By Kuyok Abol Kuyok
October 19, 2012 — Today marks exactly two years since South Sudan lost Justice Wilson Aryamba, one of its eminent sons. The late was the first Head of Judiciary in the Southern Sudan until 1984. In between he also became the first South Sudanese to be appointed ambassador in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1969. Nevertheless, with his devout Christian conviction, Wilson Aryamba was a private modest person, who had a passion for his job. He did not seek the limelight or fame. Throughout his career as a judge, diplomat and advocate he served his country with integrity and an exceptional selflessness. His widow and children, aware of my research on the Biographical Dictionary of South Sudan, requested that I write this article in his memory.
Wilson Aryamba was born in Lanyi, Amadi district, Western Equatoria in 1935. At the age of ten he was admitted to Lui Elementary School (1945-47), where he passed to Loka Nugent Intermediate (1948-50).While in Loka in 1949 he took a baptismal name ‘Wilson’ , after Canon Edward Wilson, the Chaplin of Captain Cook’s doomed British expedition that attempted to reach the South Pole (Antarctic), in 1912. Canon Edward Wilson was known to be a devoted Christian, his body was found with the Holy Bible on his chest, ‘close to his heart’ Wilson Ayramba was proud to be the first South Sudanese to be called Wilson after such a righteous Christian. He would carry his faith throughout his life. As a good Christian as he was, he invariably took strength from his dedication to Christ in moments of difficulties. Because he was a bright pupil at Loka he was permitted to jump two classes (Hilary Paul Logali did the same in 1946) and passed to Rumbek Secondary School (1951-55).
After successfully passing his Cambridge School Certificate, he joined the University of Khartoum’s prestigious Faculty of Law (1956) graduating in 1959 with LLB (Hon), the third South Sudanese, after Joseph Ukel Garang and Abel Alier, Law graduate. He proceeded to West Germany the same year for his postgraduate studies at Leipzig Universitat (1959-62), graduating with LLM in 1962.
Wilson Ayramba’s long and distinguished public service career commenced upon his return from Europe, when he joined the Judiciary as a judge in 1963 in Khartoum-thus becoming one of the first South Sudanese judges (after Abel Alier, Donato Mabor). After serving in the national capital for about five years, he was transferred to Damazin in Blue Nile Province in January 1968. The same year he married his dear wife, Madelina Nadia Hindibejo, in a big wedding ceremony held at the residence of Abel Alier, his friend and colleague, in Amarat, Khartoum.
As a part of the Southernization policy-appointment of South Sudanese nationals in senior positions in the national ministries-introduced by the May Revolution government and championed by Joseph Ukel Garang, the Minister for the Southern Affairs, Justice Wilson Aryamba was seconded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as Ambassador, the first South Sudanese to be appointed as a full Ambassador. He was posted to the United Republic of Tanzania in December 1969 and non-resident ambassador to Zambia. Other South Sudanese who were recruited in the Foreign Service at the same time were Ambrose Wol (as Minister Plenipotentiary) and Philip Obang (First Secretary). Subsequently, Oliver Albino and Angelo Voga joined them in 1973.
With his legal background and strategic position in East Africa, Uncle Clement Mboro, the Chairman of the Resettlement and Repatriation Commission, appointed him as a member of the Commission in 1972. The Commission successfully repatriated over 250,000 Southern Sudanese returnees (refugees) mostly from the neighbouring countries (Ethiopia, Uganda, Congo and the CAR) and another million people internally displaced in a very short time.
In Tanzania Ambassador Wilson Aryamba played a pivotal role not only in improving the bilateral relations between the Sudan and Tanzania, but more importantly, he had the opportunity to enlighten the Tanzanian leadership about the root causes of the political problems in the Sudan. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere had developed a balanced and liberal rationalization of the Organisation of Africa Union’s (OAU) notion on internal conflicts. Tanzania (and Ghana) were the only two African nations that recognised the short-lived Nigerian break-way Biafra government in 1967. The African leader also held a sympathetic understanding of the so-called Southern Problem. He offered sanctuary to many South Sudanese refugees in Tanzania, including Dr John Garang de Mabior, the future leader of the SPLM/A, in the 1960s.
