Articles (Opinion/Analysis)

On “Garang Boys” & SPLM Vision: Controversies & Understanding

By Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, 11th February 2022

Mixed views have been expressed regarding who “Garang Boys” are, what they stand for, as well as Garang and SPLM vision for South Sudan, New Sudan or Sudan is. This article looks at some views and arguments related to that, with a view of offering fair, balanced, impartial and solution-focused understanding of the issues.

A relevant article published in July 2006 by The New Humanitarian partly reads:

“When riots erupted around the country following the news of his (Dr John Garang’s) death – leaving approximately 130 dead – many feared the disintegration of the SPLM/A, the collapse of the CPA and a return to civil war. A year later, however, Garang’s legacy proves remarkably resilient.

‘His death affected the entire process of transition very seriously,’ Amum (Pagan Amum, SPLM Secretary-General at the time) said. ‘Losing such a great leader, who was at the forefront of the struggle and the negotiations, created a big vacuum. On the day we lost him – the SPLM tried not to allow [that to happen]. We speedily rallied around [Salva Kiir] Mayardit and elected him the new chairman.’

“On 1 August 2005, Garang’s deputy Mayardit took over Garang’s positions as head of the SPLM/A, Sudan’s First Vice-President and President of southern Sudan and vowed to continue his predecessor’s work.

“Observers fear, however, that Garang’s vision of a united, reformed Sudan is in jeopardy. Alfred Taban, editor of the Khartoum Monitor, an independent newspaper, said many important positions in the new government of southern Sudan (GOSS) had gone to people close to Mayardit who favour southern independence at the expense of former allies of Garang. Chrino Hitan, Garang’s chief of staff; Stephan Wondu, former SPLM representative in Washington; and David Mayo, who used to be in charge of civil services, had been bypassed for jobs in the GOSS, he noted.

“Former members of SPLM’s Leadership Council, Pagan Amum and Nhial Deng Nhial, who helped negotiate the CPA, were appointed adviser for diplomatic affairs and minister of regional cooperation, respectively. According to Taban, however, these were ‘redundant positions’, as the key responsibility lay with the ministry of foreign affairs in Khartoum. Nhial recently resigned and moved to Britain.

“Garang’s death also weakened the SPLM’s position in the GNU (Government of National Unity). ‘The SPLM is a junior partner in this government,’ Taban said.

“Amum told IRIN he was aware of the criticism that the SPLM had not played its expected role in national politics, in the resolution of the conflict in Darfur and in a number of other issues, but said it was inevitable after Garang’s death. ‘If people are disappointed that the SPLM has not done the things expected from it, that could be true. But we are trying; we are trying to assume our responsibility,’ he said.

“Amum observed that, after Garang’s death, forces that were anti-CPA had become more emboldened to attempt to renege on the CPA or to prevent its implementation. ‘[But,] the SPLM has done all it could to manage that crisis and that transition as a whole in a way that makes us continue with the mission left by our late chairman and [take it] to its logical conclusion: that is the transition of the country to democracy, the transition of the country over an interim period of six years and ensuring that the people of southern Sudan will decide their own future,’  he said.

“Rebecca Garang de Mabior, Garang’s widow, was less pessimistic, however, and told IRIN that although Garang’s death had initially slowed down the process of CPA implementation, things were now moving ahead as planned. ‘The CPA is our guide, but peace needs to be worked for,’ she said. ‘It does not come by itself.’

‘My husband was the brain behind the peace and he would have been the brain behind the development of southern Sudan,’ she added. ‘But we are moving in the same direction.’

For is part, in his book From Bush to Bush: Journey to Liberty in South Sudan, Steven Wondu, as quoted by Paanluel Wel, writes:

“I soon discovered that the death of John Garang had created orphans beyond his natural household. The center of power had shifted past Salva Kiir to elements not well known for their loyalty to the fallen leader and the central agenda of the SPLM-SPLA. The “Garang Boys” as his closest aides were mockingly renamed, had been sidelined. Things were a lot worse for those of us who lacked aggressive tribal bases.

A person I had regarded as a friend during the struggle proudly told me that he had vetoed my appointment as Auditor General in the Government of Southern Sudan. The same person or other friends of mine deflected my nomination as Minister of State in the Government of National Unity to a candidate of their preference. They said I was ineligible because I was not from the right tribe.

During the war, we were one body, the SPLM-SPLA. After the agreement, ethnicity became the defining factor in the allocation of public offices. During the struggle, each member of the SPLM-SPLA was a servant of the motherland. After the agreement, the motherland was tossed up for grabs, and grabbed it was. If a person hailed from a small feeble community, the country could be deprived of his/her service. Only the future will tell if this ideology will stand the tide of democracy and the challenges of nation building.

