Timeline South Sudan: The Evolutionary Phases of South Sudan’s Liberation Struggle (part 1)

“The South has no intention of separating from the North, for had that been the case, nothing on earth would have prevented the demand for separation. The South will at any moment separate from the North if and when the North so decides, directly or indirectly, through political, social and economic subjection of the South” Father Saturnino Lohure Hilangi, the spiritual father of South Sudanese’ liberation struggle, speaking on the 2nd Sudan Parliament (1958).

By PaanLuel Wël, Washington DC, USA, Planet Earth

South Sudan Independence, July 9th, 2011

September 21, 2012 (SSNA) — On this special occasion, marking the first Independent Day Anniversary of the Republic of South Sudan, this record is a towering tribute to the fallen heroes and heroines led by Dr. John Garang[1] de Mabioor Atem whose blood watered and flesh nourished the tree of liberty under whose shelter we celebrate this day; an unsurpassed gratitude to the gallant SPLM/A war veterans led by Comrade Salva Kiir Mayaardit that remained loyal to the SPLM/A—by sticking to the cause they went to the bush to struggle for—without which the Republic of South Sudan might not have seen the light of this day; a sincere appreciation to the SPLM/A returnees under Dr. Riek Machar Teny without which the fruits of the CPA might not have materialized; a big congratulatory message to President Salva Kiir Mayaardit for serenely guiding South Sudanese people across the turbulent waters of River Jordan into the Promised Land; a heartfelt homage to the Torit Mutineers—the Equatoria Corps—of 1955, to Father Saturnino Lohure Hilangi[2] and to Joseph Lagu Yanga of Anyanya One Movement, our beloved forefathers-in-arms who implanted the everlasting seed of South Sudanese’ liberation struggle; and above all, a celebratory kudos to the very determined and most loyal masses of South Sudan for their unyielding support and precious contributions to the liberation of the Republic of South Sudan.

To you all, we owe everything; in your cherished memory and highest honor we commemorate this day; in your battle-tested spirit we promise to build and protect this country, so help us Nhialic;[3] history is our witness! A reflective, soul-searching, but a happy, Independence Day to all and each of us; we made it to Canaan.

On the Bumpy and Long Road to South Sudan’s Independence

1. Pre-colonial Era

In Arabic, the word Sudan means “the land of the black” people. Before the arrival of the Arabs in the Sudan, the indigenous African tribes inhabited the land: the kingdoms[4] of Alawa at Soba, Maquria at Dongola, Black Sultanate at Sennar, the Darfur Sultanate in the West, the Shilluk and the Azande kingdoms in the South, plus the River Lake Nilotes of the Dinka, Nuer etc and other African tribes of the South. The Arabs came to the Sudan as camel-riding traders selling salt, cloths and other merchandise in exchange for African slaves, ivory, gold, sesame and grain. Though they had initially tried to enter the Sudan by force, the Christian kingdoms of Nubia at Dongola defeated them in 652 A.D. Only afterward, through trade, intermarriages and peaceful settlements, did the Arabs succeed to weaken and to encroach on African territories in the Sudan. The rest is history—recorded in blood and flesh!

However, the evolution of the present day Republic of South Sudan can be traced back to the 18th century when Mohamed Ali Pasha, the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt, entered the Sudan in search of trading commodities and slaves. Driven by an insatiable greediness for more trading commodities and slaves, the Turco-Egyptian colonialists under the command of a Turkish Naval officer, Selim, organized numerous expeditions into Southern Sudan between 1839 and 1841 in which they travelled as far as Gondokoro and Rejaf in Bariland.

The Anglo-Egyptian colonialists were not the only ones interested in Southern Sudan though. When General Kitchener, the Anglo-Egyptian army commander who defeated the Mahdists at the battle of Omdurman, arrived at Fashoda on 18 September 1898,[5] he was confronted with the French army under Captain Marchand stationed at Fashoda. Down along the Nile were Belgians soldiers at Rejaf and Lado laying claim to the Equatoria Province, while at the East, the Menelik II of Ethiopia was sending his forces up to Sobat to plant an Ethiopian Flag signaling his ownership of the land East of River Nile all the way to Addis Ababa.

