Interview with Commander Edward Lino

SPLM/A Head Office Nairobi
February 24, 2004  (Sudan Vision)

What has become of SPLM/A after it started as military operation? How has it treated Southerners? Has its leadership been tribally dominated and motivated? And what does the SPLM/A intended to do when peace is realized? Edward Lino was the first head of the SPLM/A nucleus in Khartoum and explains all the details in an interview with Sudan Vision News Editor Oliver Mori Benjamin in Naivasha, Kenya.

Who is Edward Lino

I was born in Abyei on February 1946, and am from Abieng. I entered primary school in Mathiang in 1953. After that my father was transferred to Gogrial where I completed elementary education. Being an administrator, my father had a lot of transfers from place to place. From Gogrial he was transferred to Aldcin then to Al Fashir in Darfur province by then. I did not travel with my father after elementary education.

I went for my intermediate school in Wau then secondary education, which I completed successfully and was accepted in Khartoum University, Faculty of Law. While a student in the university I was arrested and detained with other colleagues for political activities. Due to those circumstances I could not complete my university studies in Khartoum.

After the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972, I went to the South. I was employed in the Ministry of Culture and Information as Assistant Editor in Nile Mirror Newspaper. There I was arrested and detained. I was dismissed from my job and requested to leave Juba within seventy-two hours.

Was your eviction order from Juba from the Minister concerned?

No, No, No. The Minister informed me that the President of the then High Executive Council H.E. Abel Alier had directed that I should leave Juba within seventy-two hours and that failure to abide would lead to serious consequences.

What happened after that?

Well from Juba, I left on land to Rumbek. By then my parents were in Wau there I met Ustaz Lubani Ramba Lokollo who was by then the Director General of Education in the South. Lubani Ramba Lokollo accepted me to teach in Rumbek secondary school. I worked there for two years. I was again arrested and detained with colleagues and students from the union in Rumbek. After release from detention in Rumbek and Wau, I was also dismissed.

I went to Khartoum and joined the private sector. I then worked my way out to the South again. I came to the South and established the office of the Regional Development Corporation (RDC). I gained a lot of experience in business with various categories of people. I was also able to build relations with a wide range of Sudanese communities from the north and the south.

At that time also my political maturity grew stronger, especially in regards to North-South relations. The political situation in Khartoum was also falling out of control starting from the early eighties to 1983 when the SPLM/A was officially inaugurated. When the chairman Dr. John Garang left, I was assigned to be in charge of the internal front office in Khartoum.

The press is assuming that the visit of the SPLM/A good will mission to Khartoum last December was the first of SPLM presence in Khartoum. That is not true. The SPLM/A had been there ever since it's inception in 1983 and continues to be. In fact, the first nucleus of SPLM/A office all over the Sudan was set up in Khartoum.

In 1987 I was transferred from the SPLM/A head office in Khartoum to the headquarters. I underwent the military training after which I participated in several battles.

Abyei is taken as North-South linkage zone in which there is interaction... Sudanese symbol of unity. How do you see this measure?

Abyei is a Dinka territory. To me more specific it belongs to the Dinka Ngok. Yes there is dispute over it. But I can tell you that the dispute is artificial. I can still remember when we were young, the Missairiya used to come with their cattle and graze in our land. The people were open to one another. But later on the Missairiya became malicious, being supported by the government in Khartoum.

They started to claim ownership of the land by killing the local inhabitants barbarically. The young girls were raped and forced into temporary marriages. Later on they were sold together with the boys as slaves. The few survivors were forced to become Muslims or risk being killed and this is how most of the Dinka Ngok were converted into Islam. Some of them abandoned their Muslim names after the Addis Ababa Agreement. They have chosen to remain neutral neither practicing Islam nor Christianity. It is actually a very long story.