Having seen what was happening after Garang’s death, I went to Washington only to find that I had been replaced without the common courtesy of notification. I packed one bag and returned to Juba in February 2006. I did not want the crisis to force me into exile in the United States. I wanted to be home to witness the carving of the carcass of the elephant, share stories with colleagues and gulp beer to palliate our pain.

We adopted a common name at the orphanage—places we used to congregate in Juba. Everyone was called Abau Jadau Nesitu (Rejected, Discarded, Forgotten). It was not all ‘idle garrulous talk’ at the orphanage. We had to device a strategy of how to return to the center. The guiding principle in our discourse was to ensure the survival of our most cherished achievement; the peace agreement and our gradual recovery of power to ensure its implementation.

We could not trust some of the characters who had taken advantage of John Garang’s death and seized the front row in the chamber of leadership. They did not know the fine print and the silent provisions of the peace agreement. John Garang had said that during the interim period, the people who created the agreement must take full responsibility for its implementation.

They were the ones who knew where the obstacles were and how to circumvent them. He gave the illustration of a man sleeping in a dark room. If he is the owner of the room, he can find his way to the door without stumbling on the furniture and breaking the glasses. A stranger would not be able to find a safe way to the door.

On the basis of this logic it was our duty to pull the strangers out of that room before dark.”

So, who are “Garang Boys” and what is the agenda as South Sudan obtained Independence, Sovereignty?  

While there is no official list of who are “Garang Boys,” the labeling appear to be more from well wishers towards those seen closer to Garang back in the days, and sometimes from from SPLM/A members who were closer to Garang, sometimes for genuine reasons, sometimes simply as a matter of political convenience but no clear actions to advance Garang’s and SPLM’s vision.

So, is it only an issue of returning “to the center”? Pulling “the strangers out of that room before dark”? Which is the “center” and how many of “Garang Boys” must be there? Who are the “strangers”? How committed were and are “Garang Boys” to Garang’s and SPLM/A’s vision? What is their share in the mistakes (corruption, armed conflicts, war crimes, etc) done and regarding the vision? With South Sudan already having gained independence in 2011, how best could the vision be refined for South Sudan and or even Sudan as well, so that it is not anymore an issue of some members of the SPLM/A in  South Sudan and SPLM/A North in Sudan creating hostilities against any of the two Countries? Is is a matter of properties of the SPLM, including funds raised, and how to share those properties?

Sometimes some of the arguments appear to be simply intended at denying contributions of Dr Riek Machar, Dr Lam Akol and others in building the case of South Sudanese to Right to Self-Determination, especially the Agreements they signed with the Khartoum government and the impact of that in, or at least in informing, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, 2005 which paved the way for the Independence of South Sudan.

Various views and analysis have been expressed.

In a publication titled “Sudan Igad Peace Process: An Evaluation,” researcher John Young, PhD writes “…the Khartoum government pursued a strategy of ‘peace from within’ that led to the signing of the Khartoum Peace Agreement in 1997 with the South Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM) of Dr. Riek Machar and a handful of smaller liberation groups and the Fashoda Agreement with Dr. Lam Akol of SPLM-United (Young, 2006). Critically these agreements acknowledged the right of the south to selfdetermination and the principle was then enshrined in the country’s 1998 constitution. Although the Khartoum Peace Agreement in many ways served as the model for the CPA, it did not gain regional or international legitimacy and that made clear to the government that such efforts would never prove effective.

Regional isolation, the military engagement of the neighbouring countries in Sudan, SPLM/A military victories, the acceptance of self determination in the Khartoum and Fashoda Peace Agreements of 1997, its enshrinement in Article 113 of the 1998 Constitution and later its appearance in the Djibouti Call between Sadig Al-Mahdi’s Umma Party and the GoS in 2002 suggested a new pragmatism in Khartoum that was due to military defeats and the isolation of Hassan Al-Turabi and his supporters. As a result, the NIF returned to the IGAD bargaining table in October 1997, but it was not until May 1998 the GoS accepted the DoP as a basis for negotiations. However, with the outbreak of the Ethiopian-Eritrean war in the same month the energy of the mediators and the incentive of the GoS to accept a process based on the hated DoP markedly decreased and the IGAD Peace Initiative began to falter.”

Regarding the Khartoum Peace Agreement, an article by Cirino Hiteng Ofuho titled “Negotiating peace: Restarting a moribund process,” reads, “By 1994 the government in Khartoum felt sufficiently established to consider ways of ending the civil war, but it was also entrenched in its attitudes, particularly its ideological use of religion for political gain. As a result, the 1994 IGADD Declaration of Principles (DoP) was not signed by the government and was unable to address the root causes of the conflict or end hostilities. If anything, Khartoum’s failure to demonstrate any change of attitude towards the south intensified the conflict. The DoP was further undermined by the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement, a hollow document signed by splinter groups but not by the main force in the south.”

