By Elhag Paul
October 16, 2011 (SSNA) — This is a response to an article posted on New Sudan Vision website on 8th October 2011 and South Sudan Nation website on 12th October 2011 by Mr Deng A. Dekuek titled: ‘Dr John Garang, the SPLM and the question of unity: A rebuttal to Mr Elhag Paul.’
I came across the said article by chance while browsing through New Sudan Vision website and it became of interest to me for obvious reasons articulated in my article under the heading, ‘SPLM and mass media: promoting history on falsity.’ Published recently in South Sudan Nation, Sudan Tribune and South Sudan News Agency websites. I welcome Mr Dekuek’s rebuttal of my article and wish to say that I am more than happy to engage Dekuek on the issues raised.
The intimidatory tone of Dekuek’s rebuttal is all the more telling especially his withering attack on the websites that published my article. One would expect that intellectuals would be the last people to pander to censorship but that is not the case here.
Dekuek essentially takes issue with me on a number of points. These are: 1) blatant assassination of Dr Garang’s name. 2) disrespect for the office of the president and the office of the minister for information. 3) negating the history of South Sudan . 4) comparing Nimeiri’s treatment of communist to SPLM’s treatment of separatists. 5) that Koka Dam agreement discussed self determination. 6) Contradicting self on the issue of self determination. In addition, Dekuek presents a letter supposedly written by Dr Garang in support of his argument. Let us now look at these issues point by point.
Dekuek argues that “In a distasteful disregard for cultural etiquettes, journalistic professionalism and standards, The Sudan Tribune on 29 th of September 2011 published an opinion , which was blatantly aimed at assassinating the character of the late Dr John Garang. In a rumbling monologue of vengeful, distorted and sugarcoated facts and unsubstantiated allegations, Mr Elhag Paul accused the late Dr Garang, his widow Madam Nyandeng, his family, his people the Dinka, the people’s movement, the SPLM and by extension a significant proportion of South Sudanese of being hypocritical.”
With this comment Dekuek is trying to muddy the waters in order to confuse people. Given this, it is important to separate issues for better understanding and clarification. First of all, I did not assassinate the character of late Dr John Garang. If anything, my article set out clearly to present what the late himself expressed about his believes and personal views about the conflict in the Sudan. I quoted directly from the book: ‘John Garang Speaks’ edited by Mansour Khalid in order to avoid the kind of accusation Dekuek is now throwing at me. Secondly, I believe that it is unethical for the family of late Dr Garang, and the SPLM to use his formidable life story to distort the history of South Sudan. For the distortion to work, it necessitates that Dr Garang is branded as a separatist. It is this false branding that is unacceptable because it has huge implication for South Sudan history and the various strata in the society. Without branding Dr Garang as a separatist, SPLM would not be able to indoctrinate the people of South Sudan and elevate certain sections of the society as elites. Dr Garang was an exceptionally intelligent, clear minded, far sighted, articulate and highly ambitious person. These are characteristic that can not be taken away from him and muddying these with lies will not do him justice.
Disregarding Dr Garang’s documented own words about himself and assigning something (secession) that he hated to be associated with him is at best intellectual dishonesty and at worst intellectual vandalism. Dekuek and company should not discredit Dr Garang’s great mind and intellectual integrity to diminish my argument about Dr Garang’s unambiguous stand for a united Sudan. They should not negate the possibility that Dr Garang truly could have ruled the Sudan had he not tragically met his death. What I find more dishonourable is for Dekuek and company to accuse Dr Garang of being a liar. Dr Garang documented his views and believes in his books and spoke publicly in numerous fora about his unionist position. Is Dekuek trying to say Dr Garang’s books, speeches and presentation are a bunch of lies? In light of what has been said, who is assassinating Dr Garang’s character?