Jumping to conclusions on Abyei as a linkage between North and South is not true. If you consider the circumstances I have told you. Yes, Abyei is on the border, but why particularly talk of it, as though it is the only border area? We should examine all those factors and try to reason things in a way which can harmonize the people as equals. I personally think we can live together if we respect each other's values.
What is happening in Darfur today is a natural human reaction from the indigenous people who feel outsiders are marginalizing them. The Nuba, the Ingasanna had felt the same. That is why they joined the SPLM/A. The East is already putting on the same resistance. Let those holding the reign of power and directing these subversive policies come to their sense of reason. They should take a pause and leave what does not belong to them to the rightful owners.

Your memories about Khartoum University?

The university life I joined it in 1967, we had a variety of activities, ranging from social, cultural and political domains. But after that, the May regime of Nimeiri, the government became worried and interested directly into students' activities in the university. I was an executive committee member in the students union. The chairman of the executive committee of Khartoum University Students Union was then the current First Vice-President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha. I was then the secretary for foreign relations in the executive committee.

The university was a free zone for thinking and ideologies. The Muslim hardliners were there to find the latest communists. The Arab globalization movement was there to find their adversaries, the Pan African Movement, and so on. So when I met with Ustaz Ali Osman Mohamed Taha for peace talks, I cracked a joke by telling him about our university politics. I reminded him that the respect we used to give to the various shades of ideologies is what is required for the attainment of just and durable peace in the Sudan. This must be divided proportionally.

What was your ideological concept as a student in the university?

I was a socialist... no doubt about it. I was also a founding member of ANF (African National Front) in the university. We were aiming at transferring the workers union movement into an ideological concept that could be applied in every aspect of life. During the Nimeiri regime, we were categorized as communists. However up to now I do not regret for the price I have paid in detention and arbitrary arrests, because of my ideological thinking. Those situations have broadened my thinking to look objectively on life. Now I am in the SPLM/A and I am very proud to have achieved one of my objectives in life.

What specifically have you achieved for the people?

Let us not personalize issues. Of course it is not Edward Lino who has done this or that. As an objective I joined the Movement to work together with others. And as a movement the SPLM/A has sown the seeds of struggle. Those seeds have germinated... and whether we are gong to have a good harvest or not it is left for the people to judge.

What is important is that those who used to consider us as lazy people who cannot cultivate have now come to realize that no one can stop us from sowing seeds. In the current round of the peace talks, they are now envying and becoming jealous of the seeds and fruits in our garden. So they are coming in as locusts and wild monkeys to destroy the garden and rob us of our produce. We are telling them that they don't need to behave like that. We are not greedy and selfish in the way they have been behaving for over fifty years. We can still share things and give them what they have been asking for. So I can in short tell you that the greatest challenge remains with our youth. They should keep a watchful eye on the locusts and wild monkeys who can at any time destroy our fields.

In your view, how can we cement the North-South relations?

Before we can talk of cementing the North-South relations, let us give a flashback. You see, the minority clique in the North has always taken Southerners who do not see and understand issues. Not only that, but they consider us as unworthy of consideration as equal citizens created by the same one God.

The Northerner considers Southerners like the snuff (saud) they take. When the appetite for it comes to refresh his mind he takes it and the nerves are relaxed and the snuff looses its taste. It is spat on the ground and mashed by the foot or when in an office it is either spat out through the window or into the wastebasket. He will spit out several times and use water to clean his month. He attempts to deny having taken the snuff but in vain because a passerby can still smell it. And above all he keeps the container in his jalabia for the next round. This has been the manner in which most Northerners treated Southerners and other marginalized groups and communities.

Now coming to your question. I can say that Northerners should stop using southerners as snuff (saut) if the Sudan is to remain united after the interim period. I know, there are some Northerners who hate this kind of mistreatment of the Southerners by their own kinsmen. But they are a minority. So I can also say that it is high time for the voice of the minority to be heard.  I think the country Is at the verge of disintegration if peace is not reached

Memories on Abyie Problem?

