-Son of emblematic leader lashes out at elite for turning country to worse form of dependent state
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Mabior Garang is not happy with the way things have unfolded since Southern Sudan achieved independence a year ago. The son of the country’s emblematic revolutionary leader Dr John Garang says the new elite have turned the country into the worst version of a dependent state.
Southern Sudan does not reflect the vision of the Sudan Peoples ‘Liberation Movement-SPLM which was led by the late Dr Garang and current President Salva Kiir. The status quo is like a “posthumous coup on the people of Sudan” says Mabior who heads a small youth organization call “The New Society.” Mabior joins the growing chorus of people disappointed at the way thing have evolved so far in Africa’s youngest country. “Nowhere in Africa has a liberation movement, so quickly and so determinedly abandoned its program and its platform,” Mabior says. Interviewed by Ajong Mbapndah L, Mabior who heads the DR. John Garang International School, offers very lucid insight into the realities of Southern Sudan today.
Mr. Mabior thanks very much for accepting to grant us this interview. What is your assessment of Southern Sudan a year after it attained independence?
Mabior Garang: The new Republic has missed a unique opportunity to birth a qualitatively different type of nation state in Africa, one that is built on different parameters, as articulated severally by our late hero and founder, Dr. John Garang de Mabior. At the heart of the SPLM’s vision of statehood was a qualitative leap from the state building models followed by other post colonial states in Africa. Instead the new Republic, on account of the new elite, has become the worst version of a dependent state – incapable of independence in decision making and beholden to outside powers for everything including basic economic and social policy. It is the very thing the SPLM sought to avoid.
The notion of all power belonging to the people has been completely usurped! Instead of using the goodwill expressed by the people when they affirmed their sovereignty by voting in overwhelming numbers for independence, the new elite has instead focused their efforts on the most crude and grotesque accumulation of wealth. The popular goodwill could have been mobilised again in a popular constitutional referendum, as many people of goodwill had urged the SPLM to do. A great opportunity squandered.
For many of the new elite, the “independence” of South Sudan is the program and an end in and of itself. Indeed, some have even called for the SPLM to change its name since it had “achieved its objective”! They might as well have changed it! The fact is that the struggle for a New Sudan, a country that is fundamentally transformed both in form and content, rages on in other marginalized parts of the country, and those waging that struggle are the ones advancing the SPLM program and vision of change. It is tragic that we have failed to recognize this in South Sudan
In a recent interview you said the leadership of the country had deviated from the vision your late Dad Dr John Garang had, can you shed more light on his vision and how the present leadership is acting contrary to that vision?
Mabior Garang:The objective of the movement (the Vision of the New Sudan) was to end the exploitation of man by man by modernizing our societies. To sum it up, the leaders of the new Republic have abandoned that vision and program of the peoples movement. Nowhere in Africa has a liberation movement, so quickly and so determinedly abandoned its program and its platform. It has to be a first! And what a tragedy given the promise of change; the expectations of our people and the reverence that the SPLM had among Africans all over the world. Here was a movement that took as its starting point, the enslavement of Africans from the time of the first Persian incursions, to the time Alexander penetrated the Nile Valley, to the present day! Its loss of direction is not only a Sudanese tragedy but an African one as well. The original program was completely abandoned; I describe it as a posthumous coup on the people of Sudan.
President Salva was a long time Aide of Dr Garang, what do you think is making him deviate from the principles of your Dad who remains the most emblematic figure in Southern Sudan
Mabior Garang: I don’t want to speculate too much as that might lead to conspiracy theories; there are probably many factors both internal and external. I shall only shed light on what I do know (which is that) the SPLA was founded as a politico-military organization. This means that the movement’s combatant was primarily a political activist. This form of organizational structure was necessary due to the objective historical realities of the time, there was the field Commander at the front and the Political Commissar in the liberated areas. The SPLA was the primary tool through which the efforts of the Sudanese people were organized and directed to achieve the democratic transformation of the country. The late DR. John taught that the SPLM would be evolved during the course of the struggle, as the SPLA created the necessary conditions. He argued that the people’s movement had to be evolved democratically and not based on a first come first serve basis. The SPLA would fight the war, and with the passage of time as more Sudanese became convinced about the objectives of the movement, they would join the struggle and form a truly representative movement. This logic was fought by a few sectarian minded elite, who used their local influence to promote tribal divisions to de-campaign less educated members of their communities. The movement in order to survive had a premature birth, and it has suffered from this ever since.
The true cadres of the people’s movement are the armed political activists who fought the war, and they have been excluded from continuing to lead the people’s movement based on a technicality. The transition from a rural based movement, to one exercising power in the urban center has been mismanaged. At the moment of victory rebels that previously were not bound by law suddenly had to contend with international law. The cadres of the movement who where all armed activists becomes part of the national armed forces, while the “political wing” entered the realm of party politics. The SPLM national secretariat (apart from a few at the top) is made up of individuals that have spent over ten years outside of Africa. They are mutated from their villages many having American, Australian and Canadian citizenship. The political commissars who are the true ideologues of the people’s movement and who know the struggle and sacrifice that the people have made, are no longer the ones making the decisions. The decisions are being made by people that don’t have to live far with the consequences of their decisions. I believe this is what has made us deviate as a movement, it is easy to blame one man especially the leader (it comes with the territory). It is; however, our collective failure.
