Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 10 August 2006

Dr John Garang International Airport!


By Kuyok Abol Kuyok *

August 5, 2006 — Early this year, the Sudan, especially, the New Sudan marked the first anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) concluded in Nairobi, Kenya, between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). However, sadly, these celebrations took place without Dr John Garang de Mabior, the leader of the SPLM/A and the father of this child. He, single-handedly, heroically, and resolutely negotiated the agreement, which consequently brought us to this stage. The CPA promises the people of South Sudan and other marginalized areas equality, dignity, freedom and prosperity that have been denied them for centuries. Dr John Garang’s vision of the New Sudan is underpinned and conceptualized along these ideals. We, who are currently enjoying the fruits of his toils, particularly the SPLM/A members, must be mostly grateful to him. After leading the Movement for more than two decades he untimely and suddenly departed us on the 30th July 2005 just six months after the CPA and three weeks after his inauguration as the First Vice President of the Sudan. Therefore this day is a very sad day in the memory of the Sudanese people.

On the 30th July, a large proportion of Sudanese people, especially the SPLM members/supporters, inside the country in both South and North, and in the Diaspora conducted memorial services. The GOSS in Juba played a leading role in these commemorative events. Dr John Garang’s resting place in Juba has become a pilgrim site visited by South Sudanese as far as Europe and the United States. Also, there is some indication that the people of the New Sudan aim to remember their leader in a suitable way. On the 11 February 2006, Brigadier Taban Deng Gai, the Governor of Unity State, declared in a public rally that his government has commissioned a construction of a Garang Tower, a 10 story building, in down town, Bentiu. Secondly, I am aware of plans by a group of South Sudanese intellectuals in the Diaspora for establishing a Dr John Garang University for Science and Technology in Juba.

Surely, these are magnificent examples of how we can remember our historic leader. But, lets pause for a second, challenge ourselves, the SPLM/A members and supporters and ask the JFK’s question, what have we done (or doing) as a tribute to our leader and all the heroes who paid the ultimate price, died in our cause? I am afraid there is very little that we can boast about. In this speech/article, I propose a permanent monument as a tribute to him, which is appropriate to his personality as a revolutionary and visionary leader of an oppressed struggling people. In the last two decades or so Dr John Garang achieved a household ionic status in the breadth and width of the country. On Sunday a leading north Sudanese journalist described him as the third most important political figure in the history of Sudan after Imam Abdel-Rahaman el Mahdi and Ali Abdel-latif. This is true. Dr John Garang was an embodiment of the struggle of the people of South Sudan, and indeed all the marginalised peoples of the Sudan. And, like a true commander as he was, for the last 22 years, he was on the front line. He therefore, in those terms, epitomised the resistance, hope and suffering of the people in equal measures. Thus, it is pertinent that the peoples of the New Sudan, particularly South Sudanese, whom he championed their cause, honour such a leader. Definitely, there is an array of ways that we could do this.

This proposal is primarily based on the following. Dr John Garang de Mabior in his actions as a leader of the SPLM/A, he always respected and acknowledged other people’s contribution in the course of our struggle. For instance, he called some of the SPLA battalions and units after such eminent and historic personalities as William Deng (1929-1968); and the Azande Great King Gbudwe (Yambio) (c.1835-1905). Gbudwe Battalion, in a style that would have made the old warrior-King proud, gallantly liberated Torit in 2004. When Tonj was liberated by the SPLA in May 1997, Dr John Garang, first public act was to pay his homage at William Deng’s grave. In London, in 2003 in a meeting that was chaired by Uncle Gordon Muortat, he referred to the veteran politician as his leader in recognition of the former’s role in Anya Nya I, where Dr John Garang served as an officer.

Following the liberation of Torit in 1991 he sent for the late Cdr Paul Ali Gattali, to visit the liberated town. Ali Gattala, you may recall, as a Lt in the Equtoria Corps, was involved in the August 1955 Torit Uprising, and afterwards distinguished himself as an effective guerrilla commander in the subsequent Anya Nya I Movement. However, in 1972 he anticipated the weaknesses in the Addis Ababa Agreement (AAA) and thus remained in exile where he lived until the inception of the SPLA and liberation of Western Equatoria. In Torit, it was reported that the old Cdr was thrilled with his tour of the liberated town and remarked in conversations with the young SPLA freedom fighters that: “I never imagined that in my life time one day I will walk the liberated streets of Torit”. When Cdr Ali Gattala died years later in Maridi, in recognition of his lifelong dedication to the struggle, Dr John Garang ensured that he received an appropriate burial with full military honour that he rightly deserved. Similarly, when Cdr Samuel Abu John defected to the SPLA in 1990, Dr John Garang publicly saluted and welcomed him to the Movement. He told the surprised SPLA soldiers that Cdr Abu John was his commander in Anya Nya I and a senior officer in the Sudanese army and that seniority must be respected. In these actions, Dr John Garang not only recognised others’ contributions in the long road of struggle of the people of the South Sudan, but he also knew that history has an essential part in our struggle. It inspires and strengthens us, particularly the young generations.

