Sudan's Painful Road to Peace
The full story of the founding of the People's Revolution: SPLM/SPLA (1983-2005)

By Arop Madut Arop
May 16, 2007 (New Sudan Vision)

"Garang, the son of my mother, have you come? Take over the command from here. Chagai, my work is finished: give me something to drink and let's celebrate the start of the Revolution."
Major Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, May 13, 1983, Bor, Arop p.51 (2006)

Sudan's Painful Road to Peace, the latest book written by a Sudanese Journalist/Writer Arop Madut Arop, is a full story about the founding and development of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army and its subsequent military campaigns (1983-2005). The SPLM/SPLA Campaigns which have now changed the political landscape of the Sudan and which may alter its political map apparently forever, were concluded with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the South and the North in Kenya in January 2005. Because of SPLM's political importance and the impact and effect it has had on regional politics in general and at the entire people of the Sudan particularly in the south, its constituency, the world at large awaits anxiously the smooth implementations of this important historical landmark agreement in spirit and letter. It is important to keep on reminding ourselves each year when we commemorate the founding and development of the SPLM/SPLA. This demand that during the celebrations we must throw some highlights on the Movement not only as reminder for the veterans who made this history but for the younger generations who will inherit this land mark episode. It will also refresh the memories of the generations who have fought, sacrificing so much in order for their people to enjoy the fruits of freedom, dignity and wellbeing like the rest of the civilized people worldwide. For the benefits of the readers of the New Sudan Vision on this historical day, we hereby give you some of these highlights below:

Background to the Bor Uprising

Before we talk about the founding and the development of the SPLM/SPLA, it is very instructive and important to give some highlights about the politics that led to the start of the second war. Indeed, the politics that preceded the SPLA war in 1983 were that of dismantling of the Addis Ababa Agreement by the May Regime and attempts being made by the people of the Southern Sudan to maintain it (1972-1982). The struggle between the May Regime and the regional government unfortunately led to widespread discontent throughout the Southern Sudan. This discontent soon led to the formation of many underground insurrections each mobilising the people of the South Sudan for the resumption of the war of liberating their region, a liberation struggle brought to a halt by the May Regime in 1972, when the south was given portions that fell from the high tables of the northern political elite which they euphemistically called regional self rules. Basically, some of the main effective underground cells were, the National Action Movement (NAM) led by veteran politicians, Joseph Oduho, Akuot Atem de Mayen; Benjamin Bol Akok and Samuel Gai Tut just to mention a few. There was also the Movement for the Total Liberation of Southern Sudan, headed by students movement mainly in Equatoria and SOSSA student organisation based in Egypt. The most important and effective rebel cell was the Anya Nya Absorbed Forces Underground Movement that had notoriously been active through the ten years of peace in the Southern Region. This underground cell was born and bred by veteran Anya Nya Absorbed Forces who were opposed to the Addis Ababa Agreement. Some of these officers who were initially opposed to the Addis Ababa Agreement right from the start and who were mainly from Bahr al Ghazal Region, were located in Bussere (Camp some 12 miles South of Wau Town). Though the leader of this underground cell was Colonel Emmanuel Abuur Nhial, the brain behind it was three officers: Captain John Garang de Mabior, Lt. Colonel Stephen Madut Baak, Lt Colonel Joseph Kuol Amoum, Lt Colonel Deng Aluk and Major Albino Akol Akol. This movement did also have membership in Upper Nile and Equatoria.

When the plot was discovered that this group may wreck the peace agreement and return the country back to war, both the regional and national authorities acted immediately. Colonel Abuur was promoted to Brigadier and posted to Wau as second in command to a northern Commander in order to keep him away from Bussere Camp. Captain John Garang whom the authorities feared most being a University graduate was promoted to major and transferred away from Bussere to Bor as commander of the absorbed Forces there. He was later transferred to the North and in order to keep him away from the Sudan, John Garang was given scholarship after another for the next ten years.

As for Stephen Madut Baak, another notorious officer who was totally opposed to the Agreement, he was transferred to Jebeit in Port Sudan as trainer officer of Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs). The rest of the most senior Anya Nya officers, among them Andrew Makur Thou, Joseph Kuol Amuom, Albino Akol Akol, Alison Manani Magaya and Habakuk Soro while keeping them under security surveillance were given higher positions in the government each time they show signs of rebellion.

In effort to rid them from the army where they pose threat to the peace agreement the Anya Nya most senior officers were later on put in the interim Government of General Rassass in 1981. Many of them were either given early retirement from the army or given constitutional post after another and always away from the south where they may have some influence on the deteriorating security situation triggered by the May Regime' policies of dismantling the Addis Ababa Agreement.