Dekuek further argues that the article abused the offices of the president and that of the minister of information by being disrespectful to president Kiir and Dr Benjamin. My reference to the president as a sergeant is based on the fact that the president is a ranker and he held that esteemed post. In the army being a sergeant commands much respect. There is nothing wrong with a sergeant being a president. There are numerous examples in the world. Liberia, for instance was once ruled by a sergeant Samuel Doe and he was respected by the professional well trained Liberian army generals. My questioning of Dr Benjamin’s involvement with mass media and falsification of South Sudan history is my right as a citizen. The government in South Sudan should treat all sections of the society equally. It is not right that state tool like the ministry of information is used to promote one section of the society to the detriment of the others. Given this, is Dekuek comfortable with the falsification of the history of South Sudan? If he is, then this reveals his personal interest in promoting Dinkocracy. Thus his supposed defence of Dr Garang and the president is nothing but a smoke screen for promotion of his interest. If he is not, then he can be excused for his ignorance on this matter.
Dekuek continues, that “Mr Paul’s revisionism and negation of history is disturbing. Distorting the writings of esteemed Dr Peter Adwok Nyaba is alarming……………. Following Mr Tut’s death nobody knows why Commander Kerubino Kuanyin Bol did what he did notwithstanding the fact that he was a maverick with occasional deranged tendencies.” As stated above, I quoted directly from Dr Nyaba’s book and this as far as I was concerned could not constitute distortion. It is interesting that Dekuek himself acknowledges that he does not dispute the quoted facts but yet goes to call them distortion. This is very strange. It begs the question as to whether Dekuek really understands the meaning of the word ‘distortion’ or whether he is captivated by this word and would like to use it to show off his intellectual prowess. It would be helpful if Dekuek could clarify where the distortion was in regards to the quote I took from Dr Nyaba’s book.
As a voluntary self appointed advocate of SPLM, Dekuek surprisingly scores points against his own client. His report of Kerubino’s mental state is something that should never happen in any normal organisation. Deranged people pose danger to themselves and the public. Knowing this, Dekuek should have questioned the rational of allowing Kerubino to run havoc in the SPLM for such a long time and not to try to excuse him in his rebuttal of my article. What is more shocking is that Dr Garang was present when the body of late Gai Tut was being desecrated by Kerubino. Dr Garang did nothing but to rash to BBC to announce that Gai Tut was accorded full military burial. Dr Nyaba for unknown reasons did not report the presence of Dr Garang during the nauseating lashing of Mr Gai Tut’s body in his book.
However, Dr Lam in his book, titled ‘SPLM/SPLA: Inside an African Revolution’ published by Khartoum University Press in Khartoum in 2001 on pages 202 – 203 indicates that although Gai Tut very much wanted reconciliation, Dr Garang appeared uninterested and this eventually led to attack and counter attack where “Samuel Gai Tut himself was killed during the fighting. This was on March 30, 1984. His body was not discovered until two days later. On receiving the news, Dr John Garang and Kerubino Kuanyin Bol flew by a helicopter to Adura where Kerubino lashed the decomposing body of Gai Tut fifty strokes while Garang looked on in appreciation. The body by then was beyond recognition were it not for the characteristic finger of Gai Tut. Soon after, Garang wrote to the London office of the SPLA that Samuel Gai Tut was buried ‘with full military honours’!” Just imagine this level of gruesome brutality.
Dekuek is right to highlight the deranged mind of the leaders of SPLM. He only failed to see the inhuman part of it. No wonder his client SPLM/A turned out to be what it is now. If Dekuek on the basis of humanity only can not condemn the inhuman acts of SPLM leaders and its management by deranged people, how can he be taken seriously? Can he clarify why he finds it difficult to condemn both Kerubino and Dr Garang for such inhuman act? Where are Dekuek’s duties here as a good citizen towards other South Sudanese regardless of their tribe, race, sex etc? To be a good citizen demands that one protects the rights and freedom of others. For in doing this one indirectly protects their own as well. So, in South Sudan , the citizens need to treat each other with respect to allow a healthy society to develop. Further to this, is Dekuek’s attempt to rebut my article by distortion intended to create confusion to mask the gains that the Dinka people stand to benefit from their use of mass media? Where is the credibility of Dekuek’s argument here? In fighting to maintain the lie, Dekuek is shooting down his own clients. Whereas in stating the truth everybody (South Sudanese) stands to benefit.
