. Both leaders were veteran and battle hardened Anya Nya Freedom Fighters who had participated in the 17 year war between Southern Sudan and Northern Sudan. That particular war had began with the Torit Mutiny on August 18, 1955 and ended with the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement on February 27, 1972.

On May 16, 1983, the mutinous soldiers in Battalion 105, stationed at Bor and composed mostly of ex-Anya Nya troops, were attacked by government troops after continuing to refuse to be transferred to Northern Sudan. The government soldiers were deliberately sent from Juba in order to put down the rebellion at their garrison at Malek outside Bor town.

Around this time, Colonel John Garang, a senior army officer in the Sudanese army supposedly went to Bor to placate the 500 Southern Sudan government soldiers in battalion 105 who were resisting being relocated to Northern Sudan. However, Garang was reportedly already part of a conspiracy to arrange for the defection of battalion 105 to the anti-government rebels who were predominantly Anya Nya II Freedom Fighters.

Consequently, when the fighting in Bor took place, Colonel John Garang was already in the area so the only option left for him was to join the mutinying soldiers who were heading towards the Ethiopian border. He took a different route to join them in the rebel stronghold in Ethiopia. That time, Colonel John Garang finally left the town of Bor to join the mutinying soldiers and Anya Nya II rebels already located at the Ethiopian border. His wife Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior, their two sons Mabior and Chol, Maker Deng Malou and Chigai Atem accompanied him. The group used a small Land Rover owned by CCI Company and traveled through the road linking Bor – Kongor – Duk Padiet – Yuai – Waat – Khor Nyanding up to Nyangore on the western bank of the Sobat River. However, their car broke down on the way at Nyangore village and they left it on the bank of the Sobat River (Wei Dengnyang) which is opposite Ulang town.

The car was later recovered and taken to Ulang by the Sudanese Armed Forces stationed at the garrison. Because the Sudanese government was concerned and worried about John Garang’s defection, they urgently dispatched a helicopter to search all the directions Colonel Garang and his associates could have used. The local Nuer did their level best to hide them throughout their journey until Marol, a small village located on Ethiopian territory. On their arrival at Marol, they met Samuel Gai Tut and Akuot Atem de Mayan at the Anya Nya II Mobile station. After that, they made contact with the Ethiopian authorities who flew them by helicopter to Addis Ababa.

The large groups of university and high school students that escaped from Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile Province in 1982 and joined the Anya Nya II rank and file at Bilpam in Ethiopia were still in Ethiopia when John Garang arrived. You will recall that their ringleaders were Lakurnyang Lado, Pagan Amum Okiech, Yien Thong Riang, Nyachigak Nyachuluk, Nyatipling, Oyai Deng Ajak, James Hoth Mai and others. They had remained at the Anyanya II bases in Ethiopia until this rebellion at Bor, Pibor, Ayod and Pochalla took place on May 16 1983. As stated previously, in future years, some of the above mentioned names would become the leaders of the SPLM/SPLA in the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS).

Less than a month later on June 5, 1983, Major William Nyuon Bany and his supporters at Ayod mounted another mutiny. President Nimeiri had attempted the same deceptive technique he tried on the mutineers at Bor. That time, he secretly ordered the Northern Sudanese soldiers in Malakal to arrest Major William Nyuon Bany and his supporters because his loyalty was doubted. However, before they could execute their orders from President Nimeiri, the government soldiers from Northern Sudan were killed in large numbers by Major William Nyuon’s forces at Ayod. There was only one survivor to report the events of the mutiny at Ayod to the army headquarters in Malakal. Major William Nyuon Bany then made his way to Ethiopia to join the other Southern Sudanese groups that were now stationed there.

Upon arrival, he met some prominent future Southern Sudanese politicians and senior army officers who were already at Itang refugee camp. Among them were Akuot Atem de Mayan, Samuel Gai Tut, Joseph Oduho, Martin Majier Gai, Colonel John Garang de Mabior, William Chuol Deng, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Ngor Machiek, Major Arok Thon Arok, Major Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, Captain Salva Kiir Mayardit, Captain David Riek Machuoc, Gabriel Gany Juoch, Captain David Bediet Deng, Moses Malek Chol, Gatjiek Wei, Elijah Yong Kier and several others. All these prominent Southern Sudanese figures came together and formed the “SUDAN PEOPLE’S LIBERATION MOVEMENT AND SUDAN PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY (SPLM/SPLA)”.

