Down the Historical Lens of South Sudanese Long Arduous Struggle

By PaanLuel Wel

July 18, 2011 (SSNA) — Everyone falsifies history even if it is only his own personal history. Sometimes the falsification is deliberate, sometimes unconscious; but always the past is altered to suit the needs of the present. The best we can say of any account is not that it is the real truth at last, but that this is how the story appears now.—Joseph Freeman

With the advent of South Sudan’s independence on July 9th, 2011, many South Sudanese will find ample time now, given the peace, to look back at the trail of their arduous struggle and try to make sense of it in the most possible way they could. They will strive to understand the what, the where, the how and the why of all the events and occurrences that had either graced or marred their long crusade from 1955 to 2011.

South Sudanese will try to understand, among other things, why it took them so long to execute their political compaign and to achieve their freedom. Firstly, they would press hard to comprehend: why the 1947 Juba conference opted for united Sudan instead of two separate countries which would have welcomingly avoided the agonies of the past 55 years on both sides of the wars; why the 1955-1972 arm struggle waged by Anyanya One that delivered the Addis Ababa agreement failed to secured the freedom of choice—referendum clause—for South Sudanese as did the CPA and whether or not the dishonoring of the Addis Ababa agreement was a deliberate sabotage from the north under President Jaafar Nimeiri or was as a result of bitter wrangling between Joseph Lagu’s camp and Abel Alier’s.

Secondly, it would be very interesting for many South Sudanese to know how Dr. John Garang, who did not initiate the Bor’s mutiny, somehow ended up leading the rebellion that he was sent by Khartoum government to quell. Moreover, many people would be relieved to know too why and how Dr. Garang and his rebellious guys—Kerubino Kwanyin Bol, William Nyuon Bany etc—ended up quarrelling and murdering the Akuot Atem Mayen and Gai Tut camps when it was logical that the two groups would join up forces to fight the common enemy they had rebelled against.

Thirdly, many South Sudanese are still in the dark over how and why the leading founders of the Movement—Kerubino Kwanyin Bol, William Nyuon Bany, Arok Thon Arok, Martin Majier Gai Joseph Oduho, etc—ended up either in jail or in death at the hand of the very SPLM/A they had helped founded or of the very people they had gone to the bush to liberate.

Of similar ambiguity too: it would be great to find out how and why Dr. Riek and Dr. Lam led a rebellion against the SPLM/A only to end up collaborating with the Khartoum government which was worse than the “dictatorial” SPLM/A. How and why did Dr. Riek and Dr. Lam break up later after the unsuccessful Nasir Coup of 1991? Of particular interest also would be as to why Dr. Riek and Dr. Lam didn’t open up a second formidable front-line at Malakal—on the grand march to Khartoum or Juba depending on their end goal, while the SPLM would finish up with Juba and Wau—the only two remaining cities in the South by 1991 besides Malakal—on their own grand march to Khartoum as was their end goal of New Sudan Vision.

Added to that would be the rationale that informed the displacement and the subsequent massacring of Bor Dinka civilians at the hand of Nasir Camp—how did the two doctors who aspired to be leaders sanctioned the displacement and the killing of innocent civilians over whom they would rule over?

Fourthly, how and why the SPLA soldiers did commit heinous crimes against civilians under their own control during the war? What was the 2004 SPLM/A meeting in Rumbek all about? Did Dr. John Garang actually wanted to replace his long time deputy—Salva Kiir Mayaardit or was it all rumors as it was explained away? Was the 2010 South Sudan general election rigged by the SPLM as alleged by its detractors? Why would George Athor Deng rebel against the very Movement he had been boldly defending during bad days?

Why haven’t we seen any kind of economic development in South Sudan in the last seven years of autonomous rule by the SPLM in spite of the oil money precisely meant to accomplish that purpose: where has all the oil revenue been channeled to and why?

And lastly but not necessarily the last, who killed Dr. John Garang and why, and what would have happened to the aspirations of the marginalized Sudanese on the whole and South Sudanese in particular were he to be here today? Would Sudan have been transformed politically and hence preclude any southern secessionist moods or would it have inevitably ended up as it is today under the leadership of President Salva Kiir?