Dekuek states that “in addition, a sensationalist claim that living in the Sudan as a communist during Nimeiri’s tyranny was of an equal measure to living in the liberated areas is a personal insult to any of the people who lived in Nasir, Kapoeta, Boma and other liberated areas. Although I was a young boy, I never heard then or know of anyone among all those who were executed by firing squad, anyone and I repeat who was executed for being an exponent of an independent South Sudan .” At least Dekuek is being honest here. He acknowledges the fact that his understanding of events in the liberated areas was limited due to his age.
According to Dekuek he did not hear or learn of any executions of separatist. His measure for evidence is grounded on hearing and learning from others as he was young. But how could hear-say be evidence. What method did he apply to distil the truth from the stories he heard and learnt? The fact that he did not hear does not mean that separatist were not being murdered. Did Dekuek know that Martin Majer, Martin Kejivoru and others were murdered in cold blood towards the end of 1990s around Morobo after long period of incarceration without trial? Now, would it be right for him to deny this because he never heard?
Dekuek can not hide behind being young in order to snipe at people he disagrees with. Either he knows or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, he either puts up or shuts up. Having committed himself to defend “the defenceless Garang and the People’s Movement, the SPLM”, Dekuek needs to read more widely before taking up such a difficult assignment. Dekuek’s clients have an interesting complex history of 28 years which requires mature minded advocates. Rumbling with hear-say without documented evidence and refusing to accept what his clients have documented does not look like sound defence.
Dekuek invokes the Koka Dam talks as his evidence that self determination was discussed and adopted. This is a red herring. The outcome of Koka Dam agreement is clear as blue skies. It aimed at achieving a united Sudan . Steve Wondu and Ann Lesch in their book, titled ‘The Battle for Peace in Sudan: An Analysis of the Abuja Conferences 1992 – 1993’ published by University Press of America, Maryland in 2000 on page 9 states that, “The Koka Dam declaration called for the creation of a New Sudan free from racism, tribalism and sectarianism; a system that would eliminate the causes of discrimination and regional economic disparities. The national constitutional conference to define the New Sudan would address the basic problems of Sudan and not the problems of the South alone. The government must repeal the Islamic decrees and restore the secular constitution that was in place at the time of independence. In addition the government must lift the state of emergency and abrogate military pacts with foreign countries ( Egypt and Libya ) that infringe on the sovereignty of the Sudan . After that, both sides would declare and enforce ceasefire.” These are the hard facts about Koka Dam. It beggars believe that Dekuek deliberately goes out to twist facts in order to portray his client the SPLM as a separatist movement.
Dekuek writes, “Mr Paul also shamelessly contradicts himself by partially correctly stating that self-determination was discussed at the Abuja 1 and 2 Peace Negotiations but then goes on to say that it was off the agenda in early 2000s until the people in diaspora put pressure on SPLM and the NCP. What a laughable joke!” Dekuek’s inability to understand my article reveals his limited knowledge of contemporary history of South Sudan. The fact remains that self-determination was tabled, discussed and accepted in Abuja in early 1990s. Also the fact remains that the talks in Machakos in early 2000s initially did not have self-determination on the agenda. Dekuek should consult with his client the SPLM for more information on this reality. What seems as contradiction to Dekuek is the usual game of SPLM of vacillating between two things. Although SPLM accepted self determination in Abuja , it was not a priority policy for the movement. The unity of Sudan always took top priority with self determination coming at the bottom as a last resort. Hence when the talks started in Machakos self determination was not on the agenda, SPLM was content and happy to have the problems of the Sudan solved based on the concept of New Sudan. So there is no joke in what I wrote. I am dead serious in what I write.
Dekuek has produced a letter purportedly written by Dr John Garang on 24 th January 1972 to support his arguments. First of all, the address on top left hand of the letter is highly suspect. The wording state, “ Khartoum – Anyanya . Negotiation: Guideline”. As far as South Sudan was concerned the peace talks were held in Addis Ababa and Anyanya did not have an office in Khartoum, So, what is all this about? Secondly, the letter itself has no signature, name, title or/and position of the writer? How authentic then is this letter? Dekuek also failed to reference the letter clearly to show where he obtained it from and who had custody of it? Careful scrutiny of this letter raises a lot of issues around its authenticity. Mr Brian Adeba unfortunately failed to notice this questionable discrepancy. He hurriedly waded in to support Dekuek pre-maturely saying: “Thanks for forwarding this note here. It certainly offers a perspective about John Garang’s (and the SPLM’s) vision for a separate and independent Sudan ……………. Elhag Paul’s article failed to account for Garang’s flexible stances on self determination and the evolution of these stances over a period of time.” Until the questions posed about this letter are answered, this document remains high suspicious. Dekuek’s knowledge of Addis Ababa agreement is so wanting. He erroneously claims that Addis Ababa agreement was signed on 27 th March 1972. How he got this date is something that I do not understand but it says a lot about him and his ability to research.