But the Ambassador’s friendship with the former President of Tanzania (he named his only son Lemi-Julius, after the President), which later extended to Abel Alier, the Vice President of the Republic and President of the High Executive Council, endeared South Sudan to his consciousness and made a lasting effect on the African leader. It contributed to deepen and widen the President’s appreciation of the Sudanese historical and political contexts. President Nyerere was one of the few dignitaries that attended the first anniversary of the Addis Ababa Agreement in Juba in March 1973. In the mid 1980s, while on a visit to Sudan, and after attending a mass at St Mathews Cathedral in Khartoum, the former President remonstrated to Prime Minister Sadiq al Mahdi for the persecution of church leaders and South Sudanese in general in the country. The President also regretted and apologised to a group of South Sudanese delegates (Sirr Anai Kelueljang, Dr Deng Dongrin, Deng Ajak and Mohammed Morgan) at the Pan-African Conference in London in 1997 for what he described as the failure of African leaders for not doing enough in supporting the cause of the people of South Sudan.
Ambassador Wilson Ayramba returned to the Southern Sudan in 1972. After the conclusion of the Addis Ababa Agreement, it was increasingly felt necessary that the Southern Region needed its experienced officials to return home to support its emerging government structures. In pursuit of this policy, Ambassador Wilson Aryamba was recalled to the Judiciary as a member of the Court of Appeal, Khartoum (June 1972-78), and the first South Sudanese to be appointed to the Court of Appeal. He was promoted to the Supreme Court (1978-83); once again the first South Sudanese to join the Supreme Court.
Having served as the Head of the Judiciary in the Southern Region, the most senior South Sudanese judge, he was appointed Minister for Legal Affairs in the Interim Government of Major General Gismalla Abdalla Rassas in 1981. But when the September Laws (Sharia laws) were proclaimed in 1983, he was transferred to the Attorney General Chambers (Ministry of Justice) (1983-1990). However, in March 1990, as a part of the Islamization of the legal system in the country, undertaken by the National Islamic Front’s (NIF) military regime, he suffered the general purge of non-Islamist judges. He resumed his legal practice as a Barrister in Khartoum (1991-98). Following the Khartoum Peace Agreement, Dr Riek Machar Teny, the President of the Coordinating Council for the Southern Sudan (CCSS), appointed him as a Legal Advisor for the Council (1998-2001).
By and large, it was in Judiciary that he made a last contribution to the country. Early in his tenure as the Head of the Judiciary in the Southern Sudan, Justice Wilson Aryamba, oversaw the development of the legal system and infrastructure. He directed the building of the HQs of the Judiciary in Juba. The same buildings serve today as the Supreme Court of the new Republic of South Sudan.
Justice Wilson Aryamba was widely travelled. With other world dignitaries, he visited the USA as a part of the United States Multi Regional project on the American Governance system in April and May 1984. He met Governor Bill Clinton (later President of the USA), in Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas, who presented him with an Honorary citizenship of the State of Arkansas the ‘Arkansas Travellers’. During the visit he also met many other world luminaries such Ms Tarja Halonen, later President of Finland.
When he lost his position on the Coordinating Council in February 2001, he returned to his much cherished legal practice. However, his work was abruptly ended when he suddenly felt ill in 2005. And despite the medical attention, he died from complications resulted from stroke, and later heart failure, in October, 2010. He was accorded a funeral befitting a person of his stature. His body were received at Juba International Airport by a large section of Southern Sudanese mourners led HE Kosti Manibe Ngai, the then Minister for Cabinet Affairs, in the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS). And in recognition of his magnificent public service, the government of Western Equatoia State decided to lay his remains at the headquarters of his home town in Mundri County.
Justice Chan Reec Madut, the Chief Justice of the Republic of South Sudan and one of the predecessors of Justice Wilson Aryamba, recently described the late as ‘a nationalist and man who served this country with dignity.’ In effect the pioneer generation of South Sudanese lawyers, Joseph Ukel Garang, Martin Majier Gai, Donato Mabor, Abel Alier, Gordon Abiei and Wilson Aryamba inspired successive generations of South Sudanese lawyers and law students, not just through their hard work, but with the humility and grace with which they conducted themselves. For those who knew him, Justice Wilson Aryamba was a tolerant, candid, fair-minded nationalist, diplomat and judge, with a profound grasp of the African culture and Sudanese society that began when he was a schoolboy at Loka Intermediate. If he was not a South Sudanese he would have easily been a candidate for the position of the Chief Justice of the Sudan. The Attorney General who purged him in March 1990 was his colleague in the Judiciary. But to the huge crowd of mourners that attended his funeral, Justice Wilson Aryamba was a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, colleague, friend and compatriot. Justice Wilson Aryamba will always be remembered as a man of integrity, honesty, and humility. He spoke Moru (his first language), English, German and Arabic. As we celebrate his life, we pray that the God Almighty rests his soul in eternal peace. Full name: Wilson Ndarago Aryamba Baningwa.
The author can be reached at email@example.com