Also, Samson S. Wassara (PhD) in the publication “The Comprehensive Peace Agreement in the Sudan: Institutional Developments and Political Trends in Focus Areas” writes, “The past is also associated with the mediation of conflicts, dialogues and agreements not kept, i.e. the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972 and the Khartoum Peace Agreement in 1997. The former established autonomous institutions in Southern Sudan formed a unitary system of government that worked only for 10 years; the latter called for the stipulation of institutions, the result of which worked imperfectly within a newly announced federal structure in the Sudan.

The CPA is another stage in the political development of the Sudan, though not restricted to Southern Sudan like its predecessors. The agreement was hammered out when a federal constitution was adopted in 1998 with federal institutions already in place. The CPA differs, however, from previous agreements in that it is predicated on one country with two systems. For example, the government in the North maintains institutions that operate within the values of Sharia law, while the government in the South claims to operate in a secular system. Another unique characteristic of the agreement is that each party is allowed to maintain its own army, in addition to a third army referred to as the Joint Integrated Units (JIU).”

These topics generate mixed, heated arguments, among South Sudanese and others, including on social media in current times.  There are several occasions where those who shout the loudest rhetoric about these issues appear to be completely insincere, having no intentions of being just, fair to SPLM/A, Garang, Lam and others involved, instead, they appear to be causing confusion to score political points, to make ways for themselves as individuals, pursuing only personal self-fish agenda.  

Sometimes it also involve heated arguments from various groups and individuals regarding who is South Sudan’s Father of the Nation: Kiir, Garang, both of them or more.  Various views have also been expressed regarding the issue of Dr Garang’s picture in the South Sudan’s currency (SSP). About that, I once gave a background that In April 2011, as a journalist, I attended a Press Conference held by the then United Democratic Front (UDF) Secretary General David William Tut (Originally from the Upper Nile Region, I believe). The January 2011 Referendum Results were out by then and southerners were preparing for Independence Declaration, the government was also (secretly) preparing a new Currency for the would be new Nation. In the Press Conference David William Tut said they heard that Dr. John Garang’s picture has been put in the would be new Currency. He said as a party they had no problem with Dr Garang’s picture being in the Currency. However, he complained that the struggle for South Sudan did not begin in 1983 and he suggested that other heroes in the struggle be selected for inclusion in the new currency of South Sudan. He mentioned 1947, 1955, Anyanya and Anyanya Two Revolutions, and as examples, he mentioned Saturnino Lohure, Aggrey Jaden and Samuel Gai Tut. He said putting only Dr Garang’s picture in the money would make some people not feel comfortable because Garang “had a vision of New Sudan.” He argued that in other Countries, not only one, but pictures of many heroes are included in their money. I also made a point that Everyone who is for the good of South Sudan, including anyone who wants to protect Dr. Garang’s legacy in South Sudan, should be calling for procedural and correct ways of doing things. That means, calling for enactment of a law (legislation) that provides for, among other things, whose picture be included in the Currency, using what procedures, etc. Then using that procedure, committees or whatever defined in law, you’ll be able to reach the stage of which leader or leaders be included in the currency. That’s how to protect the legacies using reliable, credible processes. It has to be based in law. All modern Countries do it that way. As a Country, you define the criteria in law first, then rest follow.

More about this, sometimes in 2015, when I was working for The Citizen Newspaper, a Martyrs Bill was tabled before the National Legislative Assembly in Juba for deliberations. There were different views, of course, and I remember one elderly MP from Dinka (Jieng), Bahr-el-Gazal jokingly and seriously said he’s also a son of a Martyr, that his father was also killed in 1960s. His argument was that the definition of a Martyr not be limited to recent struggles only. There’s a consensus among South Sudanese on that view, at least publicly.

That Martyrs Bill was not tabled again for discussions, I believe, because the government wanted major opposition and relevant actors to be part of it, during peacetime, since if the government had passed it alone in 2015, it would not get the approval it may need from the whole Country.

Should it be Martyrs, Heroes, or what? Starting from which year and ending with up-to where? When war erupted in 2013, there were those who fought or lost their lives on government side fighting to “Protect the Constitution and Territorial Integrity of South Sudan.” There were those who fought or lost their lives on the Rebels or Opposition side fighting for “Freedom, democracy” and all the beautiful ideals they mentioned. Now, as a Country, what do you do? Nobody won the war militarily. A compromise in the form of a negotiated political settlement (peace agreement) has been signed and is now in place. Who do you honor or who do you leave out? Some old and developed Countries are moving away from personality cults and stuff like, however, in the case of a new Republic like South Sudan, it is the shared history of the years of struggles that can hold the Country together while the Country tries to embark on Nation Building. Honoring/acknowledging as many as possible those who contributed in the struggles, dead or alive (writing the names of those contributed in the struggles from all the various tribes and regions, whether as armed groups or civilian leaders, etc) in permanent structures in the Capital and major towns in the Country would calm a lot of tensions, from the people, tribes and regions that want recognition for their efforts, not only mentioning of a few individual leaders every time as if they struggled alone. Also foreign countries and individual leaders and well wishers from different Countries who helped South Sudanese during the struggles should be recognized the same way. Then the Country shall be able to focus on real issues affecting the lives of the people.