To attempt to answer any of those above-mentioned questions or any other unstated query is to toy with a field of study called history in academic circle. History, of all fields of academic undertakings, is the most controversial subject owing to the fact that much of its underpinnings is informed by sheer prejudices mostly from the victories side. As Mark Twain—the great American author and humorist—remarked, “the very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.”

Since this co-habitation of prejudices with historical facts of South Sudanese noble struggle would oft-time distorted and discredited almost all that we can claim to know about the history of our struggle, it therefore compel us to seek remedy in the historical lens or context under or upon which those historical events occurred.

The historical lens or context is when the history of our struggle is skewed to fit events or political thoughts and ideologies of the time period those events took place. With that slanting in mind, we can then draw on a historical lens to view and explore the historical analysis of South Sudanese long political struggle from 1955-2005 without the anxiety of falling victim to the bigotry that inspire much of today world history.

South Sudan’s historical lens, therefore, are the political, religious, social, cultural, and economic settings, conditions or circumstances under which the causes, evolution, revolution and the general trajectory of the struggle are seen playing themselves out from 1955 when the first uprising emerged to 2005 when the last war ended. In order to better understand South Sudanese long arduous social, racial, cultural, religious, economic and political struggle in history, we must look at its context—those things which surround it in time and place and which give it its meaning and propel it progress till July 9th, 2011.

Seen and taken through such neutral prism, South Sudanese can better understand, gain and appreciate, among other things, a sense of how unique or extra-ordinary their long struggle was in comparison to other political struggles around the world or within the African continent. For example, a historical lens would be to take the 1947 Juba conference as it was, basing opinion on the time period and the events that were taking place at that particular era without involving the present circumstances or information. That is to say that it does not involve comparing current times to the past or including our present political experiences or present day information about the past which the long-ago generations might not have had accessed to, or knowledge of, during their political deliberation.

Similarly, without this ability to connect to the expectations of the time in which the 1991 Nasir Coup took place or even the time in which it was just brewing, South Sudanese will, more often than not, view the actions of the Nasir group as irrational and unbelievable—one that border on betrayal and subversion. But to understand that the 1991 Nasir coup occurred after or in the wake of the detention of Kerubino Kuanyin, Arok Thon and Martin Majier, among others, would provide the historical context under which that particular event took place and aid in the understanding, though not necessarily the justification, of the event itself.

View through the historical lens, many fortunate or unfortunate events that happened during our long political struggle are as right or wrong as much as they are seen and compared within the circumstances, within the time and within the conditions under which they occurred. Any attempt to see, to interpret and to judge them by our present day events, circumstances, knowledge or standard is not only a misplaced judgment but also a dangerously misleading expedition.

Nevertheless, historical lens is by no mean a tool to preclude passing valid and sound judgment on our historical struggle which was sometimes messy and shameful. Rather it is but a mean to restrain passing misplaced judgment which usually judge and condemn the past by present laws and standards while neglecting the past wherein the events occurred, and hence, ending up not only distorting the events but actually misrepresenting them.

Therefore, we can successfully employ the historical context to help us in plotting the narrative sequence of our struggle: to explicate the factors and conditions that influence and underpin various events or happenings, to evaluate the socio-political and economic thinking that gave birth to them, and to show interrelationship and causations between events that eventually constitute our present day history of the war. The historical analysis through historical lens would enable South Sudanese to better comprehend, appreciate and apply some learned valuable lessons from our past to help solve today pressing issues and needs.

The essential goal in using historical lens is to bring together diverse phenomena of our long political campaigns and to make them meaningful and usable to our generation. Consequently, the application of historical lens, one that is expressed in the embodiment of all events that bedeviled or accelerated the war of liberation, would helps us in the understanding, appreciation and usage of our political struggles.

You can reach PaanLuel Wël at [email protected], Facebook, Twitter or through his blog at:

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