Dak Buoth Opinion

SPLA Disbanded: A Last Nail On John Garang’s Coffin

By Dak Buoth,


May 18, 2017 (Nyamilepedia) —— On 16th May each year, we commemorate the inception of the defunct Sudan Peoples’ liberation Army (SPLA) on 16th May in 1983. However, on this 16th day of May 2017, the President of South Sudan Salva Kiir formally disbanded the same and formed what he calls the South Sudan Defense forces (SSDF) to be the official name of South Sudan Army forces.

The disbandment of the SPLA opened a new chapter in our nation history. On the other hand, it is the last nail on Dr. John Garang’s coffin. As we take a new path and or exit from this dusty era, I felt oblige to go memory lane and jot down what I heard and experienced in as far as our political history is concerned. The aim is to urge compatriots to continue grappling with these recurring challenges and successes in our national endeavors.

They say ‘the simple way of losing sight of where you are going is by losing sight of where you are coming from’. The journey to South Sudan independent is a tall tale worth telling in styles. At the very onset I can describe it as journey of pain and resilience. It was a gigantic revolutionary struggle that has involved numerous combative personnel of all walks of life. These unwavering freedom fighters include among others: Armed soldiers, chief, magicians, musicians, peasants, politicians, historians, scholars and clergies of various denominations to mention but a few. I believe vast majority in our midst will attest to the fact that it was not a walk in the park. It is true that many comrades have fallen down, and the rest have risen up again and again to do what was desirable for us and the next generations to come.

In event someone ask: what was this arduous clamor for? The answer is crystal clear that it was quest for freedoms, political pluralism, rule of law and constitutionalism and so on and so forth. It must always be remember that everyone in South Sudan is champion of this struggle in his or her own right. In this regards, I cannot rate any of the aforesaid players ahead of the other in term of their roles that brought South Sudan’s independence to fruition on 9th July 2011. I must say that it was concerted efforts for each one of us has played a significant role in one way or the other. To prove this narrative rights, allow me to paraphrase what Ugandan’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni said in April 2017 during his meeting with South Sudan’s Former political detainees led by Mrs. Rebecca Nyandeng: that South Sudan seceded from Sudan due to collective supports its received from its people, region; and by extension the larger international community.

In all our liberation stories that have been put to the fore, both written and verbal, there is one fundamental and dominant voice whose mantra being: the secession of Southern Sudan: Over fifty or so years, the people of Southern Sudan had expressed desire to establish their own administration led by native sons and daughters. This followed the enormous frustration and anguish they went through during years of brutal colonial rule. In the early days, the Southern Sudanese considered both British and Arabs colonialists as one and the same; they believed the duo are mere detractors and imperialists lots who assume that Africans, in general, are primitives and uncivilized. It is irrefutable that these colonialists were beneficiaries of the slave trade. The Arabs traders were known for selling Africans men and women to work without pay in the European plantations, and this was how the likes of St. Bakhita found themselves in Rome where she died.


On 18th August 1955, the Southern Sudanese leaders submitted a petition to the imperial British regime asking them to partition Sudan into two parts: Southern and Northern Sudan. Their rationales for demanding the secession include inter alia: that Sudan is too huge to be governed under one administration; that Africans and Arabs cannot live peacefully because of their antagonistic history. Unfortunately, the imperial regime ignored their legitimate demand. To add insults to injury, when colonialists left Sudan in 1956, they erred by handing over power to an Arab man Mr. Ismail Al-Azhari who then became the first President of Sudan. As matter of fact, the decision to hand over political power to Mr. Ismail was unjust and sheer act of provocation. Justifiably, the imperial regime could have partition the country or hand-over state power to the black majority when they leave. Had they not disobey our leaders’ advice, I’m sure we would have not loss the two million people who died later during 60 years of struggle for independent.

Subsequently, the Southern Sudanese communities openly refused to takes part in the so-called 1956 independent celebration on ground that they cannot be second-class citizens in their own country. They declared ‘‘not yet Uhuru’’ as uncle Jaramogi Oginga of Kenya alluded to in his memoirs.


After the blatant rejection of partition appeal, the Southern Sudanese made it abundantly clear that they would still battle it out against the Arabs traders who inherited Sudan. They remain defiance and vowed to fight for their own independent like never before. At this point, the mobilization started in earnest. They thronged into thick bushes and formed the ‘South Sudan Resistance movement’ (SSRM) against the Khartoum based regime. And in 1963, they rebranded and divided this movement into military and political wings. Its military wing became known as the ‘Anya nya’ meaning the deadly poison; and its political wing became known as the Southern Sudan liberation movement (SSLM), and Hon. Joseph Lagu was installed as its overall Chairman. In 1972, the Anya nya under the stewardship of Joseph Lagu signed first Peace Agreement with the 4th President of Sudan Jaafer Muhammed Nemeiri who ascended to the throne through military coup in 1969. This agreement was negotiated by King Haile Selassie in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. Relative calm followed before the peace was dishonored by Jaafer Nemeiri when he imposed the Sharia law in 1983.


