Father Philip
1922 - 2008

At the age of 86 Philip Abbas Ghaboush, the most senior Nuba Politician has passed away, leaving behind a life long struggle for Nuba emancipation.

Philip Abbas Ghaboush was born in Omdurman in 1922. He was a Nuba from the Ama tribe, also known as Nyimang. After the failed 1924 White Flag Revolt against the Condominium his father, who was enlisted in the British Army, left Omdurman for the Nuba Mountains taking his family along.

Philip Abbas went to bush school and elementary school, run by British missionary teachers in Salara. This was followed by a study at Katcha intermediate school. In 1952 he went to the South to study Theology. He stayed there until the war broke in, finishing his studies only later at the Bishop Gwynne College of Theology. From there he went to Kenya for an administration course at the Trinity College.

Philip Abbas put the start of his political career in 1938 and he said he was arrested many times. He claimed to have planned an armed uprising in 1955, together with Clement Mboro who was one of South Sudan’s most prominent politicians – but the Anya Nya One beat them to it. While many Nuba were fighting the Southerners in the Government Army, Philip Abbas cooperated closely with the Anya Nya One, even supplying them with ammunition.

For several years however, publicly he was not very visible. He was evangelising among the Nuba until he was asked to run as a candidate for the newly formed General Union of the Nuba Mountains (GUN) in the 1965 elections. He answered the call and GUN won eight seats in the National Parliament on a program against the poll tax and the backwardness of the area. Mahmoud Haseib and Atroun Attia were other leading Nuba politicians in GUN.

Philip Abbas worked closely with his friend Clement Mboro and with Samuel Aru Bol from the Sudan African National Union towards a more equal distribution of development, wealth and power in the country. They joined forces in the Sudan Rural Solidarity Front with the people from Blue Nile, Darfur and the Beja. Unfortunately they achieved very little and Philip Abbas felt betrayed by the Anya Nya at the 1965 Round Table Conference in Addis Abeba where the Nuba issue was ignored.

Meanwhile GUN split into two factions shortly after the 1965 elections: one headed by Philip Abbas stressing Nuba identity and cooperation with other Africans; the other headed by Mahmoud Haseib who wanted to cooperate with the Baggara and Jellaba in Southern Kordofan. In 1969, Philip Abbas was forced to leave the country. He was sentenced to death in absentia for his involvement in an attempted coup that had been staged to take place just days before Nimeiri seized power. The faction of Mahmoud Haseib allied itself to Nimeiri’s regime.

Philip Abbas lived in exile from 1969 to 1978, but he continued the struggle, joining forces with Joseph Lago. In 1977, he was implicated in an attempted coup in Juba, with, among others, Mohamed Haroun Kafi and Yunis Dumi Kallo. As a result of Nimeiri’s national reconciliation policy Father Philip could return to Sudan. He formed the Sudan National Party, always looking for alliances with the Southerners and other marginalised peoples in the north.

During the time Philip Abbas was in exile, young Nuba students and teachers formed Komolo, a secret movement with the aim of improving the social and political position of the Nuba. Yousif Kuwa Mekki, Daniel Kodi, Abdel Aziz el Hilu, and Ismael Khamis were all members of Komolo. The Nuba in Komolo started participating in regional and national politics in 1981. Yousif Kuwa was elected to the Assembly of Kordofan while Daniel Kodi was elected to the National Assembly.

Philip Abbas did not start the Komolo movement as he claimed, but he certainly became involved - when and in what way exactly has remained a well kept secret, but possibly shortly before the SPLA was formed in South Sudan in 1983. Philip Abbas had maintained his contacts in the South and started sending Nuba recruits to the re-emerging Anya Nya. He worked together with Daniel Kodi who, as a parliamentarian, also had many contacts with Southern politicians.

In 1983 the Komolo leaders discussed the SPLM Manifesto in the house of Philip Abbas in Omdurman. They decided to send Yousif Kuwa to Ethiopia to meet John Garang, and a large part of the Nuba eventually joined the SPLA. Philip Abbas and Daniel Kodi were caught in a coup attempt together, in 1984, and were imprisoned for a short period. Danile Kodi left to Ethiopia but Philip Abbas stayed in Khartoum, where Nimeiri’s regime finally came to an end.

In 1985, Philip Abbas was caught in another coup attempt, this time with Ismael Khamis Jelab, and allegedly aided by the Ethiopian Government. He was none the less allowed to participate in the 1986 elections for the National Assembly and he managed to win ten seats with his Sudan National Party, including the constituency of Al-Hadj Yusif in Omdurman. The SNP worked together with the Southern opposition in the Union of Sudan African Parties.

For ten years Philip Abbas remained in opposition but surprised many in 1996, by participating in the Government of Omer al Beshir. By the time the SPLA and the Government agreed on a cease fire in the Nuba Mountains in 2002, Philip Abbas was leader of a new party: the Free Sudan National Party, calling for self determination of the Nuba people.

In December 2002 Philip Abbas came back to the Nuba Mountains to participate in the All Nuba Conference held in Kauda. Here the Free Sudan National Party, the Sudan National Party-Collective Leadership, the Sudan National Party and the General Union of Nuba Mountain agreed to dissolve as individual parties and merge to form a new party called the United Sudan National Party (USNP) with Philip Abbas as its president.

Al though the SPLM had pledged its full support at the All Nuba Conference to the issue of self determination, it failed to secure this right during the Naivasha negotiations with the Government of Omer al Beshir. Philip Abbas did not hide his disappointment with the SPLM, and left Sudan for a two years’ stay in the United States.

After returning to Sudan in 2006, Philip Abbas continued to criticise the outcome of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for denying the Nuba the right of self determination. He did however speak with the Nuba SPLM politicians and participated in rallies and conferences whenever his slowly failing health allowed him to. He counted on winning a large number of seats in the 2009 elections with the United Sudan National Party.

Everyone will agree that Father Philip Abbas Ghaboush was a remarkable man. His energy, his, wit, his outspoken views and his piercing eyes never failed to impress. He became like a godfather to an entire generation of Nuba politicians who he inspired to struggle for their rights. And even when they chose a different path, they would still remember him dearly.

Personally I met him only once, on April 15, 2006, in his house in Omdurman. He talked about his long life, the many things he had done to improve the situation of the Nuba. I want to share the first few sentenses he said during the interview:

“I have so many titles, but most people call me Father Philip. Actually I am not a father, I'm an arch bishop and in the army I'm a field marshal of the SPLA/SPLM. Well, that's a joke of course - but I should be anyway.

I'm coming from a royal family in my country, from both sides. I am from the Ama tribe. Not from the Nyimang as some say, but from the Ama, the most fierce people in the moon. We're totally terrible, huh? Yes, I'm coming from the Ama.”

Philip Abbas Ghaboush. Omdurman 1922 - Middlesbrough February 3, 2008

Nanne op 't Ende
The Netherlands


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