Dr. John Garang and the May 16th Bor Uprising

Posted: May 16, 2014 by PaanLuel Wël in Featured Articles, History, PaanLuel Wël

Commemorating the 33rd Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Revolutionary Movement—the SPLM/SPLA

 By PaanLuel Wël, Juba, South Sudan


May 16th: Celebrating the Founding of the SPLM/SPLA

May 16th: Celebrating the Founding of the SPLM/SPLA


This is an excerpt from the book “Who Killed Dr. John Garang?”  by PaanLuel Wël


1. Seeding the Rebellion: Leaving Khartoum for Juba

When Garang finally came back from the US in February 1982 after his doctoral studies, he was very “well educated but [largely] unreformed.” (Hilde, 288) He simply resumed the political agitation from where he had left it before departing.Soon after he returned, the plan for the revolutionary armed struggle was set in motion. In February 1983—a full year later—Captain Chagai Atem Biaar, Garang personal’s courier, went to Khartoum for consultation concerning the war plan. Upon his arrival, the top echelon of the Underground Movement secretly met “in the house of a prominent politician from the South” (Arop, 186) to map out their war plan.

In his January 1972 letter to Gen. Joseph Lagu, Garang had urged his Anyanya One comrades and the Southern population to continue with the armed struggle until there would be “objective indication that the Khartoum-based Arab nationalist administrations are capable of concluding a consistent social democratic solution to the National Question in the Sudan.” (Garang, 204)But Garang soon realized that his was “a futile opposition because the South, the springboard of our opposition was not prepared to back us.” (Garang, 204)

In the view of Captain John Garang, the reason why most Southerners and senior Anyanya One officers rejected his January 1972 letter was because “many southern people were prepared for jobs than the continuation with the war.” (Garang, 204) Convinced that “the atmosphere was therefore not conducive for the continuation with the war,” (Garang, 204) Garang had accepted to be integrated into the Sudanese Army after he had “recognised that people wanted peace not another war.” (Garang, 204) Garang had rationalized that “any popular struggle, naturally must involve the people. So seeing that the people were not ready for the continuation of the war we thought it would be futile to fight on.” (Garang, 204)

That was in January 1972, eleven years to February 1983 when they were locked in a lengthy discussion in Khartoum, pondering whether the masses of the people in Southern Sudan were prepared to support their move at that time for the resumption of the revolutionary war—a “genuine war of people’s liberation” (Achuoth, 174) that Garang fervently believed to have been “abruptly and unjustifiably brought to an end to satisfy the interest of the forces of reaction and neo-colonialism” (Achuoth, 174) eleven years earlier.

But after a protracted deliberation, the meeting “was concluded with a consensus that the political development was ripped [sic] for launching the People’s Revolution long in gestation.” (Arop, 186) Thus, in homage to the Torit Mutineers of 18 August 1955, the Clandestine Movement chose 18 August 1983 to commence their armed rebellion. Two war plans were hurriedly drawn up and unanimously passed and adopted. The first plan was to “strike a deadly blow to the northern segments in the army, capture Juba the capital city in the South, and all the major southern towns of Wau and Malakal in the shortest time possible and at minimum cost to the Southern Sudanese revolutionaries.” (Arop, 186) With Juba attacked and captured, the plan was to “make it our springboard to launch the movement” (Garang, 204) that would liberate the whole country.

That first war plan was to be launched from Bor, and “was to be executed by battalions that were assembled near Ayod and Pochalla and those around Juba” (Achuoth, 175) but with the help of all the ex-Anyanya One battalions in the South, especially Battalion 116 in Juba; 117 in Torit and Kapoeta; 110 in Aweil; 111 in Rumbek; 105 in Bor, Pibor and Pochalla and 104 in Ayod, Waat and Akobo. “A socialist government was to be established in Juba and measures taken to assist in transforming the situation in Khartoum.” (Achuoth, 175)

The second war plan, which was essentially plan B in case the first one failed, was that “in the event that Khartoum attacked first, displacing and dislodging battalions 105 and 104 from their bases, the Underground Movement was to regroup and reorganize to wage a protracted armed struggle for the total liberation of the Sudan.” (Achuoth, 175)Consequently, Garang was scheduled to tour all the ex-Anyanya One battalions in the South so as to put them “on full alert in early August 1983” (Arop, 186) in readiness for the D-Day of 18 August 1983 picked by the Underground Movement to launch the People’s Revolutionary Movement.