Even if this document were to be authentic, it does not mean in any way that Dr Garang was a separatist, because from 1972 to 1983 there is nothing documented that tells the world about his life story. The only time Dr Garang’s view of the world became known was when he released his speech on 3 rd March 1983. In this speech he clearly declares his unionist credentials and it is this that led to him later saying ‘our first bullets were fired at the separatists’. As SPLM/A was formed in 1983 and from the word go it was a unionist movement, it is difficult to see the connection that Dekuek is trying to make in order to portray it as a separatist movement by referring to 1972.
Now it has become extremely important to address the issue raised by Adeba above regarding Garang’s flexible stance. Adeba seems to imply that Dr Garang began to change his political position “a month prior to the coup, the SPLM had already asked the Nigerian mediator to include self determination in the agenda of the talks”. It is true that SPLM/A had already written to the Nigerian and Sudanese governments on the issue of self determination. Steve Wondu and Ann Lesch in their book, titled ‘The Battle for Peace in Sudan : An Analysis of Abuja Conferences 1992 – 1993’ published by University Press of America, Maryland in 2000 on page 22 confirms this point. They state that “the independence option was therefore included in the still-united SPLM’s proposal for the Abuja agenda that was submitted to Nigerian and Sudanese government on 29 th July 1991.”
On taking this as his evidence for Garang’s flexible stance, Adeba has erred simply because he failed to consider fully the context in which SPLM/A was forced to adopt the new position. By early 1991, Dr Garang and the SPLM/A were already aware of the developments about the impending coup. Combat Intelligence, the feared security organ of SPLM/A which reported directly to Dr Garang detected the conspiracy by Dr Riek, Dr Akol and Koang to overthrow Dr Garang at its earliest stages. It kept monitoring, observing and collecting detailed information on the trio. As early as June 1991, Dr Garang was already in possession of considerable intelligence at his disposal about the intentions of the trio with their objectives. At about this same time internally in the Sudan , South Sudanese had begun to call for secession because of the policies of the new NIF regime.
Douglas H. Johnson in his book, titled ‘The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars’ published by Fountain Publishers in Kampala, Uganda in 2003 on page 174 writes: “The NIF government’s halt to substantive constitutional discussions in 1989 and its open pursuit of Islamist agenda revived talk of separation among many southern Sudanese living in the government-held areas. The SPLA was already preparing a new position on self determination in 1991 when the Nasir declaration finally brought the issue of southern Sudanese independence to the fore, not just for debate among southern Sudanese but between southern and northern Sudanese. At first the SPLA’s response seemed equivocal, in that it proposed a number of alternatives plans to self determination, including confederation within a united Sudan and an association of sovereign states.”
So in the government controlled areas and within SPLM/A the pressure was already building up in favour of secession. Externally, the main supporter of SPLM/A, Ethiopia started to fall apart from the advancing Ethiopian rebels. Holistically, the intelligence pointed to one direction only and that was – a change that can be supported by the masses of the south Sudan . That only position at the time was secession. Hence, Dr Garang, intelligent and suave as he was tactically seized the opportunity and conceded a little to adopt self determination as an option of last resort while maintaining the policy of unity. In doing this, Dr Garang had hoped to spoil the plans of the trio and also to firmly keep the support of South Sudanese. He succeeded.