Very many memories. In 1980 there was a massacre in Northern Abyie. Our community selected a committee to visit the area, With me was Deng Alor, Arop Bagat and others. I was the leader of that delegation. On the first day of our arrival we had a briefing from the people. So the second day we decided to go and meet the local authorities including the State security. We were then summoned to attend a meeting with the security committee of the area. After a heated debate, the security committee resolved that we were separatists, rebels, Anyanya, and outlaws. We were then given orders to leave the area immediately from the route we entered Abyie.

After leaving the security meeting we held our own meeting. We decided not to leave as directed by the security. I complied accordingly. I told them, we were not leaving. We had come to find out the root causes of the problem which led to the massacre. We would prefer the security to deal with us in the town, than laying an ambush on us on the way, and then later they will claim our death to the outlaws. We were staying in one of the rest houses in Abyie. So the security brought a segment of soldiers, surrounded the rest house for about a week. Nobody was allowed to meet us nor were we allowed to leave the rest house.

The Minister of Local Government affairs by then Shiek Bash Alshiekh, Dr. Francis Deng and Dr. Hassan Abu, and several others, were monitoring the situation in Abyie. Shiekh Bashir Alshiekh arrived accompanied by senior security officers. At 11:00 PM I was picked to attend a security meeting for investigations. At 3:00 AM I was set free and told to go away from the security building.

It was a turning point for me. I was not afraid of what might happen next, but it was a great lesson to learn on how the Khartoum government often deals with Southerners in their own birth place. They invaded our soil and reduced us to slaves. I was not demoralized, but developed more courage to liberate our people from the yoke of the Arab oppression.

Commander Edward Lino, Southerners from within view the SPLM/A to run away with everything after peace, leaving them in the cold with what might have fallen off the table of the SPLM and the National Congress Party. How is the Government of the South going to be shared?

Many of our people still see solutions in terms of what will I gain or get out of this game of politics. Lucky are those who are alive... but what do we say to those who have died? How are they going to get their rights? I want to say that yes, the principle of inclusively is already there. Now the other thing is how is it going to be done?

The areas of responsibility are very big. We are now talking about the practicality of participation in the running of our own affairs. In the running of Sudanese future. So I don't think and I don't believe that everybody should put in his mind that, how are we going to participate? Because you have to know that... the practicality of every government... should it allow free participation of everybody? What is going to happen after the peace agreement is an interim period government.

So you see that it is the commitment to the agreement itself. You still have the responsibility to guard the agreement and see that the agreement has to go ahead as you want it to be and as people want it to be. But if you open up as we organize ourselves freely in parties and so on then I believe that a lot of their fears will be answered. Southerners are much fewer in terms of readiness to participate in the ruling than they see themselves as.

The Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 tells Southerners that it was played down on the first day of its implementation. Instead of the then Commander in Chief of the Anyanya General Joseph Lagu becoming Head of the South, Abdel Alier was played in by the North and consequently took the show from the Anyanya. This led to the non implementation of the terms and spirit of that agreement. Once again Abel Alier is hovering between First Vice-President Taha and SPLM/A Chairman Garang. Will history repeat itself in Naivasha?

What happened, between Joseph Lagu and Abel Alier was something they agreed like that. And the one that we are doing now is actually evidently agreed on already. But it does not mean anything. It means commitment to see the process of the agreement to be implemented more than anything else. The fact that the SPLA is intact does not mean that the Commander in Chief is far from them. I mean that he must have a relationship because the process of the struggle still continues. So I don't think in anyway how the Addis Agreement lesson is going to be repeated.

So can we now take it for granted that the Chairman and Commander Chief SPLM/A Dr. John Garang will become First Vice-President to Omar Al Bashir and at the same time the President of whatsoever government is going to be set up in the South?

Yes and Yes. This has already been agreed upon (he answers with more confidence).

We have heard that the SPLM leadership has decided to transfer the Southern capital from Juba to a neutral triangle in Southern Sudan, how true is this?