The criticisms against the government of President Salva aside, what are some of the positive things you think he has done and what advice do you have for him?
Mabior Garang: I don’t see many things, but to be fair we have not yet descended into the abyss despite all the forces working against us, internal and external. I suppose he must be doing something right. I think he has done his best to balance the situation, I imagine it must not be easy to please everyone.
There are pictures of sky scrapers and flourishing construction sites in Juba, is this development a reflection of what is going on in other parts of the country?
Mabior Garang: The development that you have mentioned is cosmetic. It is similar to starting a building project from the roof. There is no proper waste management, no power, no water, healthcare is in shambles, the justice system is nonexistent, poor education. I guess it would depend on ones definition of development. The population of South Sudan is predominantly rural based, so any credible development program must also be rural based. The late DR. John taught us that the level of development at which our people shall start is shocking, and only through agriculture can they be committed to development.
How has the government treated your family in general and have you ever been approached to play a leadership role in the country?
Mabior Garang: I am thankful that we have not been specifically targeted; we have been safe for the most part. I don’t believe Comrade Salva would knowingly allow for anything to happen to us. However, there is a group around him that is of the view that: “…it is not your time anymore…” (Whatever that means).
This group has tried their best to drive a wedge between Comrade Salva and our family, and also the peace loving people of South Sudan; but we have tried not to let it affect our relationship. In spite of these people we have been behind Comrade Salva from when he succeeded DR. John to the independence, we have been hoping for a change of heart ( we have gone as far as raising over 2.5 M USD for his campaign). And as long as he stands for the ultimate permanent interests of our people, we shall continue to be behind him.
I have never been officially approached by the government or the SPLM; however, some individuals out of their own initiative have offered to lobby on my behalf, to which I have always declined. I think we have a systemic problem and not one of personalities, I have been able to contribute more to nation building in a private capacity than I ever could being in government.
If we may ask another about Dr Garang, what kind of family man was he, what are some of the fond memories you have about him?
Mabior Garang: I hardly knew my father as a father; I have no memories of that. I knew my father as a revolutionary, and this is how we related to each other. It was a Comradeship that we shared, I feel honored to have been part of that history, I imagine it would be equivalent to living with Amilcar Cabal, Edwardo Mondelane or Samora Machel.
I know he was a great family man because I have pre-revolution photos and we look like a happy family, I also witnessed how much he loved my sisters, and the whole extended family. It was his love for his family that ultimately made him sacrifice everything, so that his children live in a new society where they are not second class citizens.
We also learned that you were a victim of attacks from thugs after making critical posts on face book; can you tell us what happened?
Mabior Garang: I was attacked by unknown assailants two weeks after giving a speech at the 3rd memorial for my father, I think that somebody did not like what I said. I was struck with a blow to the jaw that left it fractured in three places, I currently wear titanium micro plates (there was no investigation by the security).
I was also attacked a year earlier by security forces at my father’s grave, I had gone to mediate as I used to regularly after his tragic demise. I was surrounded, beaten with the butt of an AK 47, and told it was not the right time for me to be there (again no investigation). I have been harassed many more times for different reasons as many of my compatriots do daily.
The international Community has been most supportive of Southern Sudan; in what way do you think it can be of additional help in improving the situation in your country?
Mabior Garang: I think the international community should continue to be with the marginalized people of Sudan (South and North) and work with the people at the grassroots level to strengthen civil society. However, the ultimate reality is that we the people of South Sudan are the primary force that can stop the current failure of state, and bring us back to the promise of a new society, a promise we gave everything for. I don’t think it is too late to set things right.
On a personal note, what are your ambitions? Do you see yourself getting more actively engaged in politics?
Mabior Garang: I don’t wish personally to be in politics (in the traditional sense). I am part of a historical struggle, a people’s movement, and the objectives of this movement have been articulated clearly (in the case of Africa) since the mid 1950’s. The movement’s objective has been to create a new society, to have an African renaissance. The pre-colonial African society is no longer relevant to our current realities, while the one imposed during colonialism is foreign and also not relevant to our realities. I am committed to this historical struggle of our people (to form a new society) and will, as Comrade Madiba put it: “…do anything that history may call upon me to do…” if that means politics then I guess I will have to roll up my sleeves and get to it.
A last question, based on the volatility of relations with Sudan, and the challenges facing your country now, any prediction for the future?
Mabior Garang :The people of South Sudan and the People of North Sudan share a long history of unity and secession going back to ancient times when Kemet (aka Egypt) Seceded from Nubia in ancient times. The history of the people has been characterized by movements of unity and secession and today the objective realities have led to secession. I don’t know what tomorrow may bring; however, the future of both populations is inextricably linked.
The marginalized people of Sudan (North and South) have been betrayed by the Elites, who are the real enemies of the Sudanese people (north and south). The people of South Sudan and the people of North Sudan are not enemies; it is the Southern Elite and the Northern Elite that have traditionally been enemies. The northern and southern elite have conspired to stop the revolution from reaching its logical conclusion, (which was) the democratic transformation of the country (a Sudanese Renaissance). They are now promoting sectarian politics to ensure their survival. I know that one day the revolution shall achieve its objectives. Whether that will be in my lifetime? I don’t know!
Thanks very much again for granting this interview to Pan African Visions
Mabior Garang: The pleasure is mine