After the trio announced their coup in August 1991, the pressure increased on SPLM/A and it issued a public statement to confirm their new position with unity as the top priority and self determination as the option of last resort. Arop Madut Arop in his book titled ‘ Sudan ’s Painful Road to Peace’ published by BookSurge, LLC. ISBN: 1-4196-1153-4. www.boksurge.com on pages 276 – 278 drawing from Lesch (1998) points out that the SPLA Polico-Military High Command met in Torit in September 1991 and among other recommendations it “proposed four options the movement would present to the peace conference scheduled to convene in Abuja , the Nigerian capital city. The four options were:
1. The maintenance of the SPLA demand for a united secular democratic state.
2. Confederation between the north and the south
3. Association of sovereign states
4. During the referendum the people of the marginalised regions shall choose between unity and secession.
The last option was the most significant departure from the first one because it was the first time that the SPLM/SPLA in its eight year of armed struggle was able to give signal that the South Sudan could possibly secede if the government of the Sudan maintained its centralised and unitary Arab-Islamic state in the country.”
In political manoeuvres and the psychology of negotiations, adversaries often try to outwit their opponents by presenting or offering the opponent unpalatable propositions they knowingly are aware would be rejected to achieve their aims. In proposing self determination in July 1991, Dr Garang might have wanted to frighten the NIF with the possibility of breakup of the country so that they abandon Islamic policies for him to achieve secular democratic Sudan. Dr Garang was aware that if the NIF rejected his proposal, he would find himself in a limbo and so he left a leeway for himself to retreat with his policy of unity intact by insisting that unity was the top priority. So when the NIF rejected his bluff, he back off and continued to pursue the policy of united Sudan . Amin Hamid Zeinelabdin of University of Khartoum suggested else where that the position taken by SPLM in July 1991 on self determination could have been a strategic political bluff to pressure the NIF to accept secularism.
Deducing from the above, the letter written to the Nigerians in 1991 that Adeba refers to is a product of concerted pressure internally and externally on the SPLM/A leaving it with no option. The choice at the time was either it changed and adapted or it imploded and atrophied. Dr Garang wisely chose the former. Now change under such circumstance can not be referred to as ‘flexible stance’. Dr Garang did not have many options to choose from to allow him any ‘flexible stance.’ He was forced by a very hostile atmosphere. It is just like a hurricane coming your way. You either evacuated or you remained and got hit and swept away. The highest organ of the movement responded swiftly and appropriately to the fast changing political terrain by adopting self determination to save itself from demise. Hence, it was forced to accept self determination.
Although Dr Garang and SPLM/A accepted self determination, it consistently remained as an option of last resort. Officially, unity was the top priority and this is why when the Machakos talks started self determination was off the agenda. Yes, Garang saw self determination as a possible solution, but it was not in his believe or preference. It was not his political choice. Given this record how could “Garang’s flexible stance” be justified. Reading and arguing Garang into a separatist in the face of naked evidence is unhelpful for him as it denies him what he proudly stood for and fought for with blood. Garang bought the position of unity with blood and this was not a joke. Again it is not right that indirectly a leader of such formidable stature should be reduced to a liar by his own supporters rejecting his own documented words in order to mould him into what they want.
Some South Sudanese should by now recognise that Dr Garang’s political position as a separatist is indefensible. No matter how some people philosophise over the issue, the evidence will not go away. The more they do it the more they disrespect Dr Garang as a formidable thinker. Dr Garang toyed with the idea of self-determination only to maintain unity of Sudan under his ideology of the New Sudan as the first option. Dr Garang was not only consistent in pursuing unity, but shed blood to advance it. So, evidence to baptise Dr Garang posthumously as a separatist is thin and unfair. Thus promoting him as father of the nation can not stick because he is not. Dr Garang could not be a father of a nation that he did not want to see born. Therefore, please stop ascribing to Dr Garang what he did not believe in.
Having said this, it is important to note that self determination was a constant demand of South Sudanese prior to independence of the Sudan in 1956 and upto 1983 when Dr Garang zapped it with his speech of 3 rd March followed by violence. So the period in contest relates only from 1983 to 2005. The only other South Sudanese who openly and sincerely stood for unity is Garang’s name sake: Mr Joseph Garang who was executed by Nimeiri in 1971 following the failed communist coup.
Resting this case, it is unfortunate that Dekuek in his attempt to rebut the evidence has gone down the slippery slope clutching straws in defence of his clients.
The Author lives in the Republic of South Sudan; he can be reached at [email protected]