By Manasseh Zindo
May 3, 2008 — THE aero-plane has offended us once again, this time robbing us of distinguished sons and daughters of South Sudan in yet another tragic crash whose memory and scar will live with us for life.
Nearly three years after it robbed us of our founding father the late Dr. John Garang de Mabior, the aero-plane on Friday May 02, 2008 killed Lt. Gen Dominic Dim Deng, Government of South Sudan (GOSS) Minister for SPLA Affairs and veteran politician Dr. Justin Yac Arop who was also Adviser to the President of South Sudan for Decentralization.
I send my message of condolence to the President of South Sudan, the families of the deceased, the people of South Sudan, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudan people’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Among those killed in the fatal crash about 400 km from Juba were several SPLA soldiers, crew of the ill-fatal plane and wives of Gen. Dim and Dr. Yac. May God rest their souls in peace and raise them again in glory when our Lord Jesus Christ and archangels returns to reign for over.
When holders of public office leaves either through indisposition, death or retirement, their legacy and life style are reflected on, this has prompt me to inscribe this article as I pay homage to these great leaders of our nation.
The name Justin Yac is no stranger to many in Sudan as whole apart from those who are not interested in politics but for those familiar with the activities and works of the SPLA/M, and those who lived under the SPLA controlled areas during the civil war in South Sudan, Justin Yac is a household name.
The powerful man of the movement lived in Nairobi during the liberation struggle and was close to the late Dr. John Garang. Dr. Yac knew where the former rebel leader turned statesman was at all times and whoever wanted to meet Dr. Garang whether like it or not had to seek the consent Justin Yac as he was commonly known. It was believed that he was running the show on behalf of Dr. Garang whenever the SPLA firebrand was out of Africa or on the ground inspecting his forces.
In Nairobi, there were other names such as Ambassador Steve Wound, Martin Okeruk, SPLM’s respected diplomat and now GOSS Minister for Housing plus SPLM’s long serving spokesman Dr. Samson Kwaje now GOSS Minister of Agriculture but the latter’s did not wheeled power and influence like Justin Yac.
When the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) was formed in Oct 2005, Justin Yac was appointed Minister of Cabinet Affairs, a position he held until July 2007 when he was dropped in a government reshuffle but was reappointed Adviser to GOSS President for Decentralization, a reason why he died in the Friday plane crash as they were reported to be returning from a high level meeting in Wau to Juba.
In his position as the Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Justin Yac threw a ring around President Salva Kiir and like he did with Dr. Garang, he ensured that whoever wanted to meet the president had to seek his permission, at times barring Governors of States from accessing the President who is also the First Vice President of the Republic of Sudan.
Powerful man he was and could only be compared to Kenya’s Nicholas Biwott, a onetime powerful minister of President Daniel Arap Moi’s regime who declared himself the “Total man.” Whether it was by design or by the structure of his positions that made him such a powerful man remains a mystery but being in the center of power and attention made Justin Yac a discussing topic for nearly three decades earning him many foes and friends alike.
There were talks in Juba prior to the formation of the first cabinet that the international community and donor countries had protested his inclusion and that of former finance minister Arthur Akuien Chol in the government for reasons that were not made public but the duo emerged the winners and served in the first cabinet of GOSS with authority until destiny caught up with them and they were sacked from their accolade offices.
Dr. Justin Yac will remembered for his contribution to the liberation struggle in many ways and for sure his name has entered the history book of South Sudan. He also struggled with poor health.
For Dominic Dim Deng, his sudden death came at a time when his contribution was needed most. The decorated army officer was little known during the liberation struggle to commoners but his appointment to the high profile docket brought him to light and fame being the first to occupy a portfolio which was left vacant when the first cabinet was formed.
Although Gen. Dim was not famous in the bush struggle it’s understood that he was a very respected soldier. His colleagues like Gier Aloung, Thomas Siriro, Mamur Obote, Samuel Abujohn (RIP), James Wani Igga, Koul Manyang and Gen Jeddalla not forgetting Malik Agar were celebrated rebel leaders now high profile ministers, governors, decorated army officers and senior GOSS officials.
Lt. Gen Dim’s office was cherished by many who lobbied for it in many ways but it was Dominic Dim Deng who won President Salva’s heart and ascended to it in July 2007 but during his Ten months reign he has faced enormous problems such as the integration of the armed groups in South Sudan into the SPLA the official army of GOSS, stabilization of the SPLA, arrest of army officers like Lt. Gen Mamur Obote, the killing of senior police officers in Yambio by Joint Integrated Unit (JIU), tormenting of civilian population by Uganda’s Lords Resistance Army (LRA), the issue of Ambororo (Arab nomads) and the high tension in Abyei among others.
Just in the week of his death, talk was ripe that Lt. Gen Mamur Obote was due to be released from prison and although not much is seen of Gen Dim’s stay in office, he has accomplished a lot that commoners eye can’t see at the moment and like others, his name will enter the history book of South Sudan for generations to read long after his promotion to everlasting life.
I learnt of the tragic accident through the BBC Focus on Africa Programme and I heard Mr. Philip Yona Jambi, GOSS Minister for Rural Development saying that the plane came down near Rumbek as a result of engine failure shortly after the pilot sought permission to make an emergency land at Rumbek Airport but I want the government to investigate the accident and make the findings public.
During my brief work in GOSS in 2005, the former governor of Western Equatoria State Col. Patrick Zamoi and his delegation including myself nearly lost our lives in what was to be assassination crash because one of our own was accused of boarding the plane with us from Juba International Airport to Yambio with the intention to blow the aircraft in terrorist style of homicide.
The security of our leaders is an issue that must be handled seriously for us to avoid unnecessary death of our brilliant leaders in plane crashes. I also caution the safety of these aircrafts operating in South Sudan that carry our leaders and gallant soldiers on daily basis.
In neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this past week, a plane crashed killing over 60 people and it later emerged that the plane had been banned from flying in Europe and one wonders why we (Africans) allow outdated planes to operate in our beautiful continent.
The civil aviation in South Sudan must earmarked aircrafts that are not fit to operate and ban them, leave alone allowing it to carry VIP’s. I rest my case!
The Author is a Sudanese journalist based in East Africa and can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org