So, if it is a matter of having truth, national reconciliation and healing and Transitional Justice, including establishing  accurate and impartial historical record of human rights violations, breaches of the rule of law and excessive abuses of power, committed by State and non-state actors, the process in the Transitional Constitution together with the R-ARCSS can be followed, even as legitimate improvements is possible and can be done, search for justice has several legitimate avenues that can be pursued.

For when  issues are mixed, a lot of confusion happens and with neither a solution nor positive impact on the welfare of South Sudanese.

In the Agreement on the Re-unification of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement SPLM, which in January 2015, the three SPLM Groups: SPLM-IG, SPLM-IO and SPLM-FDs signed, several provisions have been made on Political, Organizational and Leadership issues to be carried out in the SPLM including on revocation of decisions for dismissal of party cadres from party membership and leadership positions resulting from the internal conflict within the party and ensuring that the “SPLM redefines its ideological direction, developmental path, the nature of its democracy, system of governance and the nature of society and state it aspires to build.” In that Agreement, they acknowledged that “the failure to institutionalize and democratize the exercise of power in the SPLM is among the root causes to the crisis in South Sudan.”

In an interview with Rumbek Broadcasting Corporation last year, Pagan Amum, as quoted by Nyamilepedia in two articles, one in October and another November, said the following about the failure: “Of course, we failed as SPLM but the only failure which I can accept is our failure of allowing the SPLM to be hijacked from us but the other failures that resulted into killings and destructions are made by few individuals especially someone like president Kiir who has branched from the political vision of the party.”

“… Salva Kiir will be remembered for standing against the SPLM and vision of new Sudan. He introduced tribalism which was not existing during our time with Dr. John Garang, he could only be remembered as leader who harbor selfishness and looting in the country.”

Earlier, in July 2015, in an article titled “Do you know Garang Boys are problematic in South Sudan’s Politics?”, Peter Gai Manyuon, writes “Transitional Constitution of South Sudan 2011 was manipulated by Garang Boys. South Sudan resources looted by the boys and the current crisis was a strategic work plans for five years by (Yaal Garang) with their mother.

Are you aware that these boys are the problem to South Sudanese communities? Are you aware that, they are looking for South Sudan leadership only that their mechanism is not effective?  Are you informed that, out of 75 corrupts officials, 50 are within them? Are you informed that, they bought houses in East Africa region using Country resources? Are you informed that, they try by all means to lead the interim government but they failed politically? ….Apparently, it’s well understood that most of the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) members are all thieves. Those in the government, opposition and the remaining three within the former detainees group, they are all liabilities to South Sudanese communities.  South Sudanese must think of how to isolate them all for the peaceful co-existence of South Sudanese masses to be achieved or put in to place. Isolation of the seventy five (75) corrupts individuals who have incited South Sudanese people to killed themselves on ethnic basis is what most people should be advocating for.”

Indeed so many views. Finding solutions to all these issues would also mean focusing on the level of democracy within the SPLM groups and their structures: National Liberation Council, Political Bureau relevance to democracy in South Sudan;  and on the the topic of revocation of decisions for dismissal of party cadres from party membership and leadership positions resulting from the internal conflict within the party, how still committed are the party cadres to the Re-unification Agreement. The two recent articles SPLM questions & issues that may need answers for Sustainable Peace and SPLM among Root Causes of South Sudan’s Conflict, what happened to Arusha Agreement? are also helpful in providing answers to the search for solutions.

As I pointed out here-above, if it is a matter of having truth, national reconciliation and healing and Transitional Justice, including establishing  accurate and impartial historical record of human rights violations, breaches of the rule of law and excessive abuses of power, committed by State and non-state actors, the process in the Transitional Constitution together with the R-ARCSS can be followed, even as legitimate improvements is possible and can be done, search for justice has several legitimate avenues that can be pursued.

For when  issues are mixed, a lot of confusion happens and with neither a solution nor positive impact on the welfare of South Sudanese.

Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, a South Sudanese journalist, is the author of the book Freedom of Expression and Media Laws in South Sudan.  Roger is also the Producer and Host of The Weekly Review: Making Sense of News and Relevant Topics. For more, keep in touch with this his website

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