But as the Europeans powers were scrambling for the African’s land, the Arab slave traders were clambering for the African’s slaves. The most notorious Arab slave trader was Rahman Mansur al Zubayr, the first governor of the newly created province of Bahr el Ghazal. The Turco-Egyptian[6] rule ended abruptly on January 26, 1885 due to Mahdi Revolution [1881-1898] that forced a hasty withdrawal of Turco-Egyptian administrators from the Sudan after the killing of Charles George Gordon on January 26, 1885 in Khartoum. However, the Anglo-Egyptian expedition of 1896-1898 saw the re-occupation of the Sudan that culminated in the establishment of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium in the Sudan that was later re-affirmed by the infamous Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936. It was not until January 1, 1956 that the Anglo-Egyptian reign was broken, once and for all.

2. Colonial Era

After the Anglo-Egyptian condominium defeated the Mahdiya Uprising[7] in 1898 at the “battle of Umdurman,” the British sent the first exploration mission led by Colonel Sparkes Bey into Southern Sudan in December 1900. Colonel Sparkes Bey and his 28 men arrived at Jur Ghattas Post (Tonj) on January 1, 1901, initiating the conquest of Southern Sudan by the Anglo-Egyptian colonialists. The entry of the Anglo-Egyptian[8] colonial powers into Southern Sudan opened a floodgate to Arab traders, Christian missionaries and British colonial masters. This elicited resistance and rebellions from the African tribes in Southern Sudan.

These rebellions[9] were the Azande Resistance led by King Gbudue, the Anyuak Resistance led by king Akuei, the Aliab Dinka Resistance led by Kon Anok, the Lou Nuer Resistance led by Guek Ngundeng and the United Tribes Society of Tok Mac Miir (an Arabized Dinka army officer, popularly known as Ali Abd al-Latif), a veteran of World War One. Despite their fierce resistance, early South Sudanese opposition to the Anglo-Egyptian rule was violently suppressed, with most leaders getting killed or ended up in jail. King Gbudue was captured and killed on February 7, 1905 after his fellow Zande and rival king, King Tambura, betrayed him.

The same misfortunes befell his fellow resistive brothers: the British subdued and killed King Akuei in 1920; Kon Anok surrendered in March, 1920 and was poisoned in prison in Mongalla; Tok Mac Miir was arrested and jailed in June 1924 while Guek Ngundeng was killed in action on February 8, 1929 by Percey Coriat, the then British commissioner of Lou Nuer areas.

The Closed District Ordinance Act of 1914-1946

After subduing resistive African tribes, the British introduced The Closed District Ordinance Act (1914-1946), apparently to protect the undeveloped, vulnerable African South from the more developed, sophisticated Arab North. Arabs were barred from participating in trading activities, missionary work and administration in the South. Unfortunately, the British Policy of cordoning off the South, whatever good intention was behind it, overwhelmingly contributed to South Sudanese political marginalization, economic exploitation and cultural subjugation after Sudan independence. This was because the South was left isolated and backward—South Sudanese were ill-prepared politically, economically, educationally and administratively by the time the British left the Sudan in 1956.

Moreover, the Islamists[10] in the persons of Turabi, Mirghani, and El-Mahdi have passionately argued that had it not been for the British-imposed Southern Policy of the “Closed District” that shielded Southern Sudan from Northern political, cultural, economic and religious influences, the African South would have been easily Islamized and Arabized, and thus, integrated into the Arabo-Islamic Sudan. In other words, according to the Islamists, the bitter problems between the North and the South, between the Arabs and the Africans, between Christians and Muslims in the Sudan could never have occurred but for the British Southern Policy.

To South Sudanese,[11] on the other hand, the British Southern Policy heralded the beginning of their political and economic marginalization in the post-independent Sudan at the hand of the British-favored Northerners. To be fair to the British administrators though, it is to be noted that the same policy of protecting the most vulnerable from the most sophisticated ones was also applied in the case of Egypt and the Sudan: Sudan was initially protected from the more advanced Egypt by the British. The difference is that Egypt and the Sudan separated, while the South and the North remained one, albeit till July 9th, 2011.

