SPLM and mass media: Promoting history on falsity

By Elhag Paul

September 27, 2011 (SSNA) — The late Col. Dr John Garang De Mabior would have certainly objected to him being projected as a separatist by his widow Rebecca Nyandeng, close relatives, the Dinka community and the SPLM in their never ending quest to use the late’s formidable live story to promote him as the person who brought the independence of South Sudan and by implication Dinka superiority.

Recently, having personally attended the shameful and shambolic celebration of independence of the republic of South Sudan on 9 th July 2011 in Juba, it was asphyxiating to witness the promotion of the late as the father of the nation and the hero of independence of South Sudan. Large electronically refined coloured adverts on giant billboards around Juba ’s main streets showing pictures of late Col. Dr John Garang walking into freedom with masses of followers and others tell and reinforces a silent story. This story is a fabricated lie and had Garang been alive, certainly he would have objected to it.

Garang was very honest with his political beliefs. He made it absolutely clear in various fora and writings that he was an avowed unionist and this gained him respect in North Sudan, Arab world, Africa and the west.

Dr John Garang in his book, titled ‘ John Garang Speaks’ published in London in 1987 by KPI on pages 253 and 254 writes that: “Our believe in the Sudanese Unity and territorial integrity is axiomatic, that is, it is principled position. In our Manifesto published 31 July 1983 we said in very unequivocal terms, and I quote,

It must be reiterated that the principle objective of the SPLM/SPLA is not separation for the South. The South is an integral and inseparable part of the Sudan. Africa has been fragmented sufficiently enough by colonialism and neo-colonialism and its further fragmentation can only be in the interest of her enemies. The separatist attitude that has developed in the South since 1955 has caught the imagination of the backward areas in Northern Sudan. Separatists Movements have already emerged with guerrillas fighting in Western and Eastern Sudan. If left unchecked these separatist Movements in the South, East, West coupled with stubborn determination of repressive minority clique regime in Khartoum to hang onto power at all costs will lead to the total disintegration of the Sudan. The imminent, latent and impending disintegration and fragmentation of the Sudan is what the SPLM/A aims to stop by developing and implementing a consistent democratic solution to both the nationality and religious questions within the context of a United New Sudan. This was in 1983. Our position remains the same.” There you are. This is from the horse’s mouth. To refuse to believe it is to make a fool of oneself.

Unity has always been the official policy of SPLM/A. It did not remain in the files as a redundant or dormant policy but it was operationised and put into practice with devastating consequences on the separatists. Garang did not hesitate to kill any separatist to make his case. Among the prominent separatists who paid dearly with their lives were Samuel Gai Tut and Akot Atem. The atmosphere in SPLM/A controlled areas at the time was akin to that of the communists during Nimeiri’s era in the Sudan. The words associated with secession were considered treasonable and the consequences were dire for anyone who dared to invoke them. At the apex of Garang’s power towards the end of 1980s and beginning 1990 he had become so arrogant to the extent that he freely rubs salt on the wounds of the separatists at every occasion the subject came up. He haughtily proclaimed that ‘our first bullets were fired against the separatists.’ Anybody doubting should research the barbaric murder of Samuel Gai Tut and Akot Atem. Peter Nyaba in his book, titled ‘ The Politics of Liberation in South Sudan: An Insider’s View’ published by Fountain Publishers in 1997 in Kampala, Uganda on page 45 writes that after Kerubino’s forces ambushed and murdered Gai Tut, he (Kerubino) refused ‘the burial of the remains of Mr Samuel Gai Tut and to have his corpse given eighty lashes daily until it decomposed.’ From this act alone, one can imagine the raw emotions of hatred towards the separatists. What kind of people are these who engage in such a wanton brutality to the extent that they could not respect the dead? These dead brave South Sudanese spoke and died for separation. Paradoxically, today, the very people who killed them are enjoying the fruits of these separatists’ foresight. So far, SPLM has not shown any remorse or decency to say sorry for their heinous acts and their divisive policy of ‘New Sudan’. What a shame on SPLM/A?