Thus, I will like here to propose one example of how we can eternally remember him. In October 2005, I travelled to Khartoum. My plane touched down in Beirut, Lebanon. I was delighted when the pilot announced to the passengers: “Welcome to Rafiq Hariri International Airport”. I did not know that Beirut Airport had been renamed after the popular former Lebanese premier following his assassination. I wished, in vain, that when the plane reached its final destination I would be greeted with similar declaration. In the spirit of peace and reconciliation, I honestly expected during the funeral in August 2005 in Juba that President Bashier would issue a decree to rename Khartoum International Airport, after the SPLM leader. I assure you this would have been well received by many people in the country and internationally particularly with the African Unity (AU) meeting Khartoum hosted in January 2006. And perhaps the GONU’s hard work prior to and during the summit to secure the Chairmanship of the AU to President Beshier might have won him and the country the elusive position. Anyway the President missed that opportunity, and therefore when my plane arrived Khartoum there was no Dr John Garang international airport awaiting me. In fact I do not remember the pilot welcoming us to Khartoum at all. There is precedent around the world that airports are named after departed national prominent figures. For example, Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, Nigeria; Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya; JFK in New York, US; John Lennon in Liverpool, England. And of course, there is Ho Chi Min City (former Saigon) in Vietnam named after the leader of the Viet Cong etc...

I believe that the present GONU still has a chance to rectify this oversight. But in case it does not have the audacity to do this, the responsibility falls on our shoulders, the SPLM/A members in general and our leadership in particular. Lt General Salva Kiir’s friendship, companionship and comradeship with Dr John Garang extends to the Anya Nya I rebellion. They were together in the bush through thick and thin; dedicating their youth and lives to the struggle. This makes Lt General Salva Kiir Mayardit, the Chairman of the SPLM/A the most ideal and suitable person to oversee the honouring of his comrade in arms, friend and brother. I suggest, and I hope you will all join me in this, that we appeal to him to rename Juba Airport after Dr John Garang de Mabior. When the Leadership Council of the SPLM/A decided to intern the remains of the SPLM leader in Juba, I assumed they must have considered the historical significance of the city of Juba. As a revolutionary iconic figure, we need an inspiring everlasting commemorative statue as a tribute to him.

As I said, Dr John Garang symbolized the struggle of the people of the Southern Sudan. He was not only their leader, and commander in chief, but spokesman too. He combined these roles perfectly well. I have two main images which illustrated these three roles. The first one was a BBC TV Newsnight documentary about Sudan broadcast in 1994. The BBC crew found Dr John Garang in Eastern Equatoria in the bush directing operations in resistance to the enemy’s attempts to penetrate into the SPLA held areas. 1994 was one of the bleakest years in our Movement’s history as the impact of the 1991 split was taking its tool. But, Dr John Garang, like all excellent military commanders and political strategists, as he was, was in a bullish mood; never doubted the victory. As you all know, the SPLA repulsed the enemy forces in that particular encounter and its’ subsequently performances proved him right. The second significant incident that I want to share with you here today is that in November 2004 he was invited twice to address the UN Security Council, on the Sudan, in Nairobi and at its HQs in New York. Thirty five years earlier, an Anya Nya I delegation comprising of Dr Lawrence Wol Wol, the Movement’s representative in Europe and Col Brian Maggot, Chief of Staff of the military wing, attempted to lobby at the organisation’s HQs in New York. However, like William Deng’s earlier diplomatic endeavours at the UN H.Qs in Geneva in 1964, the Anya nya delegation’s efforts were unsuccessful. A fortnight ago Lt General Salva Kiir Mayardit was invited and received as a Head of State by the US Administration in Washington. He met among other senior officials in the American Government, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Dr Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State. Ladies and Gentlemen, since the mid 80s, the conflict in Sudan was no longer a ?secret’ war. Dr John Garang de Mabior played a vital part in that and for that alone we need to enshrine and preserve his memory for generations to come. Naming Juba Airport, after him as Dr John Garang International Airport, will be one simple step, but bold one towards achieving this noble aim. Let’s honour him, and all our fallen heroes who died for sake of our freedom and dignity.

* The author is a member of the Executive Committee of the SPLM Chapter in the UK and Ireland. He can be reached at kuyokabol64@fsmail.net

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