For the time being it is an idea. Surveys are going to be made. It is not that it will be implemented on the spot. It needs a lot of capital. The SPLM is trying to cool down worries of others to what will happen to them after the peace. Juba will still be the capital. But the SPLM is cautious not to repeat what happened before. The movement needs everybody for its programmes to succeed during the interim period and the referendum. So I hope no one's sensitive nerves are going to be touched or tempered with by anybody or any community. So the idea of the new capital is not a matter of overnight, it will take time.

Assuming that the peace agreement will be reached in this month of January 2004, where is that seat of the Southern government to be?

Definitely, up to now we are not yet decided on where it is going to be located because there are to be the two stages after the agreement. One of the pre interim period and then second the interim period and then second the interim period itself, so between here and there definitely people will settle. Juba has the possibility of bringing in everybody because once peace is declared you are not gong to wait under a tree or wait for place that is gong to be built. Two the decision for a capital city is not simple decision that can be decided by the leadership of the SPLM alone. No, it has to include many people and that one is going to be a process that has to come. Of course those ideas are going to see other possible areas.

The SPLM/A leadership is being accused of tribal dominations. Being Dinka dominated. This pattern is not different from the Shaygiya, Jaalyin and Dongolawin domination of the successive Khartoum governments. Will this continue to be the shape of government the SPLM/A is going to set up in the South after peace? Sovereign institutions to the Dinkas and the territories to the others for participation purposes?

Definitely No and a big No because the reality of this. The history of the dynamics of the government itself brought the Dinkas up. Not because they are Dinkas or Nuers or Shilluks for that matter. No. Many people are there because of their abilities and the level of understanding. This is one.

Secondly, you see for example the delegation that went to Khartoum. They were from everywhere from Ingasanna, Nuba mountains all other regions of the South. People are always talking too much. Frankly speaking, it is one of the silent cycles of a person who is tribally oriented. Is the fact he sees everything within that scope and he accuses others when he is supposed to accuse himself of tribalism and so on.

The most important thing is do we have a democratic setup that can, make people from each area come up? Right now we are still in the process of liberation and the forces of liberation will have to be applied no matter what tribe dominates. If the struggle is democratic, then it will be applied in its literature. It can be effected in the set up of its hierarchy, and the distribution of its facilities to all.

Certain things can not happen at one time in one generation. There are things that happen as you go ahead. Definitely we are not angles. We have die hard tribalists among us in the SPLM/A. But the overwhelming is not. For example, when we went to Western Equatoria, Yambio, Maridi, Tombura and the rest, 40% of the SPLM forces were from the Nuba Mountains. Nobody from these areas had asked about the composition of the SPLM forces. But right now nobody from the Nuba Mountains is taking responsibility in those areas. They didn't go as an occupation force.

Another example is for instance the SPLA forces that took over Kapoeta since 60% were from Bahr Al Ghazal. Again today when you go to Kapoeta, you will not find a single person from Bahr Al Ghazal being responsible for the affairs of Kapoeta County.

So in general two things are there... the psychological hangover and the reality of the situation on the ground. These accusations have come at a time when people are still offering their lives. Let us wait for the harvest and see how things will move. It is the leadership of war we are having at the moment and is best in the way it moves.

Well you may be right Commander Edward Lino. But the Nuba SPLA forces in Western Equatoria have threatened to set up a Nuba Kingdom in the Kingdom in the Zandeland if asked to leave. Earlier Commanders from Equatoria have petitioned the Chairman on imbalance of promotions and mistreatment of civilian Equatorians by non-Equatoria SPLA personnel. In Equatoria, is this what the SPLM/A war leadership is advocating at the moment?

Not really. But war is war and others must pay the price. We are testing the allegiance of everybody, every community and in that process there are victims. I have told you that in every liberated area the sons and daughters of the locality run their own affairs. The leadership of the movement supervises to ensure the smooth implementation of the laid down policies.

Now, turning to the establishment of Nuba Kingdom in Zandeland, this is not correct. I heard of it. But I think it was aggravated by anger. It was a response to a group of people who have presented problems in a manner thought also by others not to be correct. There are normal administrative issues not political issues. The same people who wrote, when you see them interacting with the rest of the groups in Yei, Eastern Bank, Western Equatoria, they are normal and that is why it didn't explode. 