In the House of Commons in UK, the then secretary for International Development used to dismiss us the South Sudanese pressing for support to secession. Her argument was that she had no misgiving about South Sudanese aspiration to secede. Her own visits to the refugee camps in Kenya, Uganda, Congo and the liberated areas in the Sudan proved to her beyond doubt that the overwhelming majority of South Sudanese wished to secede. However, what confused her was that also the majority of South Sudanese supported SPLM/A and its objective of united Sudan. Garang and SPLM, she asserted, were adamant about unity and so it was up to us the South Sudanese to speak with one voice of what we wanted. Because SPLM/A represented the majority of South Sudanese she would promote unity of the Sudan. With this, the separatists melted away like ‘Halawa Goton’. Or should I say with tails in between legs. Such was the hullabaloo SPLM/A created.

With the above, Garang has abundantly made his case loud and clear. What baffles people like me is the mendacity of Garang’s family and the SPLM to assert forcefully that Garang is the father and champion of South Sudan independence. How could this be when Garang put his policy of unionism in practice by killing separatists? The fact is that the separatist victims of Garang’s policy are well known and well documented. These should be the true champions of South Sudan independence and not Garang. To be fair to Garang, he was a revolutionary who worked hard to transform the Sudan. He fought tooth and nail to realise his objective but unfortunately this has not materialised. May be the SPLM/A North in the Sudan will succeed to implement the project of ‘New Sudan’ in that country. But it must be emphasised: Garang was not a separatist. He was a unionist to his core.

SPLM/A knows that to promote the lie that Garang is the hero of South Sudan independence, it has to use all means available to it regardless of the cost. Hence, it is now engaged in deploying the arsenals of mass media in the form of advertisement, SSTV and the radio service to bludgeon the South Sudan psychologically. By bombarding the South Sudanese masses on a daily basis with the lie, it will not be before long when the young generation and the South Sudanese masses succumb to the story of the masters resulting into ecstatic triumph of the rulers in establishing themselves as the elites of South Sudanese society.

This is on one front of the media war. On the other, the heavy use of advertisement to promote Garang as the champion of South Sudan independence although it is costing GOSS a fortune is not for nothing, it has a strategic meaning. The purpose of advertisement is to create fantasy and illusions in the mind of the watchers to promote craving for the product – in this case, the story of the ‘hero’ of South Sudan liberation. As this kind of product is not for purchase pecuniarly, it is specifically designed to influence thoughts and the mind to cultivate a hyperreal history of the struggle. The consumer (you, me and others) if not critical minded and well informed inevitably end up by believing what is shown on these giant billboards as the truth and reality. Once this is achieved, history is distorted and re-written in favour of the agents beautifully portrayed in the adverts.

To buttress this fabricated story, SPLM has blended Kiir in. During the independence celebration an interesting poster was displayed around Juba. This poster presenting sergeant Kiir in long white Jallabia sitting amongst a group of senior SPLA officers in military uniform wearing red epaulets. The writing on the poster congratulated sergeant Kiir for liberating the country. Like those posters of Garang, it not only buttresses the fabricated story but elevates the social status of these actors.

In this particular poster, Kiir’s dressing indirectly appears to be designed to present him as a benign, intelligent, and caring leader protected by the might of SPLA. Here is one man the country can not afford to lose. Therefore, he must be protected like the queen ant. Looking at this poster subliminally draws one attention to the well circulated picture of Jesus in Jallabia carrying a lamb and followed by sheep. Now Kiir is being presented as the caring saviour and shepherd. While in reality, this is the man who was Garang’s Rottweiler for 22 years. He supervised the despatch of hundreds of innocent people to death. Kiir was responsible for the suffocating poorly aerated prison containers. Do you remember the story of John Nambu who was imprisoned in a container until he turned yellow before his death due to lack of aeration? Nambu’s crime was only because he hailed from the wrong ethnicity and wanted to join the SPLM. This was only one horrible way of violating human rights in SPLM/A. The other was the imprisonment of freedom fighters whose identities or ideas were not entertained by the movement leaders in 10 meters deep holes where the unfortunate prisoners occasionally were visited by all sorts of deadly snakes and creatures. During the rainy season prisoners got drowned in these prison holes. The master supervisor of these horrendous joints was none other than Kiir himself. Please note that most of these victims were separatists.

