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In memory of John Garang

by Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem


Who would have thought that exactly three weeks after the historical and momentous occasion of the inauguration of the transitional government of national unity in Khartoum we would be mourning the death of the vice president of Sudan, under that peace agreement , Dr John Garang . In less than a month, the huge hope and expectations raised by the peace agreement (signed in Naivasha, Kenya , in January ), negotiated for several years and culminating in the inauguration of July 9, seem to be doomed .

The predictable riots in Khartoum mostly by grieving southerners and the even more predictable high handed response by the Sudan security forces only serve the cynicism of many people both inside and outside who have always believed that peace between the north and south, meaning Arabs and Africans is not possible.


Between July 7 and 9 the whole world watched the outpouring of emotions on the streets of Khartoum and other parts of Sudan as John Garang arrived for the innauguration of the transitional government. Little did we all know that the millions that turned out to welcome the newly rehabilitated rebel leader to a city he last visited 21 years ago and the many more who turned out on July 9 for the inauguration and saw him take the oath of office as the first vice president of Sudan were saying good bye to Dr John.


Like most people, when I first learnt of the disappearance of the helicopter in which Dr. Garang was travelling I immediately suspected foul play. It was a hope against hope between Saturday evening and Sunday evening when it was finally confirmed that the aircraft had crashed and there were no survivors.


The immediate consensus from many quarters was that foul play was unlikely. This quick verdict further fuelled one's suspicions. Before a definitive verdict was declared there should have been an investigation first. There were two reasons why many people believed the 'no foul play' explanation. One, Garang was travelling from Uganda, on one of President Museveni's aircraft flown by Ugandan crew. Since Museveni has been the closest regional ally of Garang it is inconceivable that he would have been party to any conspiracies against his long term comrade. The other reason I believe is that nobody wants to contemplate foul play because the peace process in which everyone has invested so much material and political resources for many years both regionally and internationally will be dead. Therefore fear of failure and desperation for victory dictates giving the benefit of the doubt.


Both reasons are not enough for us to suspend all disbelief. If you are an Arab chauvinist (as there are many among Sudan's ruling elite) who did not believe in sharing power with African Sudanese and who have spent all your live demonising Garang the January peace accord and Garang's swearing in on July 9 was a day of defeat for you. If you were also a Southern chauvinist who believe that peaceful coexistence with your Arab neighbours was not possible then Garang will be a traitor as far as you were concerened.


Between both groups killing Garag would have been on the cards but which of them had the means? Also If you were planning to take your revenge what other circumstance will give you the best cover for your dastardly act and a fool proof alibi than Garang travelling to his foremost allied country and in that country's aircraft manned by its citizens, to mount your counter attack? Even Agatha Christie could not have constructed a more perfect murder . Therefore while we are assured that Garang was under the safe care of his Ugandan allies, who will guarantee us that there were no enemies lying in the jungles of kidepo and environ as the helicopter headed for Lumbek? As for the other reason about wanting peace at all cost it has thrown blinkers in the eyes of many of us . While I am prepared to agree that the top leadership in Khartoum , i.e . Omar Al Bashir and Ali Osman Taha, may mean their commitment to peace we cannot say the same for some of their generals.


Those fervently opposed to the new peace deal do not need the permission of Khartoum to carry out there anti peace efforts. While they may be allies of Khartoum and could have been aided and abetted by them, Khartoum may not be able to control all their efforts. We have curent examples among the Janjaweed elements in Darfur who began as allies of Khartoum but now operate beyond the control of their former masters. Another pertinent example is the Sudan Uganda deal that even gave Uganda right of hot pursuit into Sudan territory against the LRA. More than two years later LRA is still very much operating in Sudan with the connivance of sections of the Sudanese military and security establishment. Who is to say the same type of fifth columnists were not at work in the border regions of Uganda, Kenya and Sudan last Saturday?


We welcome Uganda's immediate setting up of an investigation panel and call for joint effort with the Government of Sudan, IGAD, and the African Union and international community to independently investigate the crash in order to assure those who are extremely doubtful that it was an unfortunate accident . The same was said of Samora Machel's crash but we know better now. Until we have the report of that panel it is difficult to say a proper goodbye to comrade John Garang . That will come later. For now one is full of why and who type questions. Before you accuse me of being a conspiracy theorist please let me share an anecdote with you. A Schizophrenic Man was accused of being paranoid and he retorted to his accuser: "The fact that I may be paranoid does not mean that there is no one conspiring against me."


Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is General-Secretary of the Pan African Movement, Kampala (Uganda) and Co-Director of Justice Africa.  Reprinted with permission.


Posted  October 05, 2005

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