• Makat Thor

Conflict and coincidences: 1983 in historical perspective

Makat Thor, Ruweng


At the outset of the 1983 South Sudanese revolution against Khartoum, the High Military Political Command (HMPC) nominated Dr John Garang de Mabior as head of the struggle to free the South Sudanese people from political slavery. The HMPC consisted of numerous figures we know from South Sudanese politics today, such as current President and commander of the SSPDF Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit. Alongside them, there were numerous bourgeoisie elements of the Anya-Nya led by Kuot Atem de Mayen, Abdalla Chuol, Gai Tut and Benson Kuany Latjor.


Despite the common goal, the movement was fraught with ideological disagreement. It may be divided into two factions. The Bilpham under Dr. Garang de Mabior, Keribeno Kuanyin Bol, William Nyuon Beny, Salva Kiir Mayardit and Arok Thon Arok and the Bongo under Akuot Atem. The Bilpham defeated Atem’s faction, due to Garang’s comprehensive approach to issues surrounding Sudanese stability. This drew the attention of multiple African regional leaders, most notably Ethiopian president Mugistu Hilamarriam. Whilst the Bilpham group called for the total liberation of Sudan, Akuot Atem’s forces maintained that Sudan is simply too large to be liberated by South Sudanese groups alone. Arguing primarily in terms of numerical strength, Atem feared incursions into Sudan would draw Khartoum into South Sudanese territory and result in military and political annihilation.


Playing on contemporary Cold War fears, Akuot branded Garang a Marxist to buy support from Western nations. This had limited success, as the SPLA under Garang were able to defeat the rival Bongo faction. Further conflict rose in Nasir under the auspices of Dr. Riek Machar, the current South Sudanese Vice-President and Chairman of the SPLM-IO, Dr. Lam Akol and Gordon Koang Chuol. The trio accused Garang of authoritarian tendencies.


This accusation was questionable, however. It may be argued that Dr. Machar himself was the true authoritarian. His past in Bushier Omar Hassan’s government marks him as a collaborator in the oppression of his own people. Moreover, he is directly implicated in giving Sudan power over South Sudanese oilfields. Resource control such as this directly gave Sudan the upper hand over Garang.


Nowhere are such failings more acutely seen than in the Ruweng administrative area. In 1983, the Ruweng region paid the heaviest price in terms of human, resource and land loss. In 1991 Machar moved against Dr. Garang and Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit in Ruweng.


Writing from the Biemnon community — part of Ruweng — we must consider how to view our politicians. The English said charity begins at home. Despite this, our people in Biemnom are still paying a heavier price than most. Although our country is in the peace process, there is a long way to go.

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