As the mutinying soldiers of Bor, Pochalla and Pibor began regrouping with other disgruntled Southern Sudanese who had joined forces in Ethiopia; President Nimeiri continued implementing policies that went against the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement of 1972. In June 1983, he unconstitutionally declared and actualized the re-division of Southern Sudan into three mini regions. As a result, he abrogated the Addis Ababa Accord of 1972, which he personally signed in order to bring the war in Southern Sudan to an end. Within the same period, Nimeiri appointed Joseph Lagu as his 2nd Vice President, having dismissed his long time friend and close associate, Abel Alier, who held that position from September 1971 to 1983. At that time, President Nimeiri dissolved the People’s Regional Assembly and the High Executive Council and then he appointed new governors for the newly created three Southern regions of Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazal.

The three appointed governors were Joseph James Tombura, the last President of the High Executive Council of the Southern Region who was appointed governor of Equatoria, Daniel Koat Matthews, who was appointed governor of Upper Nile and Dr. Lawrence Wol Wol who was appointed governor of Bahr El Ghazal. Meanwhile, President Nimeiri specifically ordered the detention of some prominent Southern Sudanese politicians who opposed the re-division of Southern Sudan into three regions. Because of their opposition to the re-division, he accused them of allegedly collaborating with the Anya Nya II rebels who had intensified their military operations in various parts of Upper Nile Province. Among those detained were Matthew Obur Ayang, Speaker of the People’s Regional Assembly and Dhol Acuil Aleu, Vice President of the High Executive Council to Joseph James Tombura. Matthew Obur was a former Minister of Education and Guidance and he was also the last Speaker of the People’s Regional Assembly in Juba in 1983.

The re-division of the Southern Sudan into three fragile regions as a result of the Presidential Decree of June 1983 was intended by President Nimeri to weaken Southern Sudanese unity, trust and confidence among themselves and it appears to have succeeded. It is an open secret that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLM/SPLA) was a direct product of the Anya Nya II Movement. Established in an area controlled by Anya Nya II, the SPLA drew its first recruits from former members of Anya Nya II. Consequently, the first three SPLA Battalions of Tiger, Crocodile and Buffalo were predominately former Anya Nya II members and the other two battalions of 104 and 105 comprised of former government soldiers who mutinied in Bor, Pibor, Ayod, Pochalla and Wangkei districts in Southern Sudan. It is also to be recalled that between 1983 and 1985, about 80% of the SPLA combat units were mainly from the Nuer ethnic group. Consequently, the fact that the majority of SPLA combatants came from the Nuer tribe indicated that the split that took place in subsequent years within the Southern Sudanese movement the SPLM/SPLA was political rather than ethnic rivalry between the Nuer and the Dinka tribes. It was a struggle for power by opposing groups in the movement.

During the process of forming the SPLM/SPLA, Anya Nya II leader Commander Vincent Kuany Latjor and his Deputy Commander Gordon Koang Chol were invited to take part in the meeting. At the end of the meeting, the leaders overwhelmingly elected Mr. Akuot Atem, a former Minister of Public Service and Manpower in the Southern Regional Government as the chairman of the newly established movement the SPLM/SPLA.

The other important positions were to be occupied as follows:

Samuel Gai Tut was to head Defence, Joseph Oduho was elected to head Foreign Affairs, Martin Majier Gai was elected to head Legal Affairs, Colonel John Garang was elected as the Chief of Staff and William Chuol Deng was elected as his deputy. However, Colonel Garang objected that a politician should not head the the SPLM/SPLA Movement and thus he rejected the outcome of these elections. Joseph Oduho, Martin Majier, William Nyuon, Kerubino Kuanyin, Arok Thon, Francis Ngor and Salva Kiir supported Colonel Garang’s position. The reasons why Colonel Garang and his group rejected the election of Akuot Atem who hailed from the same ethnic group with him were very clear because they were the same differences that the Southern Sudanese people had experienced in the past under Abel Alier and Joseph Lagu in the Southern Sudan Regional Government. These differences also surfaced in the bush during the formation of the SPLM/SPLA.

Colonel Garang did not want to be led by Akuot Atem and Gai Tut simply because they belonged to a different political grouping. Gai Tut, Akuot Atem and William Chuol Deng were always ardent supporters of Joseph Lagu while Colonel Garang and his supporters were known to be Abel Alier’s supporters when they were still inside Sudan. Despite the fact that the Southern Sudanese founders of the SPLM/SPLA popularly elected Akuot Atem to lead the new movement, the Ethiopian government under the leadership of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam decided to back Colonel Garang. President Mengistu had many reasons for supporting Garang. For one, Colonel Garang’s aim and objective was to create a secular system based on equality for all Sudanese. He wanted a united Sudan and not an independent South Sudan. Another factor was that Colonel Garang was a soldier who embraced the Marxists ideology as the basic principle of his movement. On the other hand, Akuot and Gai’s group wanted total independence for South Sudan.