How can the SPLM merge as a political party with others after peace?

Yes... the SPLM will be set up as a party that is based on individual commitment and the desire to go and pick up the membership, after being satisfied with the political programme it is making... no doubt about that. But with other political parties when they come in of course we will sit and discuss with them. And in fact we have been sitting with SPLM United, and other political groups will identify themselves as independent entities. We have agreed on a common agenda to be implemented for the common good of our people.

What is your vision for the future of the Sudan in general and the South in particular, when peace is reached or not reached?

If peace is not reached... I will start with that. Then everybody has the right to think in the way he wants (he laughed). Personally, I think the country is at the verge of disintegration, and nobody can be able to reverse that one. But if peace is reached, then people will have the chance to have dialogue. Now the way of resolving the problem changes. People, will be talking together, resolving the issues together and so on.

That one can have a healing effect because what the South now complains of... fairness, legitimacy... is an indication that Southerners are very bitter. There is a lot of bitterness, there is a lot of sadness. The degree of marginalization is very difficult and unbearable. Human beings are also very interesting beings, in the sense that the moment you start to recognize their problems and you work to heal them, then it can have a healing effect.

Definitely, the Sudan is not going to be as Sudan we used to know before. It is going to be a new political dispensation which is required. A new relation of development is required. If all things are going to be there, then we shall be at rest. The six years interim period seems to be big. But personally, I believe it is a very adequate period to let us make dialogue and let us see one another at close range and finally make us to decide... and we are going to abide by the vote of our people and safeguard it as well.

What do you say about the SPLM delegation visit to Khartoum, being one of its influential members?

No! No! No! I have not been influential in anyway. I was just one of the participants. We were eleven and each member played his role effectively. What I would just say is to address the Khartoum government. They have seen how the people turned up to welcome us. They saw how the reunion of all the marginalized communities was foretelling. I would advice them to reconsider their current polices for the future of one united Sudan.

They should in particular reconsider their hidden religious agenda which has ruined the country. Is this programme still applicable to rule a united Sudan or not? There should be no shame, and there should be no fear. They have seen what it means to pursue those policies which are alien to the majority of the Sudanese. At the end of the day, it is God and each individual human being. It is not going to be God and intermediaries to act as brokers on behalf of the people...(he sarcastically laughs).

What similarities are there between the Nuba people the Ingasanna and the people of the South to join the SPLM/A?

There is a very long historical background between the Nuba, Ingasanna and the Southerners. First of all, the two communities are not different in any way to those in the South. Secondly, the slave trade did not start in the South. It did not jump them. This is one very important historical background of the Nuba, Ingasanna and the Southerners.

The Arab slave traders invaded these areas on equal footing and the same measure, methods, and tools of oppression. Wherever you go in these communities, you find them living together in villages and so on. For example, Ali Abdelatif, people speak about his duality. Being Southern and Nuba. It was in Halfa where he was born and then he was arrested in 1924 and taken to Wau in prison. And from there, he was taken to Egypt where he died in 1948. This is just an example of one person and there are many others.

The culture of Omdurman is the culture of the people who mainly came from the west, during the Mahdiya, whether being Missairiya Rizeigat, or Nuba and so on. The Nuba were the first people who hosted the Mahdi. And it was not just out of mere coincidence, the relationship between Abba Island at that time, 1821, was part of the Kingdom of the Reth of the Shilluk. The island by then was called in Shilluk Uch Island. The Reth's seat was in Fashoda and continues to be up to date. These are historical facts which the invaders are distorting.