Thus, in earnest, the assembly “discussed the possibility and plans for [Garang] to come to Malakal in order to coordinate our activities.” (Garang, 204) Major Salva Kiir Mayaardit, who was an intelligence officer in the Sudanese Army and a core member of the Underground Movement, was in Malakal. As a government intelligence officer, Salva Kiir was able to supply vital information to the Clandestine Movement about government plans of actions—that is, he provided security and intelligence to the members of the Underground Movement. Soon after the meeting, Captain Chagai left for Malakal to brief Major Salva Kiir, Lt. Col. Francis Ngor-makiech Ngong, William Abdallah Chuol Deng and Salva Mathok Gengdit about the resolutions of the Khartoum’s gathering.

After Captain Chagai briefed him, Salva Kiir concocted a plan to get Garang to Malakal without raising the alarm of the military’s intelligence officers who were monitoring Garang’s activities. Since his arrival from the US, security agents had reported that Garang “was having intimate interaction with most of the former Anyanya absorbed forces.” (Arop, 268) In an ingenious move, Salva Kiir “sent an urgent telegram urging me to come to Malakal to attend the sickness of my brother whom [sic] he said was extremely sick. He said my presence in Malakal was a must. I took a seven-day leave to attend to my brother’s sickness. Of course I did not have a brother in Malakal let alone the fact that he was sick.” (Garang, 204)

Garang immediately left for Malakal with Abdallah Chuol Deng. Abdallah Chuol was a member of the Underground Movement and had been living with Garang for three weeks, in his house at Haj Yousif in Khartoum. In Malakal, Garang “was briefed about the Anyanya-2 activities in eastern Upper Nile, and training conditions in Bilpam in Ethiopia.” (Arop, 186) After several meetings in Malakal, Garang “decided to send William Abdallah Chuol [and Captain Chagai Atem] to Gordon Kong Chol of the Anya Nya Two at Bilpam so as to put all his forces on full alert for the impending assault on Juba in August 1983.” (Garang, 204) The Underground Movement’s war plan was that “the Anya Nya Two forces were to assemble in Pochalla and Waat areas.” (Garang, 204)

Major Kerubino Kuanyin Bol was to command Bor, Pibor and Pochalla, while Major William Nyuon Bany was going to command Waat and Akobo. “The operation was to be launched from Bor, with the forces in Pibor, Pochalla, Akobo and Waat giving support.” (Garang, 204) Having successfully coordinated the activities of the Clandestine Movement in Malakal, Garang returned to his base in Khartoum in time to avoid raising the suspicion of the military intelligence that was trailing him.

However, security reports concerning the military conditions in the South from Salva Kiir, relayed through Captain Chagai, to Garang in Khartoum painted a disturbing picture of the situation. Simply put, the Khartoum government was pulling the rack out from under their feet “In May, Chagai came back to Khartoum with the information that the situation was deteriorating fast and that the assault on Juba planned for August was not going to be possible.” (Garang, 204)

Several security and military events had conspired to derail the planned August D-Day of 1983. Firstly, “as a part of the overall plan to transfer recalcitrant units in the South,” (Arop, 186) the General Army Headquarters had overpowered and forcefully transferred Battalion 110 from Aweil to el-Fasher in Western Sudan. It was even claimed that the forceful transfer of Battalion 110 was “carried out with the connivance of one of their former commanders, Albino Akol Akol, the former Anyanya-1 officer and active member of the Underground Movement.” (Arop, 186) It was alleged that Albino Akol had tricked the soldiers of Battalion 110 into a bogus meeting, and “as they were listening to their former commander, the post was immediately occupied by a contingent of northern Arab troops. Without arms and outside their post, the battalion had no choice and reluctantly left for El-Fasher without resistance.” (Arop, 186)

Albino Akol was a colleague of Garang and Emmanuel Abuur Nhial. After the conclusion of the Addis Ababa Accord in 1972, Albino Akol, in a brazen disregard to the terms of the Addis Ababa Agreement, proudly marched, in a broad daylight, to the grave of martyred William Deng Nhial and fired several shots into the air in honor of his fallen leader. That bold action earned him the wrath of the General Army Headquarters in Khartoum and saw him demoted in his military rankings. Moreover, after the unfortunate killing of Emmanuel Abuur-matuong by Captain Agwet Awan in 1978, and the then departure of Captain John Garang for further studies in the US, it was Albino Akol who remained as the de facto leader of the Underground Movement. Therefore, the allegation that he connived in the forced transfer of Battalion 110 from Aweil to Darfur was a serious matter to Garang’s ears in Khartoum.