The May Regime having effectively got rid of the Anya Nya senior officers in the army it was natural that the next move was to transfer the remaining Anya Nya officers and men of Battalions 110,111,104,105,116 and 117 away from the south and scattered them all over the northern Sudan were they would only be individuals. But even this attempt to nib the underground revolution in the bud didn't stem out the underground cells completely. On the contrary the movement was taken over by junior officers among them Francis Ngor Makiech and Salva Kiir Mayardit, Abdalla Chuol and Chagai Atem. Such was the political and security hostile environments in the Southern Sudan when the actual leader of the Anya Nya Absorbed Forces Revolutionary Movement, Colonel John Garang de Mabior returned to the country from USA in 1981. The authorities, aware of imminent danger John Garang presence in the south would contribute to the discontentment prevailing in the south resulting from the May Regime scorched earth policies, Colonel Garang was posted to the Army General Head Quarters in Khartoum. This positing was a blessing for Garang as it enabled him to reorganize the underground revolution discreetly by remote control.

In February 1982, it was decided that the Revolution should be launched on August 18th, the date on which the first uprising took place in Torit in 1955. But discovering that the plot was discovered by the authorities and that the potential rebellious battalions were earmarked for transfer to the North, the Underground Revolution changed the deadline. Under the disguise that he was going on leave so as to start his agricultural farm in Jonglei Province, his home area, John Garang de Mabior moved to Bor in order to launch the revolution by proximity. Garang remained there till the Bor Uprising when he led the rebels forces to Ethiopia where he later launched the revolution..

The Adura, Bukteng and Bilpam camps

Following the Bor Uprising many of the leaders of various insurrections mentioned earlier started moving toward Ethiopia. The First to arrive were two of the leaders of the National Action Movement (NAM), Samuel Gai Tut and Akuot Atem de Mayen who made Bukteng Village there command post.

On arrival on the borders with Ethiopia, the two leaders contacted Gordon Kaong Chol, the leader of the Anya Nya Two Movement at his Command Head Quarters at Bilpam. It is to be recalled that Anya Nya Two was founded in 1977 by Vincent Kuany and James Bol Alangjok, the leaders of the failed Any Nya absorbed forces uprising in Akobo in 1975.

Gai and Akuot instead of waiting for the various rebels groups that had already started moving to Ethiopia after which they would launch one united movement apparently after reaching consensus, put a proposal that, Gordon Kaong would be the leader of the military wing and (they) Gai and Akuot would lead the political wing of the Movement about to be launched. Apparently Kaong may have been aware of the coming of John Garang group that has been in touch with him for a long time turned down the proposal. By the end of May the Ethiopian authorities have cited the Sudanese rebel Colonel John Garang de Mabior and his group and located them to a village called Adura.

Sooner than later the news about the outbreak of war in the south attracted hundreds of thousands of Southern Sudanese who began in earnest pouring into Western Ethiopia in order to join the revolution that was being launched. These refugees went to one of the three refugee main camps according to their choices.

The three main camps were Bilpam under Gordon Kaong Chol, Bukteng under Samuel Gai Tut and Akuot Atem and Adura Camp under John Garang de Mabior, Joseph Oduho, Martin Majer Gai and others.

It is to be noted that Gambela Region is inhabited by the people of Southern Sudanese origins, Gajaak and Gajok Nuer and the Anyuak.

Early in June Lt Colonel Francis, Captain Salva Kiir Mayardit arrived and joined the Adura Camp. It is to be remembered that following the uprising in Bor, Ayod, Waat, Pibor, Fosalla and Akobo, Francis and Salva had attempted to take over Malakal and failing to do so left for Ethiopia where they were directed to their colleagues in the Underground revolution.

Sometime later two leaders of the Abyei Liberation Front; Deng Alor Kuol and Chol Deng Alaak arrived. They too were directed by the Ethiopian authorities to the Adura Camp.

The Third Group that joined the Adura Camp was the Student Revolutionary Group headed by Pagan Amum Okiech, Nyachigag Nyachiluk and Lado Lokurnyang and Oyai Deng Ajak. Finally the leaders of the battalions 105, 104 that revolted in Bor, Ayod, Pachalla, Pibor and Waat led by Kerubino Kuanyin Bol and William Nyuon Bany arrived in Ethiopia. They too joined the Adura Camp.

The formation of the SPLM/SPLA and the leadership question

Following the arrival of hundreds of refugees, it was time for the leadership to meet and decide first the question of who would lead a united movement. This was very necessary because they should meet the Ethiopian authorities as one group in order to seek political and financial support. Importantly they would need logistics for effective launch of the Movement.

But before various groups could meet to elect the leader of the group, Akuot Atem, after receiving reports that the Ethiopian authorities were already in contact with Colonel John Garang and suspicious that the Ethiopians may impose Garang on the refugees as the leader suggested that a government be formed before meeting the Ethiopian authorities. Despite the fact that most of the people thought that it was not yet time to do so, Akuot assuming that he had the majority of the refugees went ahead and formed his cabinet. He made himself Chairman, his friend Samuel Gai Tut Minister of Defense, Joseph Oduho Foreign Affairs; Martin Majier, Legal Affairs and Justice and John Garang Chief of Staff. In order to meet the Ethiopian authorities to enable them launch their Movement and despite sensitivities already expressed by Akuot Atem behaviour, the Sudanese met and a delegation headed by Akuot Atem de Mayen was formed and in the membership of Joseph Oduho, Colonel Dr John Garang de Mabior, Samuel Gai Tut and Captain Salva Kiir Mayadit. The meeting was then arranged in order to meet the Ethiopian Chief of Staff General Mesfin who would subsequently arrang for the group to meet Chairman Megistu Haile Mariam to sanction the launch of the Movement.

