Today, 30th July, marks the date of the helicopter crash in the border zone between Southern Sudan and Uganda that ended the life of John Garang (1945-2005), life-long chief of SPLM/A and late First Vice President of the Republic of Sudan according to the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed 9th January 2005. Garang’s sudden death just 6 months after conclusion of the breakthrough agreement catapulted his life’s commitment, the SPLM/A, from a political force gearing for national hegemony and regional ascent to a power conglomerate of South Sudan. Accordingly the notion of an independent South Sudan as opposed to an all Sudan project of the SPLM/A and allies gained superiority, and aspirations of many a non-Southern sympathiser of the SPLM were effectively thwarted.
Looking up to the SPLM/A as a ‘liberator’ rebellious agitators in the Nuba Hills, and in Southern Blue Nile, bordering Southern Sudan, and in the more distant Beja areas of Eastern Sudan, and the Jebel Marra plateau of Western Sudan either took up arms to engage the central government based in Khartoum or campaigned in the name of the ‘New Sudan’, Garang’s idiom for the future of the Sudanese polity beyond ‘colonial’ design.
Garang demonstrated amazing resolve at maintaining leadership of the SPLM/A, contrary to the history of the political movement in the South, ever plagued by endless splintering and factionalism. Other than the split of the Nasir faction led by Riek Macher and Lam Akol in 1991 Chairman Garang swiftly counteracted any attempt to question his military/political leadership. His ability to crush adversaries gained him both notoriety and silent respect. On the political plane he was a master of the tactic/strategy dialectic. Responding to the tide he changed sails from Marxist convictions that characterised his first Manifesto in 1983 to the liberal agenda of the New World Order on the collapse of the Soviet Union and regional allies 1990/1991. At the start of his war Garang was dependent on the support of the communist Derg regime in Ethiopia. The US at the time had Numayri in Khartoum, the Free Officer turned IMF lad, an ally of good standing if not particularly pleasant. Garang albeit a graduate of Grinnell College (Iowa) and a postgraduate of Iowa State University had a mind trained politically in pan-Africanist Tanzania and the Students Revolutionary Front of Dar es-Salaam University. Numayri’s demise however was soon to follow at the behest of popular revolt in Khartoum. Garang, sure of the horizon beyond the ancien régime and suspicious of the Sudan Armed Forces Transitional Government of 1985 remained aloof. Dicing his chances of a possible dominant alliance that brings him government by ballot and gun he engaged in Khartoum politicking from regional capitals which could have supposedly led to an agreement with Sadig al-Mahdi’s shaky governments was it not for the NIF coup of 30th June 1989. Paradoxically it was the NIF that brought down the ancien régime, and the revolutionary Garang became buddies with sectarian leaders in the anti-NIF National Democratic Alliance of the 1990s.
Eventually Garang’s Peace came about via handshakes and hugs with the champions of the ‘really existing New Sudan’ Hasan al-Turabi en route, and Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and Omer al-Bashir in destination.