For his defense, Albino Akol (Arop, 45) does not dispute the forced transfer of Battalion 110 to Darfur but he maintains that by the time the battalion was transferred, most of its ex-Anyanya One officers had been moved away to other battalions across the country. Thus, Battalion 110 was therefore composed almost entirely of non-Anyanya One soldiers by the time the forced transfer was executed—an action that, he argues, he was not a party to as he had been transferred to the north by that time and was only on a short visit to Aweil by that time of the forced transferred.

This is a point backed up by Garang when he acknowledged and conceded that “of course, in order to attack Juba we would need uprisings in our other garrisons, which were being transferred to the North. We knew of course that Battalions 117 in Kapoeta and 111 at Rumbek would be ready to join us. As for Battalion 110 in Aweil, we could not count very much on it because most of the soldiers from this unit were not with us.” (Garang, 204) That was strictly because Battalion 110, by that time, was deflated of its ex-Anyanya One soldiers through frequent transfer to the North and other parts of the country as Khartoum’s overall policy to “transfer the absorbed Anyanya forces to the North and thereby integrating them all over the Sudanese armed forces where they would become individuals there and there thus eventually, through old age, premature pension, death and dismissals, the phenomenon of the Anya Nya force within the Sudanese army would disappear.” (Garang, 204)

Secondly, it was also reported to Garang that Battalion 105 in Bor was having issues with the government partly over a planned transfer to the North, which they were resisting, and partly as a result of dispute over money in Bor. As a pattern of an overall well-coordinated Khartoum’s long-term plan to liquidate and to banish the ex-Anyanya One soldiers from the army in general and from the South in particular, “the order from Khartoum was given in January 1983 to move southern units northward.” (Natsios, 304)However, the commander of the ex-Anyanya One forces in Bor, Captain Bullen Alier Mangardit, “refused to comply, as the Addis Ababa Agreement had made it clear that they would only serve in the South.” (Natsios, 304)The refusal by Bor commander to comply with General Army Headquarters’ orders to move his unit to the North was seen as a flagrant violation of the military tenets.

Matters were further exacerbated when, in March 1983, a rambling dispute erupted in “Bor over unpaid salaries of Battalion 105 due to discrepancies in the pay-sheet” (Achuoth, 175) for the soldiers of Bor garrison. As a result, the Army Southern Command Headquarters in Juba had sent back the inflated pay-sheet of the salary for March for “correction and subsequent adjustment” (Arop, 186) but the then acting commander of Battalion 105, Captain Bullen Alier, “resented the order to redo the payroll and adamantly refused to cooperate.” (Arop, 186) Thus, the Army Southern Command Headquarters in Juba retaliated by withholding the salary for both March and April. Consequently, “In early April 1983, the unpaid soldiers in Bor grew restive and rioted.” (Arop, 186)

As disgruntled soldiers were demonstrating in Bor, Major Kerubino Kwanyin Bol, the flamboyant commander of Pochalla Garrison, was passing through Bor on his way to Juba to secure “logistics and financial requirements for his command in Pochalla for the whole rainy season” (Arop, 186) when he “found soldiers on a rampage.” (Achuoth, 175) Upon discovering that the commanding officer, Captain Bullen Alier, was on leave, Kerubino Kwanyin decided to take charge of Bor and Pochalla garrisons, both of which were occupied by the same Battalion 105.

There are two theories to what happened in Bor in relation to the discrepancies in the pay-sheet. The first theory maintains that “what happened in Bor was an administrative problem; some of the NCOs of 105 Battalion happened to have embezzled some large amount of money and refused accountability by rejecting to make statement of account that was requested from the Army Southern Command Headquarters in Juba.” (Achuoth, 175) Subsequently, when the Army Southern Command Headquarters refused to release salaries for the soldiers, “the issues developed to become a political and military one, which, on the back of the mind of those soldiers, they decided to shorten the days fixed for the execution of the revolution, instead of separating the issues.” (Achuoth, 175)

The second theory, according to Chagai Atem Biaar (Chagai, 2013), presently the head of SPLA Veterans Affairs, has it that the money issue that ignited the rebellion in Bor—large sum of money (£107,000) said to have been embezzled by some of the NCOs of Battalion 105—was actually deliberately stolen to finance such kind of trainings that had been going on in the past in preparation for August 18th, 1983, the date fixed by the Underground Movement to launch a southern-wide rebellion aimed at capturing Juba and declaring an independent Southern Sudan, to be used as a springboard to liberate the entire Sudan in solidarity with the marginalized Africans of the North.