If they were to achieve their goal, they would have to seek and win support from the OAU (Organization of African Unity) member states. This was a difficult task because of the fact that the OAU did not encourage secessionist movements in the continent. It has been speculated that Colonel Mengistu’s support for Colonel Garang might also have been due to the fact that both were military men. It is important to note that while supporting Colonel Garang, Colonel Mengistu had his own problems to sort out at home. For example, the Eritrea separatist movement in Northern Ethiopia was fighting for its people’s inalienable right for self-determination. Of interest was also the fact that while Ethiopia under Colonel Mengistu was supporting the SPLA of Colonel John Garang to achieve its goal in Sudan, the Sudanese government was aiding the Eritrea People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), the Ethiopia People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). All of these movements were opposing Colonel Mengistu’s leadership in Ethiopia.

As the SPLM/SPLA began building its structures and operations under the leadership of Colonel John Garang, Anya Nya II forces continued their military operations in Southern Sudan. They managed to overrun the government garrisons of Wangkei in August 1983. In the meantime, the relationship between the SPLM/SPLA now under Colonel Garang and the Anya Nya II movement disintegrated leading to a schism that would be characterized by unprecedented treachery and bloodshed among Southern Sudanese fighting forces. For example, upon request from Colonel Garang, the Ethiopian Security organs attempted to arrest Akuot Atem whom John Garang forcibly replaced as the leader of the SPLM/SPLA, Samuel Gai Tut, William Chuol Deng, Moses Malek Chol, Gabriel Gany Juoch, Bol Kiir Diew, Gatjiek Wei and many others at Itang Refugee Camp where many Southern Sudanese forces were stationed. In order to avoid the arrest, in early August 1983, Akuot and Gai Tut with their supporters escaped and went back to Sudan. They did not want to confront either the Ethiopian security personnel or Colonel Garang’s supporters. When the Ethiopian security failed to arrest Akuot and Gai Tut, Colonel Garang asked them to attack the Anya Nya II headquarters at Bilpam again. In the meantime, President Nimeiri continued with policies that completely went against the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972.

On September 24, 1983, President Nimeiri introduced Islamic Sharia Law or “September Laws”. By doing this, the secular laws that had governed Sudan since her independence from Britain under the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium were abrogated. For the first time, Sudan became an Islamic state being governed under Sharia Penal Code. Nimeiri’s new laws completely ignored the fact that Sudan is a multi religious and multicultural society. Meanwhile, there were more forced transfers of Southern Sudanese soldiers stationed in different garrisons in Southern Sudan to Northern Sudan and later to fight alongside Iraq against Iran which continued to cause dissent alongside the schism between the SPLM/SPLA and the Anya Nya II forces.

In the middle of October 1983, Ethiopian troops and Colonel Garang’s supporters led by Lieutenant Colonel William Nyuon Bany mounted a joint attack against Anya Nya II forces. As a result, several Anya Nya II soldiers were killed in action at Bilpam which is about 40 kilometers from Itang Refugee Camp. Commander Duac Taytay, a senior commander of Anya Nya II was gunned down and captured alive by Colonel Garang’s supporters. He was later executed by firing squad. This is how the differences among the Southern Sudanese fighting groups of the SPLA and Anya Nya II emerged. After that battle, the Anya Nya II lost Bilpam to Colonel Garang’s loyalists and decided to go back to Sudan where they joined Akuot and Gai Tut’s group. However, after the Anya Nya II left Ethiopia, Colonel Garang and his group began accusing one of their supporters, 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Kiir Tang of collaborating with Anya Nya II forces. His only crime was that when he left Bor for Ethiopia together with other mutinying soldiers at Bor, he was the one in charge of administration. On arriving in Ethiopia the mutinying soldiers from Bor, Pibor and Pochalla had handed over all their military hardware to the Anya Nya II headquarters at Bilpam because they were not allowed to take them into the refugee camp at Itang.

As mentioned earlier, soon afterwards, Colonel Garang’s supporters mounted an attack on Bilpam, the Anya Nya II headquarters but failed to obtain the military hardware stored there. They eventually executed Joseph Kiir Tang by firing squad despite the fact that he was not acting in isolation. He was carrying out his duties in consultation with his superior officers including Kerubino Kuanyin, William Nyuon and Colonel John Garang himself but they executed him nonetheless. From its very inception and ideologically speaking, the SPLM/SPLA basically adopted a Soviet-style model of dictatorial leadership similar in structure to that of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. Colonel Garang and his associates were running the movement in an authoritarian way which victimized and suppressed anyone suspected as an opponent within and outside the movement including innocent civilians.

 BUY AND READ THE WHOLE BOOK HERE: The Rise and Fall of SPLM/A Leadership

The author is the former MP and minister of education in Upper Nile state, political activist, and executive director of African Centre for Human Advocacy (ACHA). He is also the author of the Rise and Fall of SPLM/SPLA Leadership, which is available at www.amazon.com and author of the upcoming book with the title “SOUTH SUDAN: Truth must be told”.

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