This benign supposedly caring leader has now been in power for 6 years and what has he done to the people of South Sudan. Nothing at all, apart from presiding over orgies of looting and massive corruption. His lack of due diligence in running and protecting the country is breathtaking. Yet SPLM is squandering massive resources on media to promote him and re-write our history. Come to us here in Juba and visit any office, you will not miss seeing Garang and Kiir looking at you from hanging photographs strategically positioned.

The work of Jean Baudrillard (1929 – 2007), the French philosopher and sociologist on the influence of mass media techniques and especially of images on human beings shows that the use of images create its own reality divorced from original facts or truth of what is being represented. It paints its own reality constructed by values and stories attached to the images displayed. This is politics at its most psychologically dangerous, because it is not only the blatant promotion of crude tribalism, but it is also the sowing of seeds of discord for future conflict.

SPLM as an instrument of the masters of South Sudan is using massive resource of the country to promote a big lie with implication for history and future generations. The question to ask is: why is the SPM deploying expensive mass media techniques to promote a fabricated story of one section of our community to distort our history? Whose interest as a minister of information is Mr Barnaba Marial serving? Is it serving South Sudan or a specific tribe? I leave the answers to you to work it out for yourself. Why is the true story of the South Sudan not being promoted since 1983? Why is there no reference to Oliver Albino’s and other books on the Anya-Nya movement? Why is there no mention to Aggrey Jaden hard work on separation of the south? Why this obsessive promotion of our fresh distorted history which when truly unpacked contains horror stories?

To understand the magnitude of the brutality, inhuman policies and heinous acts of SPLM/A against humanity, it is absolutely necessary to read the work of Garang, Peter Nyaba, Lam Akol, and reports prepared by Human Rights bodies such as Africa Watch, Amnesty International and so on. There is no justification for that kind of behaviour meted out to the South Sudanese people other than from wanton criminals. Hence, the necessity to pursue the establishment of Justice and Reconciliation Commission, as in the case of Rwanda and South Africa to bring Kiir and his cohorts to account. Bringing these people to account might help us even to understand better Kiir’s current presiding over the orgies of looting of public resources and corruption by his group. For South Sudan to develop healthily, this deep internal mental injury on its psyche must be addressed and urgently. Glossing over it with mass media tricks is a surest way of returning to mistakes done by the rulers of the Sudan at the time of its independence in 1956.

The self determination which the South Sudanese had been fighting for since 1947 was forced on SPLM/A by circumstances beyond its control. It first entered into the vocabulary of SPLM/A following the 1991 failed Nasir coup led by Reik Machar, Lam Akol and John Koang. These three, opportunistically calculated that since SPLM/A lost its support base following the overthrow of the Mengistu Dirge regime in Ethiopia the time was ripe to get rid of Garang. As we all know, they failed and they continued to pursue their objective of ousting Garang through alliance with NCP. But the benefit to South Sudan of their unpopular act was to force SPLM/A to accept the principle of self determination, especially after the talks in Abuja in early 1990s. This was further advanced in the Khartoum agreement of 1997 with the same group. However, paradoxically this time NCP blundered and included the principle of self determination into the constitution of the Sudan. When the peace talks under IGGAD was first started in early 2000s, self determination was not on the agenda. SPLM and Rev. John Danforth, the American envoy to the talks were content with the idea of solving the problem of the Sudan within a framework of a united country based on the project of ‘New Sudan’ which would be multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural etc. It was only when the Diaspora in Europe and North America rose up forcefully and brought pressure to bear on the talks that the principle of self determination was then included on the agenda. The first protocol on self determination was won because NCP was cornered by the fact that self determination was already catered for in the constitution of the Sudan. The rest was history and we had our CPA of 2005.

The provision of the referendum in the CPA allowed each and everyone of us to decide for ourselves what we wanted. We individually (through the power of our votes) chose separation and thus liberated ourselves from the Arabs. It has nothing to do with Garang liberating us to qualify him as the father of the nation. This must be made clear to avoid distortion of our history and construction of a false history. The true separatists are those Garang fired his first bullets of unionism at such as Samuel Gai Tut and Akot Atem.

In light of the above, the minister of Information should desist from promoting one section of our society as being solely responsible for the liberation of South Sudan with Garang as its founding father based on falsity. For this does not bode well for the future.

The Author lives in South Sudan and he can be reached at [email protected].

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