Whatever the fundamental cause to the Bor Crisis, the security situation in Bor was getting out of hand, not least because “rumors about eminent war were also in the air.” (Arop, 186) Under immense pressure, Nathaniel Anaai Kuur, the then Commissioner of Jonglei Province, “intervened by forming a committee to investigate the dispute as to whether it was purely an accounting problem or a political sabotage.” (Arop, 186) The modest recommendation and frantic effort by his committee to “convince the Army Headquarters in Juba to pay the salaries and look into the matter administratively when calm could return to Bor was simply ignored.” (Arop, 186) Meanwhile in Bor, there was no letup in the rioting and rampaging by the restless soldiers whose salaries were withheld.

Recounting the events in 1984, Nathaniel Anaai Kuur, the former Commissioner of Jonglei Province, believed that it was not entirely about the alleged discrepancies in the pay-sheet but rather that “the Army Headquarters in Juba was looking for a scapegoat so as to force the soldiers concerned to accept transfer to the north.” (Arop, 186)

This is a view shared by many eyewitnesses of those rancorous events leading to May 16th Bor rebellion. For example, General Gismallah Abdallah Rassas, former President of the provisional High Executive Council (HEC) for Southern Sudan Region, concurred that there was more to the issue surrounding the Bor Crisis than the alleged stolen money. “Assuming the amount in question—£107,000—was inflated,” argued Rassas, “it was not a significant sum of money to push the country to the brink of war. The government had a hidden agenda; otherwise, a political decision could have been made to divert this catastrophe that was gasping at the threshold. It is very regrettable that General al-Banna saw things solely in terms of disobedience against the military orders and not the fateful consequences of his refusal to pay the mere £107,000 to silence the soldiers—as rebellious as they were.” (Arop, 186)

2. Arrival in Juba from Khartoum

Major Salva Kiir and Captain Chagai Atem were continually relaying all the discomforting news from Southern Sudan to Garang in Khartoum. “It was here that Colonel John Garang moved to Juba and Bor in order to organize and plan the operations there.” (Arop, 186) Realizing the deterioration of the situation in Bor, Garang, on the pretext of going on an annual leave, abruptly left Khartoum for Juba, Southern Sudan, on 9 May 1983.

His American friend and former schoolmate, Dr. Brian D’Silva, with whom he was teaching at the University of Khartoum, recalled: “I remembered vividly the night he left Khartoum to go to the South. We were originally supposed to travel together but John Garang came by and said that plans had changed. He did not tell me what’s going to happen in the South. But he was a very conscious [sic] professor, because he gave me the students’ exams papers before he left so that the grades would be determined on time. Indeed, he was one professor who really cared about his students even though there were lots of other things on his mind that night of May 1983.” (Brian, 279) Contrary to the popular opinion that Garang was just on leave in Bor when May 16th happened, this was a man on mission, rushing to the South to salvage the deteriorating security situation that was threatening his planned August D-Day of 1983 revolution.

Flagrantly, “many people have been made to believe that the war” (Garang, 204)he was waging “in the South against the Khartoum government has been imposed on [him] by certain circumstances” (Garang, 204)namely, his chance presence in Bor while he was on a routine annual leave. The fact that Professor Garang could not wait to determine the grades of his students before leaving for the South—couple with the abrupt change of his travel plans with his colleague, Professor Brian D’Silva—refute the prevalent belief that he was just going for his annual leave only to be caught up in the mayhem of Bor Uprising. Rather, it testifies to the fact that the request for the annual leave must have been a ploy by Garang to go to the South to put his house in order, a house that was being existentially threatened by a deteriorating security situation that the Underground Movement had not envisaged during their clandestine general meeting in Khartoum that very year.

