The 1991 catastrophe and its significant paradigm shift in the history of struggle

By Kuach Tutkuay

January 24, 2015 (SSNA) — Our rudimentary societies have a way of dealing with societal sins; they would select a blameless goat, castes all the community sins on that goat and let it escape into the forest. This is how the term “escape goat” came to be. In the same way, a society always finds an individual or group of people to blame for any incident that befall them. This blame may or may not be true depending on the facts that back it up. In South Sudan, Dr. Riek Machar fall victim—frankly speaking, he was intentionally made the escape goat—of two terrible incidents: the 1991 and the 2013. As we have read much about 2013 incident and will probably continue to read and hear more, the aim of this article is to provide some insights into the 1991 which was seemingly blurred by political propaganda that are often biased by personal emotion.

Before the formation of SPLM/A in 1983, there existed a group of separatists known as the Anya-nya I and II. “Anya-nya”, a Madi term for snake/scorpion venom, is believed to have been coined by Joseph Lagu, the then leader of the group. Although the leader of the group was Lagu who hails from Equatoria, the Nuer were the dominant ethnic group in the Movement. The sole vision of the group was Independence for South Sudan. After the signing of the Addis Ababa peace agreement in 1972, most of the Anya-nya fighters were absorbed into the Sudan Arms Forces. According to Oystein H. Rolandsen, part of this Anya-nya force identified as Anya-nya II refused to be integrated and remained along the Ethiopia’s western border. When the SPLM/A was formed in 1983, the founders like John Garang adopted a quasi Marxist-Leninist manifesto to please Mengisto and his Dergue regime in Ethiopia. This made many Anya-nya separatists, like Gai Tut, Koang Chol, William Chuol Deng and Akuot Atem, skeptical about the SPLM/A’s vision and, hence, refused to join. The two groups engaged in a battle in the late 1983 and early 1984.

According to Mawut (2011), “In April 1984, the Anya-nya II led by Gai Tut and Akuot Atem sent a delegation to Adura for talks and reconciliation with SPLM. On their way, Major Kerubino Kwanyin Bol of the SPLA ambushed them and Gai Tut was killed”. Peter Nyaba in his book, “The Politics of Liberation in South Sudan: An Insider‘s View” published in 1997 writes on page 45 “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.” This brutality shows how the SPLM/A abhorred the separatists. The killing of Gai did not only weaken the movement, it also sparked a serious enmity between the Dinka unionists under Jonh Garang and the Nuer separatists under William Chuol Deng who then replaced Gai Tut. In the same year, Dr. Machar came from the UK and joined the SPLM/A. This provided an opportunity for many Nuer separatists’ fighters to join the SPLM/A in late 1984 and in big number from 1985 to 1989. While in the SPLM/A, Dr. Machar tried to advocate for the vision of the movement to incorporate self-determination, an old idea once pursued by Fr. Saturnino Lohure, Gordon Murotat, Both Diu and many other Southern leaders.

“By mid-1989, the SPLM/A controlled several major towns in the South; but while there was progress on the battlefield, the politics of the Movement was in disarray. Tensions rose as John Garang used force and intrigue to bolster his position as supreme leader of the Movement” Rolandsend (2005). All these forces and intriguing exhausted the efforts by Dr. Machar to include self-determination and to democratize the Movement’s decision making process. Dr. Machar would have joined Anya-Nya II instead of the SPLM/A, but this would put the South Sudanese into an endless war of visions like what happened in 1991. By choosing to join the SPLM/A, Dr. Machar thought he will influence the Movement’s decisions from within to incorporate self-determination, a move that would unified both SPLM/A and Anya-any II. His failure to impact changes cause misunderstanding between him and Dr. Garang and, hence, tension. This tension preceded the 1991 split since Dr. Machar had no any other option left, it was a choice of either he remains a unionist or defect which he chose the latter. A poorly informed person may argue that the incident in 1991 was a tribal or leadership crisis, but a well informed person with rigorous analytical aptitude understands it as a war of visions. Dr. Garang, in his Marxist-Leninist manifesto published on 31 July 1983, quoted the following: “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… 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.

In his speech during the SPLM conference with Other Arms Groups in Nairobi in June 2005, Dr. Garang said, “The vision of the SPLM/A has always been to achieve justice, equality, freedom and democracy for all Sudanese within the context of a new Sudanese political dispensation, which we have called the “New Sudan”, a New Sudan in which all are free and equal citizens irrespective of whether they are Arab or African background, whether they are Muslims or Christians, men or women.” Still Dr. Garang has not changed is vision of a united Sudan even after the CPA. Mathew J. Delaney, in his research paper quoted, “according to Garang, separatism, or sentiments among the Southerners that calls for secession from the North, was a result of oppressive divide-and-rule tactics by the ruling elites”. Dr. Garang, as a strong and well educated man, overestimated the power of his fellow Southerners. He thought ruling over the whole Sudan would be a walk in a park. By pursuing a New Sudan that is based on a “Secular constitution”, Garang might have not gained the full support of the majority Muslim including the Darfur and Southern Blue Nile who were intimate friends of the South during the struggle. Talking about a “secular constitution” to Muslim whose religion was so embedded into their leadership culture was unthinkable.