The Two-Day Juba Conference of 1947

By 1946, the British imposed Southern Policy of “Closed District”[12] became untenable and was subsequently abandoned, opening the door for the North to administer the South as part of one united Sudan. However, no sooner did the British discard the Southern Policy than Southerners started complaining and protesting about wanton mistreatments in the workplaces and disparities in pay levels between them and their northern counterparts. Southerners were overwhelmingly underrepresented in the government, generally underpaid and largely mistreated at workplaces not just in North Sudan, but also in the South, their own backyard.[13]

Stunned by the unrests and persistent hullabaloos[14] from Southerners, Sir James Robertson, the then Civil Secretary of the Sudan from 1945-1953, sent a memo to the Southern Provincial Governors and heads of departments “instructing them to gather information from Southern educated elites regarding the status of the South.”[15] Among the responses reported back to Sir James Robertson by the Southern Provincial Governors were: rejection of incorporating Southern Sudan into Uganda; rejection of Southern Sudan being administered by the Northern Parliament owing to mistrust rooted in the slave trade and religious differences; some rejected unity with the north while others were for it, and the rest wanted separate independent Southern Sudan.

Intrigued by the mixed findings from Southerners, Sir James Robertson organized a conference in Juba to be attended by both northern and southern delegates to decide the future of their country—do they want to stay as one united country or two separate ones? However, the Southern delegates—many of whom were barely literate—were not adequately briefed on the meanings and high stakes of the Juba Conference. Furthermore, the manner in which the 16 Southern delegates were chosen was questionable in that most of those who got invited were those who, more or less, favored unity with the north in their earlier responses to Sir James Robertson. During the deliberations, only three Southern delegates got chances to air their views, and of the three, only one accepted the idea of a united Sudan, one in the form of a confederacy rather than a one-country, one-system arrangement.

Writing to Sir Robert Howe—the then British Governor-General representing the Queen in the colony, Sir James Robertson, by the end of the conference, reported “the Southern Sudan, through her representatives in the two-day Juba Conference, has agreed to throw her lot with the North. The best interest of the South will therefore be guaranteed in a united Sudan.”[16] Thus, as the British were preparing to grant Sudan independence, the Juba Conference recommendations of a united Sudan in which “the best interest of the South would be guaranteed” were implemented: the South and the North were conjoined into one united Sudan—an acrimonious marriage that was never supposed to have been and consequently never worked.

Most tellingly, Sir James Robertson, on further reflection on the Juba Conference and his role in it, later wrote the following, basically repudiating his earlier recommendation to the Governor-General, Sir Robert Howe: “I looked upon the Juba Conference solely as a mean of finding out the capabilities of the Southerners, and it was therefore inaccurate for some people to say later that at the Juba Conference, the Southerner representatives agreed to come in with the North. No decision could have been made at the Conference since members had received no mandate from their peoples. The only decision resulting from the Conference was taken by myself.”[17] Whether Sir James Robertson acted at the behest of the colonial British government or the British-favored northern Arab or on his own was not the burning question that Southerners were asking themselves then: the main problem was how they felt short-changed in the election following the 1953 self-government statute.

Ganging up to campaign for a Confederacy between the South and the North as the only hope left to safeguard their political and economic interest within a united Sudan, Southern Sudanese Members of Parliament and Civil Servants, with the help of the Liberal Party—the only party in the South by then, staged another big Conference in Juba in 1954. Instrumental in this conference of 1954 was Both Diu, a Southern Sudanese legislator from the Nuer tribe who was among the Southern delegates of the 1947 Juba Conference. Dubbed as the Both Diu Conference of 1954, the Conference was attended by 200 delegates from the three regions of Southern Sudan.

In addition to calling for the full implementation of the 1947 Juba Conference[18] recommendations that had promised Southerners’ protection under a Confederate System with the North, the 1954 Conference petitioned the British Governor-General, in a letter written by Chairman Benjamin Lwoki, that “no one in the South would like at the moment to see this Egyptian proposal (unity between Egypt and Sudan) carried out. We in the South are still undeveloped economically, socially and politically. If the Egyptian proposal to deprive us of our safeguards vested in the Governor-General are accepted, we ask Your Excellency that there will be no any other way for us except to ask for federation with the North. Failing to federate, we shall ask as the alternative for the appointment of a High-Commissioner from the British Foreign Office to Administer the South under the Trusteeship of the United Nations till such time as we shall be able to decide our own future.”[19]

Even though the petition containing Southern Sudanese’ grievances and political frustrations was copied to Prime Minister Ismail Al-Azhari of the Sudan, he exacerbated the problems when he appointed only 4 junior officials in his government of over 800 civil servants. As if that was not enough insult, Prime Minister Al-Azhari engineered forced transfer of Southern Sudanese military units from the South to the North in a move meant to deprive Southerners any credible mean of resistance: it backfired on him in Torit. In the first post-independence general election of 1957, Father Saturnino Lohure was the Prime Ministerial candidate from the Southern Liberal Party but he lost badly to the Umma Party of Abdalla Khalil who became the new Sudanese Prime Minister.