General Mesfin asked the group to write its manifesto as a precondition of meeting Mengistu. The group came back and Chairman Akuot Atem was asked to write the position paper which he did. Akuot's paper contained the following conditions: That the Movement was a socialist oriented Movement fighting for the total liberation of the Southern Sudan. When Akuot paper was presented to General Mesfin it was turned down. The group was told in no uncertain term that the Socialist Ethiopia would never favour the breakup of a sisterly state as stipulated in the African Unity Charter. The Group went back to the main refugee camp of Itang dumfounded and unable to comprehend what the Ethiopian wanted them to do as a precondition for soliciting support from her. The most elderly Joseph Oduho made special appeal to Colonel John Garang to write a position paper that would be acceptable to the Ethiopian authorities. Colonel Garang accepted and wrote the paper that later became the SPLM Manifesto.

Garang paper stated that the Sudanese Movement about to be launched should fight for the creation of a socialist oriented united secular Sudan and that all the scattered rebel forces including the Anya Nya Two be grouped to gather in order to start the liberation struggle of the whole country.

When this document was presented to Chairman Mengistu it was accepted and the Sudanese were asked to launch their Movement. Thus the name of the Movement was to be called the Sudan's People Liberation Movement and Liberation Army SPLM/SPLA. And John Garang as the Chief of Staff for the Movement about to be launched, was asked to remain behind to in order to work out logistics requirements before the official launch was inaugurated. But when the group arrived back at Itang Refugee Camp an incident happened that upset the smooth launching of one movement and which would lead to the start of the beginning of the war as two movements instead of one.

The incident was that, Colonel Kerubino Kuanyin Bol has just shot dead a refugee by name Marial Alek, allegedly for insubordination and impudence to his most senior commander. The death of this innocent refugee set the refugee camp ablaze and would have spread into seemingly sectional violence. On hearing of this incident in the refugee main camp, the Ethiopian Security acted fast and sent a force in order to maintain law and order there. Chairman Akuot Atem, already suspicious that the Ethiopians' request to keep Colonel Garang behind to solicit logistics requirement told his supporters that the coming of the Ethiopian security personnel to the camp was an attempt to impose John Garang on them as an absolute leader of the new movement to be launched. As if that was what he wanted; Akuot Atem ordered his supporters to collect their belongings and moved back to the Sudan where they would launch the People's Revolution for the liberation of the Southern Sudan there. Thus all and sundry in the Bukteng Camp and some from the Itang Camp moved to Bilpam Camp to join Gordon Kaong soldiers.

To make things worst, Lt Colonel William Nyuon Bany who had just arrived with his forces from Ayod, attacked Bilpam and dislodged both Gordon Kaong and Akuot Atem groups from Bilpam. After some skirmishes with William Nyuon Bany forces, Gordon Kaong and his forces followed Akuot and Gai forces to Bukteng Camp inside the Sudan border. They remained there till they later launched an alternative Movement they would also call SPLM/SPLA. The rest of the Anya Nya Two and those who disagreed with Akuot Atem and Samuel Gai Tut went to Itang where they joined John Garang de Mabior Group. It was against this background that John Garang de Mabior was elected by the group that remained loyal to him in Itang in August 1983, as Chairman of SPLM and Commander in Chief of the SPLA. Immediately the following were appointed members of the top leadership of the Movement called the Politico-Military High Command:

1. Colonel Dr John Grang de Mabior Chairman and Commander in Chief of SPLA

2. Major Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, promoted to Lt. Colonel was appointed Deputy Chairman and Deputy Commander In Chief so as to bring him nearer to Colonel John Garang in military hierarchy.

3. Major William Nyuon Bany was promoted to Lt. Colonel and appointed Chief of General Staff of the SPLM

4. Captain Salva Kiir Mayardit was promoted to the rank of Major and appointed Deputy Chief of Staff for Security and military operations,

5. Nyachigag Nyachiluk was given a military rank of Major and appointed alternate Member of Politico-Military High Command.

It was in this light that the struggle whose manifestations were to haunt the South Sudan liberation struggle throughout the Campaigns (1983-2005) thus started as two antagonistic movements contrary to what others say it was one movement that split up into two. This was made clear by Dr John Garang in an interview with the author of the Sudan's Painful Road to Peace in 1986 that: Our objectives was to convince the Anya Nya Two to join us. The Anya Nya Two also attempted to convince us to join them. The failure of the two groups to join together as one organisation, unfortunately led to the start of the war as two movements that brought untold sufferings and setbacks to the people of Southern Sudan they had wanted to liberate.

Hon. Arop Madut Arop
Member of Parliament(MP)
Journalist and Writer.


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