On the other hand, self-determination became an oft-times statement from Dr. Machar and it occurred several times in any document he helped put together, including the “Why Dr. Garang must go now” and the texts of the Abuja declaration—both Abuja one and two. A document on the Abuja declaration contains the following resolutions:

Urged the two SPLM/A factions:

i. To jointly champion the right of the people of Southern Sudan to self-determination.

ii. That the wishes of the people of Abyei, Nuba mountain and Southern Blue Nile be taken into consideration during the process of self-determination together with the South.

iii. The two factions of the SPLM/A will adopt a common position on the issue of interim arrangements which will be necessary in the period prior to the referendum.

Had the SPLM-Nasir faction not been invited, what do you think would be the resolutions? We cannot tell with certainty but I imagined Dr. Garang’s “New Sudan vision” would top the list and that would mark the disappearance of self-determination, hence, the disappearance of the independence for the South. “However, on January 24, 1992 the SPLM/A Nasir faction expressed their goals for Southern self-determination and the separation of the South from the North. The Nasir faction did not endorse Sudanism, and saw the hope for a united Sudan as unrealistic. We can see that issues of ideology are fundamental to factional movements against the SPLM/A. At a delegation between Lam Akol and the Nasir faction with the Nigerian Government, it was pointed out that “secession is the will of the Southern people and Garang knows this very well.” It was concluded that Garang’s movement was “doomed” because it did not reflect the goals and “aspirations” of the Southern people” Delaney (2010) p.19.

After killing many people in Adura, Jekow, Bor and many other places; and after killing many strong leaders in the likes of Gai Tut, Chuol Deng, Akuot Atem, among others, the SPLM/A under Garang had no option but to accept the loathsome separation. What an irony! The question of leadership was never a bone of contention. Immediately Dr. Garang accepted to incorporate the idea of self-determination, he was endorsed to lead the Movement by those he feared were running after his leadership, and Dr. Machar was to deputize him. It should go without saying the ironical modesty of Dr. Machar that extended to offer his position to Salva Kiir when he rebelled against the SPLM protesting that Dr. Garang and Dr. Machar are from Greater Upper Nile and should not take the top positions of the Movement. It was Dr. Machar who went to Rumbek to convince Kiir by offering him his position of Deputy, and then Wani Iga, another character who cares much about the Movement than himself offer his third position and was pushed to fourth position despite the fact that he was representing the whole of Greater Equatoria. Dr. Machar, in his meeting with Kiir, argued that “it is not a question of who leads that should impede the independence of the south; it is a question of whether we are heading towards the right direction in the process of liberating our people.”

Story repeats itself; in 2013, despite the euphoria of having a New State, the political arena was quite tense between pro- and anti-democracy. The cause, which was vivid to all, was a simple matter that a competent leader would have handled with ease. It was a war between “democracy” and “totalitarianism”. Kiir boycotted the meeting of the Political Bureau (PB) that would set the agenda for the National Liberation Council (NLC) meeting, he zigged before he could zagged by unconstitutionally calling the NLC meeting before the PB meeting. And worst of all, he unconstitutionally dissolved the party structures under no constitutional provision. When the reformists called a rally to enlighten the public of what was transpiring, Kiir fired his first bullet on the non-violent reformists in the same way Dr. Garang, and Kiir himself, fired their first bullet on the separatists. This is a South Sudan with a cooked history where devils will always be praised as angels of salvation, and angels branded as devils. The erstwhile haters of separation became the current leaders of independent South Sudan.

I just obtained the SPLM intra-party dialogue in Arusha, Tanzania, signed this week and I can’t help crying for all the thousands lives lost. All agenda the reformists were calling for are the ones agreed upon. My question was, “why did Salva Kiir killed us for something he would eventually agree on?” This happened also with the David Yau-Yau’s rebellion. After killing thousands of the Murle people the government decided to agree on Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA), a call they have ignored for long. Many citizens believe that this is a trick to lure Dr. Machar and his team to Juba so that they harm him like what they had done to the father of separation, Samuel Gai Tut, whom they lure to come for a peace talks in Adura and then ambushed and killed, but if this could be their motive, I can assure you, there will be no South Sudan. After murdering tens of thousands civilians in Juba, Bor, Malakal, Bentiu and other places; the SPLM-Juba wants to accept the loathsome idea of reforms and democratization of the party. What an irony! All these incidents made me believe a saying that “the Dinka elites don’t just agree with an idea presented by a member of another tribe, no matter how good the idea may sounds, because they thought it might be a trick to swindle their dearly loved and pathetic leadership”

As a conclusion, I want to advise the Dinka elders that Kiir’s leadership is not Dinka leadership. We have all voted for him. When a community follows a wrong just because it was done by their folk, then other communities always finds it hard to co-exist with such people. Same apply to Nuer or any other tribe that might follow the Dinka example, please remember our unity come first. And by supporting our people who wronged against other communities, we are obstructing our unity with those people.

The author could be reach on [email protected] or follow him on twitter @kuach444.


1. Mathew J. Delany (2010) John Garang and Sudanism: A Peculiar And Resilient Nationalism
2. Oystein H. Rolandsen(2005) Guerrilla Government; Political Changes in Southern Sudan since 1990s
3. Peter Adwok Nyaba(1997) The Politics of Liberation in South Sudan
4.The Text of Abuja declaration, (Abuja 1&2)
The Text of SPLM/A Manifesto published in July 1983.
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