It should be noted and appreciated that the 1972 peace accord was not unanimously accepted by all Southern Sudanese stakeholders. Soon some disgruntle and military dissidents mainly from the Nuer tribes violently declared their objection to the Joseph Lagu and Jaafer Nemeiri peace accord saying that it did not guaranteed the full independence of Southern Sudan. They bolted out and formed Anya Nya two in the same year. They first pitch tent in Bilpam, the present Headquarters of defunct Sudan Peoples’ liberation movement(SPLA). The Pioneers of Anya Nya two were the likes of Vinceny KuanyLatjor, Akot Atem, Samuel Gai Tut, Paulino MatipNhial, Tito Biel Chuor and Paul Dor Lampuor just to mentioned but a few.


On or about 1983, President JaaferNemeiri imposed sharia law in Sudan. The unilateral decision to imposed sharia laws rendered the 1972 agreement dead. This weird autocratic move attracted the ire of so many elites. However, Joseph Lagu opted to remain inside Khartoum. He is living betrayer, and this was where South Sudanese stop trusting him up to date. The enactment of sharia laws prompted numerous defections from Southern Sudanese elites. In the same year, the likes of John Garang break-away. At first, Dr. Garang was coming as messenger sent by President Jaafer Nemeiry to persuade the people to abandonthe rebellion. On his arrival in the Southern Sudan, he does the obvious; instead of convincing the rebels, he joined the armed struggle. Nonetheless, the coming of John Garang created a paradigm shift in the all South Sudanese political landscape. He came and injected another political narrative which contradicts the historical political ideal of the forefathers and foremothers. He became the only native son who attempted to object the secession idea but in vain. He argued meticulously: that Sudan must remain intact; that the Sudan must be made secular and democratic where political pluralism is exercise and allow to takes shape; that there should be equality and fairness in the distribution and disbursement of public wealth; and that people of all races, creed and ethnicities be accorded same treatment so as to coexist harmoniously. Not everybody found his new version as gospel truth. His idea was misconstrued to mean he wanted to lure Southerners to rejoin the Khartoum monolithic regime again as done by Joseph Lagu in 1972.

John Garang’s idea of new Sudan was fiercely rejected both in Southern Sudan and in the Northern Sudan Sudan. The successive Khartoum regimes always refuse to embrace the idea of united Sudan. Many would concur that Sudan is divided country. And as we converse today, still the regime in Khartuom continue to rule the country with an iron fist backed by sharia law that was meant to oppress other none Arabs communities in Darfur and across Nuba Mountain.

Nonetheless, Dr. Garang never gave up, he insisted.However, he was met with fierce opposition on both sides. Alternatively, he first resolved to deal with the secessionists before taking President Jaafer head on. John Garang plotted to eliminate key secession stalwart called Samuel Gai Tut who hails from Lou Nuer. He went and sought the help of Ethiopian President Mengistu Haile Mariam. By then, the duo are communist leaning. Recently, John Kamau penned in his article entitled ‘‘ Amin, Soviet link to pokot arms race’’ says ‘‘Haile Mariam would later in 1983 become the conduit of small arms into South Sudan as the soviets backed John Garang’s new outfit, Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA). While John Garang was not a communist, his soviet backing was part of an old soviet strategy to bring the entire north-east Africa under communist-style regimes’’ At that time, Col. Mengistu considered Garang as potential communist ally in East Africa, and he cannot wait seeing him becoming President of Sudan. It was due to his communist leaning that Garang’s movement got overwhelming support from Fidel Castro and Col. Mumar Gadafi just to mentioned by a few

In the 1984, John Garang did manage to corner Samuel Gai and his proponents at a placed known as Thiajak. They killed him alongside 200 civilians. I must say that the barbaric killing of Samuel Gai Tut is the cause of bad blood and animosity between the Nuer and the Dinka up to date. Before the untimely death of Samuel Gai Tut, the Dinka and Nuer were walking and crawling side by side in their quest for freedom; and they were referring to themselves as ‘Gatnyaruop and Gatnyatuoi. Dinka call Nuer the latter and Nuer call Dinka the former. Prior to this event, there were only few selective cases perpetuated by cattle rustler over grazing fields. If John Garang was wise enough he could try first to dialogue with those who opposed him and his ideal instead of using to eliminations method as first step.

An old adage says ‘‘I wish my enemy long life so that s/he can witnessed my success’’. It is common and normal to fight political opponent but it is not recommendable to thrash him to a point of taking away his life.

