Telar Ring Deng, the De Facto President of South Sudan and the New Power Base of the SPLM

By Kuir ë Garang

October 4, 2013 (SSNA) — One of the unbecoming things you easily notice in South Sudan is the significance placed on a few individuals. For those of you who know enough history of South Sudan, you know that there were two Mutinies—1974 and 1975—before the Mutiny of Bor; however, these two Mutinies are not given any significant place in our history. A few conscientious South Sudanese who find it expedient to mention these historical events mention them in a passing. No emphasis!

Many South Sudanese have been let to believe that Anya-nya I war started in 1955 when it actually started in 1963 following the formation of Sudan African Closed District National Union (SACDNU) led by Joseph H. Oduho. After Ismael el Azhari hoodwinked and subdued the mutineers of August 1955 Torit Mutiny, nothing substantial happened between 1955 and 1963 in terms of significant liberation war.

The remnants of Torit Mutiny, who ran to the bush, carried out ineffective attacks with really primitive tools but strength of will. The greatest achievement of Torit Mutiny is that it raised the consciousness of South Sudanese in a way that could neither be ignored nor reversed. However, Torit Mutiny didn’t directly lead to full-scale civil war. It was not until political leaders like Joseph Oduho, Father Saturnino, Deng Nhial, Aggrey Jaden among others, formalized the struggle objectives and organized a formidable force (somehow) did the actual liberation war start. In factual honesty, Anya-nya was formally launched in 1963 as opposed to the general belief that it was formed immediately after 1955 Mutiny.

However, comfortingly, the Torit Mutiny is given its rightful place in the history of struggle for freedom of South Sudanese even if a few details about it are regularly misrepresented.

When one looks at 1975 Akobo Mutiny by Vincent Kuany and Bol Kur, however, one finds that this event has been completely played down. The mutineers of this event helped in the formation of Anya-nya Patriotic Front (APF) under Gordon Muortat Mayen. So when the Bor Mutiny finally happened eight years later, there was already a rebel movement fighting the government of Sudan. Basically, the civil war had already started; however, you’ll find in history books that the second civil war started in 1983. Those of John Garang, Kerubino, Nyuon Bany, Salva Kiir, Joseph Oduho among others, were joining a liberation struggle that was already started…even if it wasn’t effective.

Historically, we tend to see some people as more important that others in South Sudan even if their objective is the same. Anya-nya II and those of Vincent Kuany were not regarded as highly as those of John Garang, Nyuon Bany and the rest. Without doubt, this is unbecoming of us!

In the end, what we have to note is that Anya-nya II and the Mutineers of 1975 led to the formation of APF that was ineffective but historically significant. Curiously, their policies didn’t augur well with the communist Mengistu Haile Mariam. When APF failed, Anya-nya II remained as a liberation force. We can play down the role played by rebel leaders like Gordon Kong, however, we have to remember that they started the war long before SPLA was formed and informed us that the ruling elites in Khartoum will never change and that war is the only solution.

What we have to acknowledge is the manner in which SPLA formalized the war. What SPLA did in 1983 is like what those of Oduho and Father Saturnino did in 1963. Admittedly, the war was formalized, the leadership was structured, strong policy papers put in place and a formidable liberation struggle launched.

What is curious is that the first civil war actually started in 1963 but we have it down as having started in 1955. The second civil war is put down as having started in 1983 when it actually started way before that date. One has to ask oneself, why? Some people are more equal than others, that’s why!

Now, and for good reason, this brings me to the relevance of the above historiographical input to our current political quandary in Juba. We have a few individuals who have been vested with importance and power. Not only is that true, the said individuals have instrumentalized that state of affairs to our own chagrin.

Sadly though, when these individuals became targets of the average citizens given the fact that they are the rulers of the country, their tribe-mates start to bizarrely regard those, who critique the facts surrounding such vested individuals, with damning suspicion.

One stand out culprit is Telar Ring Deng, the current legal advisor to the president of the Republic South Sudan. In bizarre, though understandable twist, Telar has assumed a place that is disproportionate with his role as an advisor. Telar has become the single most important person in South Sudan; even better than the president. If the national assembly, the voice of the people, rejects a person for one reason or another, there has to be a very good reason for the president to hire such a person. It’s either the president doesn’t respect the parliament, which is the voice of the people, or Telar Ring Deng has a magic wand the president can’t live without.

Truly, there are so many advisors in South Sudan but we don’t hear about them. Telar talks as if he’s the president. He’s just an advisor. In this Press Release after he was chosen by the president (again!!) to be his legal advisor, Telar listed things he’ll help achieve. Anyone who read the release will agree with me that the voice in the article didn’t match the role of an advisor. It felt like a message from a minister with effective influence on the presidency and the whole political system.

In fact, we have ministry of Justice, the cabinet, the national assembly and the judges of the land, however, Telar wrote as if his message would count more than that of all these legal requirements. In the real world, this makes you wonder who Telar Ring Deng actually is! What is he that we don’t know? Is he being groomed for leadership by the president? Don’t ask me!

Telar’s bizarre and inexplicable actions are really mind-boggling. When Sudan Tribune honestly quoted a constitutional provision from a different version of the numerous and often confusing versions of the Transitional Constitution, Telar Deng wrote a scathing letter criticizing Sudan Tribune editors. What came to my mind is WHERE in the world does a legal advisor, a simple legal advisor, become the presidential spokesperson? Why didn’t the minister of Justice defend the constitutionality of the presidential action? Why didn’t the government spokesperson do that? Telar’s role is to help in decision making not to stand in for the president, even in the media. Maybe Telar is something we don’t know, which we have to know!

The Press Release was actually self-incriminating. Convincingly enough, it projected Telar as the de facto president of South Sudan. The man has been given a very important place in the government of South Sudan that he says things that are way beyond his job description. A man who, in 2008, called President Kiir a ‘Dictator’ is now the most trusted man by the president; trusted even when rejected by the parliament! You can call that politics, but you just have to wonder: will things be okay?

In 2008, Pagan Amum and Deng Alor were in; Aleu Ayieng and Telar Deng were out. Now, you know what has happened. In essence, Telar has dangerously assumed a position of significance and self-importance that is unnerving. Given the bizarre decisions being made by the president one is left with no doubt that Telar is basically telling the president what to do! Anyone Telar doesn’t like is out or will be out. So who’s the president?

I have to admit however that the president has the interest of the country at heart. At least I want to believe so! He could do the right thing if only he had the right people around him. With the likes of the self-righteous, self-proclaimed pillar of Kiir’s Presidency around, the president is unknowingly being led to destroy his legacy; which now reeks of autocracy and repression.

Kuir ë Garang is a South Sudanese poet, author and publisher living in Canada, but currently visiting family in Perth, Australia. He’s the author of the new analytical book, South Sudan Ideologically.’ For more information visit or

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