Torit Mutiny, August 18, 1955

In the days[20] leading up to Sudan’s independence from Great Britain, Southern Sudanese were politically, economically and socially marginalized at the decision-making table. Military units with sizeable Southern Sudanese soldiers in them were being transferred to the North while military units dominated by the Arabs were being taken to the South. Fed up with Southerners’ marginalization in the lead up to Sudan independence from Great Britain, and in a move calculated to pre-empt their imminent transfer to the North, the Equatoria Corps—a military unit composed of Southerners—mutinied in Torit on August 18, 1955.

The rebellion was the official commencement of South Sudanese’ liberation struggle[21] that went on for the next 50 years till the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the SPLM/A of Dr. John Garang and the government of the Sudan under President Omar Bashir in 2005 that ushered in the independence of South Sudan from Khartoum. General Emilio Tafeng and Ali Gbattala led the 1955 Torit mutiny. Though it was violently crushed in the bud, the Torit Mutiny of 1955 became an inspiration for the founding of both Anyanya One and the SPLM/A Movement—both of which contributed to the final liberation of the Republic of South Sudan.

The Anyanya One Movement started its war on August 18, 1962 while the Underground Movement[22] of the Post-Addis Ababa Accord—the ancestors of the Sudan People Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A)—had planned to declare their insurrection on August 18, 1983. Kuanyin Bol and his money problem in Bor, however, derailed that plan.[23]

PaanLuel Wël ( [email protected] ) is the Managing Editor of PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers. He can be reached through his Facebook page, Twitter account or on the blog: http://paanluelwel2011.wordpress.com/

[1] James Shimanyula, “John Garang and the SPLA” [2005]
[2] Steve Paterno, “The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure: A Roman Catholic Priest Turned Rebel, the South Sudan Experience” [2007] [3] God in Dinka Language [4] The Liberator, “Volume 2, July 2011, Issue No. 009” [2011] [5] Charles Armine Willis, “The Upper Nile Province Handbook: A Report of Peoples and Government in the Southern Sudan, 1931” [1996]. [6] Scopas Poggo, “The First Sudanese Civil War: Africans, Arabs, and Israelis in the Southern Sudan, 1955-1972” [2008].

[7] Charles Armine Willis, “The Upper Nile Province Handbook: A Report on Peoples and Government in the Southern Sudan, 1931 [1996]

[8] Richard Gray, “A history of the Southern Sudan 1839-1889” [1961].

[9] Leek Mawut, “Dinka Resistance to Condominium Rule, 1902-1932” [1983]

[10] David Mayo, “The British Southern Policy in Sudan: An Inquiry into the Closed District Ordinances (1914-1946)” [1994]

[11] Mohamed Beshir, “Southern Sudan, Regionalism & Religion: Selected Essays” [1984]

[12] Roberts Collins, “The Southern Sudan in Historical Perspective” [2007]

[13] Joseph Oduho and William Deng, “The problem of the Southern Sudan” [1963]

[14] Dr. Lam Akol, “Southern Sudan: colonialism, resistance, and autonomy” [2007]

[15] The Liberator, Volume 2, July 2011, Issue No. 009 [2011]

[16] The Liberator, Volume 2, July 2011, Issue No. 009 [2011]

[17] The Liberator, Volume 2, July 2011, Issue No. 009 [2011]

[18] Minutes of the Juba Conference 1947 [1947]

[19] The Liberator, Volume 2, July 2011, Issue No. 009 [2011]

[20] Arop Madut-Arop, “The Genesis of Political Consciousness in South Sudan” [2012]

[21] Arop Madut-Arop, “Sudan’s Painful Road To Peace: A Full Story of the Founding and Development of SPLM/SPLA” [2006]

[22] Gabriel Achuoth Deng, “Wars and a new vision for the Sudan: (a political lesson)” [2005]

[23] Elijah Malok Aleng, “The Southern Sudan: struggle for liberty” [2009]

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