The successful annihilation of Samuel Gai and company became breath of fresh air to John Garang. He began to hold his political grip on the Sudan peoples’ liberation movement (SPLM). Notwithstanding what he did in Thiajak, the entire Nuer community accorded him an immense support. He enjoys eight uninterrupted years to try his luck and achieve SPLM/A objectives. John Garang tried to pursue the United-Sudan dream by all means. In fact, many people gave him the benefit of doubt. The civil population accorded him overwhelming supports to an extent that he was even permitted to recruit soldiers in all parts of Southern Sudan.

With this warm reception, John Garang never thought for an hour that Samuel Gai’s death would haunt him one day. I believe he never imagines or conceives if there could be any single secessionist elements within the SPLA; and especially those who did not like the manner in which Samuel Gai was murdered. Perhaps he thought it was minor political error which cannot regenerate any retributive action on him.

For good eight years, SPLM never delivered any of its objectives despite immense support it’s received. They were just dragging their feet. They were just roaming in the Southern Sudan instead of moving toward the Capital Khartoum which is the seat of the regime.

The failure of SPLM/A caused unprecedented frustrations and despair within the movement and among the civil populations; and this stagnation led people to retract in their thinking; they soon recall the stain separatist leader Samuel Gai; each one began to thinks, hah I wish we were fighting for secession under Akot Atem and Samuel Gai, we would have achieved our independent from Sudan.

The frustrations within SPLM/A kept mounting day and night, however, those who raised hard questions on the same were either incarcerated or made to disappear mysteriously. Senior commanders the like Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, and Paulino Matip Nhial and others were placed behind bars. As time progress, people began to see John Garang as a ruthless dictator who should be dethroned.


In the late 1980s two themes became dominance, one being that Garang was dictator who managed SPLM/A as his own party and that he was an obstacle to the independent of Southern Sudan. These points were received with mix reactions; some picked them as gospel truth. They say ‘no smoke without fire’’

A few others dismissed such claims as propaganda peddled by disgruntle officers with view to malign Garang’s name. As these shenanigans were taking shape, plots to execute coup against Garang were advancing in speed within SPLM/A rank and file. Soon, the death of Samuel Gai was revived with view to raise and inflame peoples’ emotions. The coup plotters were high ranking officers, and I understood that Dr. Lam Akol was the ring leader. They planned to get rid of John Garang, and erase his new Sudan vision altogether with a view to reinvigorate a fight for secession agenda.

I think the 1991 coup plotters must have leaked the first information that Mengistu Mariam was going to be overthrown that year in 1991. As such, they planned to ignite their coup concurrently or shortly after the event. I believe the coup plotters could not orchestrate a coup against John Garang if Mengistu was still in Power; otherwise, the case of Samuel Gai would replicate itself on them. One of my colleague who was at Pinyindu Refugee camps told me in march 2017 that Dr. Riek Machar and Salva Kiir went to visit them months before the coup took place; he told them at parade that things were going to be difficult later in the year 1991; that be on look out and stayed vigilant; that you be prepared for tough times; and that later if one get one eye of maize cop, let him share it with his colleague.

In August 1991, the coup did happen as planned. They announced in the town of Nasir that John Garang had been ousted. They soon changed the slogan, and their mantra became ‘the Southern Sudan independence’. I heard that Riek Machar became its leader by virtue that he hail from Nuer community who happened to be the majority; and that Lam Akol refused to lead the new movement for fear that his Shilluk community might be targeted by Dinka yet they are the minority. This split was marred by retaliatory attacks between rival communities. The Lou Nuer went and revenged their son’s killing from Dinka Bor where John Garang hails from. It resulted to the death of nearly two thousand civilians. Some Nuer soldiers who were stationed in Bar Ghazal were also killed in broad day light likewise to Dinka soldiers who were in Nuer lands.


As show of resilience, John Garang laughed off the claim that he was ousted from the SPLM/ Chairmanship; he, however, admitted that there was attempted coup against him but said he was still in charge; and that he was fit like fiddle. After the 1991 SPLM/A split, Garang faced two opposing forces: the anti-New Sudan led by Jaafer Nemeiri in Khartuom, and the secessionists led by Riek Machar. As such John Garang found himself between the rock and the hard place.

As result, the struggle for united Sudan became untenable; he was assaulted on all fronts by secessionists and Anti-united-Sudan in Khartoum. The 1991 split was like a kick below the belt; it hit the movement so hard and widens the cracks.

The intra SPLM/A crisis in 1991 dislodge John Garang from his traditional base in Upper Nile. He was pushed on that side of Uganda and Burundi. Fortunately, with the help of his former class mates President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, he later got a leaf and managed to regains ground. In less than three years, Machar’s movement shrunk, and became mere tribal movement. Many other South Sudanese who defected with him in 1991 faced their own fate. They later bolted out. Sooner than later, Dr. Lam Akol and Gen. Kerubino Kuanyin Bol breaks -away again.