The father of the Mahdi, Mohamed Ahmed Ibi Abdeaba had a married relationship with Umbaa of Abba. On behalf of the Reth, when the fight started, he sent an emissary to the Reth that, "This is the son of our daughter and that he also would like to save our people from slavery and oppression being carried out by the Arabs." Instead of going there directly, he contacted the Nuba because there is an institutionalized relationship between the Eastern Nuba and the Reth of the Shilluk. You see it is just like the election of the Pope. There are some types of stones which are normally cast and he who gets that particular type of glittering stone becomes the choice for the Reth of the Shilluk. And that particular glittering stone comes from the Nuba Mountains. If the stone does not come, then election of the Reth cannot proceed. There are also other things brought together with the glittering stone.

The same, the relationship between the Sillum and the Ingasanna of Blue Nile. For example, a person like George Kuwanyi... His grandfather is from South Blue Nile. He is from the Ingasanna. But his great grandfather was the emissary of the king in the court of the Reth. Even in language, there are some relationships between some languages of South Blue Nile, especially those of the Gumus, the Wadukus and the rest. So, the similarities of life culture are just the same as of most Southern tribes. The relationship also between the people of Panyang and the Nuba... You just can't separate it.

So, when the movement came up and there was necessity for the Sudan to enter a new political dispensation... that the territories of Sudan have something in common including Darfur. In 1983, messages were sent to them by Dr. John Garang asking them to join in for the creation of a new Sudan of equality of its citizens. The thing took time... of course it has to take time because human understanding is not the same... and before Yousif Kuwo went to join the SPLM/A, I was sent to Kadugli to further enlighten him on the objectives of the SPLM/A. He went there with those of Daniel Kodi and others.

However, they were not the first to join SPLM/A. There was already a group which was with the Anyanya from the Nuba to join us. You can also remember that the Juba incident of 1985 of the Imatong Movement. The head of that movement was Father Philip Abbas Gabush. Prior to that, Philip had a very strong relationship with Anya Nya One. There was a time when the Nuba were supplying ammunitions to the Anya Nya.

So the South-Nuba relations have become stronger during the struggle. It is not mere relations. It is the destiny of a people. The cultures come, the economic interest come and the destiny is one. That is how these two areas came to be part of SPLM/A. At grassroots levels it is very difficult to separate the Nuba, Ingasanna and even Darfur from the concepts of the movement.

This point of Darfur you have just mentioned now, the SPLM/A is heading to strike a deal of peace with the ruling National Congress Party. Are you going to combine efforts to crush Darfur?

We are very clear about that. What is happening in Darfur is a political problem. They have a political agenda. People can sit the same way. If the problems of the South can be solved... and it started earlier than 1955... how can you not solve the problem of Darfur which started only last year? And in fact it started years ago. The process of denying that in Darfur there is nothing, only armed robbery, is not correct. The more you deny that others have no right, the more you make them resolve to fighting to the end.

So SPLA is not going to be part of fighting in Darfur completely. It is the peace process. We will give the government advice when we become part of it and all the necessary assistance to resolve it in a peaceful way. And we will see from the political agenda that yes, the problem of Darfur can be resolved in dialogue.

The Anya Nya forces were absorbed into the Sudanese Army, while the SPLA are going to be army by itself, at least during the interim period. Why?

You see, this is what Khartoum had wanted... to absorb the SPLA. So, when you are absorbed that means you are not an equal. So accepting such thing would have meant the Southerners have accepted once again to be second class citizens as was the case in the Addis Ababa Agreement. The participation of the Southerners in government would continue to be in the third or fourth class order of ministries as is the situation at the moment in Khartoum.

Even the non-defined post of Vice-President for a Southerner remains to be considered a Toy Post by those occupying it, leave alone the bitterness all Southerners are feeling. In the SPLM, we have made our position very clear. Nobody in Khartoum has any right to absorb us. We are equal citizens, second to none. We can sit and work as equals in managing our country, politically, socially, culturally, economically and militarily. This is how we are going to settle if a final peace agreement is reached. We will also see to it that the programme for the new government, including SPLM/A, goes in accordance to these agreed principles.

And that is why the SPLM/A will continue to remain a separate army from Khartoum. It is our safety valve. 



The Nuba Mountains Homepage was made by Nanne op 't Ende.
You can contact me here.