I later realized Riek Machar’s number one agenda was to install himself as kingpin of Nuer community and the secession agenda was the secondary. Before the year 1996, the Riek Machar’s movement (SSIM) was cleared of none Nuer officers. And after SSIM became purely military militia without clear and structured political wing. At this point, Dr.Riek Machar began to initiate a peace talk with President Omar El Bashir. Notably, Dr. Riek did not only liberate SSIM from none Nuer but also from any other Nuer elites. The SSIM’s top brass were Nuer army Generals who hardly read and write. I believe the reasons he entered into an agreement after that radical purge was to avoid anyone breaking is conscience. In view of this, I concluded, if SPLM/A was Garang’s property, so be Riek’s SSIM.


I reiterate, after Riek Machar had crowned himself as undisputed leader of Nuer community, he soon signed what we called Khartoum peace Agreement (KPA) with President Omar El Bashir in 1997. In that peace accord, i was told here is a provision saying Southern Sudanese would vote in a referendum after six years. However, the Khartoum peace agreement was dead on arrival. The principals, Machar and Bashir knew this clause would not materialize. There can be no referendum in Southern Sudan if Riek, Garang and other groups did not reconcile in the first place. The Khartoum peace agreement never bore any fruits for Nuer community let alone other Southern Sudan except that Dr. Riek was made an Assistant to President Bashir, but still he was lame duck.

Madam Hilder Johnson mentioned in her memoirs, ‘‘South Sudan Untold story’’ that the first time she met Riek Machar in Khartoum after 1997 accord, the office he was given does not even have books or file to record things. That statement tells us a lot about Khartoum peace agreement. Dr. Riek, having learned from the fate of Joseph Lagu, he soon fled Khartoum a year after. I heard he first left Khartoum alone for Europe as if he was going for ordinary government business; on his arrival he announced defection, he vowed to fight for independent of South Sudan; and that President Bashir had failed to honor his pledges in the 1997 peace agreement.

In the wake of his defection, some of his confidants who were in Khartoum were left with no option but to declare their allegiance to President Bashir. Others who were deemed as hard nuts to crack were fried like chickens. I think Dr. Riek Machar made huge blunder for declaring insurgency against Khartoum regime when he knew his people are still inside the capital. I believe he owes them a duty of care. At least he could have whisper to them the secret first before defecting. Even if that would be risky in term of information being leaked, so be it. I believe leadership is all about prioritizing the lives of others before yours. In other words, leadership is about making sacrifices for the well being of others.

Later, in 1998, he returned to Southern Sudan and established another resistance movement known as Sudan People Defense Forces (SPDF). It was only the name that changed but in term structure and policies it was akin to SSIM which he abandoned in Khartuom. Sooner than later, SPDF almost sunk and drowns in blood when General Tito Biel Chuor and Paulino Matip (both of them decease) engaged in biter supremacy battle in Western Upper Nile. Later, the duo left SPDF separately and joins President Bashir in Khartoum before SPLM Reunification in 2002.


An old adage says ‘‘great men finished last’’ John Garang must have learned, studied and revised all the failures and successes of 1972 and 1997 peace agreements that were signed and dishonored. He decided to go slow but sure.

First and foremost he signed peace with Riek Machar in 2002 here in Nairobi Kenya; he then initiated what was called the ‘South South dialogue’ with all militia groups and other political dissidents; he managed to bring on board nearly all South Sudanese except the likes of Paulino Matip Nhial and Gabriel Tangiye aka Gatwich Chan (both decease). And it was after he made peace with most Southern Sudanese groups that he initiated his first dialogue with President Omar El Bashir. The dialogue was brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority for development (IGAD). The agreement did not happen overnight. It took two or so years.

Finally in 2005, the two principals reached a consensus in Machakos Town and signed a comprehensive peace agreement at Nyayo stadium in 2005.The comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) had three important clauses; one was the referendum for Southern Sudan; the referendum for the Abyie and the popular consultation for the people of the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountain. These are the fundamental items that the black Sudanese were waiting with bated breath. The Southern Sudan referendum was scheduled to take place in 2011 followed by the latter.

Sadly, John Garang died in plane crash twenty-one days after the signing of the CPA. His untimely demise really took us aback. It became as if we were starting from the scratch. Fortunately, the SPLM and the NCP kept their words and made sure the agreement came to pass. I was in Kakuma refugee camps in Turkana Kenya when news of his death was announced. It was tragic times; many people were hospitalized in various clinics. It threw the entire Africa into mourning mood. Six years after the CPA, we voted overwhelmingly for secession, and the republic of South Sudan was born on 9th July 2011.

The writer is the Chairman of Congress of South Sudanese Patriots, he can be reached for comments via eligodakb@yahoo.com

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