The other ubiquitous myth is that Garang, when he left Khartoum on May 9th in the advent of the Bor Crisis, was sent by President Nimeiri to quell the brewing rebellion in his hometown of Bor. This is how one report lucidly captured it: “Like one placing a bet on a favorite horse, Garang appeared to Nimeiri an automatic choice to dispatch down South to convince the mutineers in Bor to lay down their arms. He was trusted, had a professional skill as a soldier and being a Dinka like the mutineers, fitted Nimeiri’s cunning in playing a Southerner against fellow Southerners. But what was expected to be a swift mopping-up of mutineers turned out to be the beginning of a massive army revolt. Not only did Garang wound [sic] up joining the mutineers, he turned a government errand into a war of liberation for the people of Southern Sudan, a region enveloped in an air of abandonment and neglect.” (Bandi, 312)

Upon Garang’s death in 2005, the BBC ran his obituary with this catchy byline (BBC, 2005): “John Garang was a government army officer sent to quell a mutiny of 500 southern troops who were resisting orders to be shipped north. It took him 22 years to come back.” (The BBC should have rather added that when Garang did come back, he came back not as an army officer but as the First Vice President of the Republic of the Sudan).

Well, all these alternative versions of events do sound sweet and logical, for indeed, as Gen. Lagu reports and as Garang himself has affirmed in his 1987 Heritage Interview with Arop Madut Arop, the battalion that revolted was Garang’s former Battalion 105 of which he was the first commander upon integration following the promulgation of the Addis Ababa Accord in 1972. Moreover, the government of Khartoum had been infamous for applying the dictum of ‘using a slave to catch a slave’ to fight its numerous wars against black Africans of the Sudan. The problem is that these versions of events are not supported by available information—the chronology of events during that time paints a different picture altogether.

The simple, plain fact is that Garang was rushing to the South to put his house in order, a house that was being existentially threatened by a deteriorating security situation in Bor occasioned by a dispute “over unpaid salaries of Battalion 105 due to discrepancies in the pay-sheet” (Achuoth, 175) that he might not had envisaged.

Thus, just two weeks before the eruption of the May 16th revolution in the historic city of Bor, Garang, the de facto head of the Underground Movement, came to Juba from Khartoum on May 9th 1983, purportedly for his annual leave.Upon his arrival, however, “he found the situation was very tense in Bor, almost reaching the stage of mutiny.” (Achuoth, 175) Garang’s punctual assessment of the situation was that “the situation had already reached a point where it could no longer be diffused. The attack on Bor was in fact imminent.” (Garang, 207) However, that initial gloomy assessment of the security situation didn’t prevent him from striving to diffuse the situation so as to allow the Underground Movement to keep their premeditated August D-Day intact.

John Garang, therefore, sprang into action by first sending his family ahead of him to Bor and secondly by putting up with Peter Cirillo—a former Anyanya One officer and a member of the Underground Resistance—who was the deputy to Siddiq el-Banna, the Commander of the Southern Command of the National Armed Forces. Garang “would dress up every morning and go to the office with” (Garang, 207) Peter Cirillo at the Army Southern Command Headquarters in Juba.

But why would Garang, who had purposely come to Juba to ignite a rebellion against the government, put up with the very military establishment he was about to fight? Garang reasoned that it was the best strategy to camouflage his subversive activities: “Of course, when you are planning an illegal or underground activities [sic], it is always best to be close to the authorities. So in Khartoum, I was very close to the army top brass like General Yousif Ahmed Yousif and General Sowar el-Dhahab. I was also close to General Abu Kodok, the Chief of Staff in the Sudanese Army. We used to have dinners together. My calculation was that if there were intelligence reports about my activities, these generals would dismiss the reports saying: ‘John waled kuez wa ma mumkin yamoul hajjat zeidi—John is a good boy, and it is not possible for him to do such things.” (Garang, 207)

With the house of Peter Cirillo as his command base, Garang embarked on a series of surreptitious meetings and deliberations with the members of the Underground Movement in Juba. First, he “made a number of contacts with representatives of the Underground Resistance, including members of the outlawed Council for the Unity of the South (CUSS), Members of Parliament in the Regional Assembly, police, prisons, wildlife, and student unions leaders.” (Arop, 188) Secondly, Garang “held discussions with Major Arok Thon Arok, his confidante and representative” (Arop, 188) who was also the overall head of Government’s Military Intelligence in Southern Sudan. In order to “keep security agents at bay from his footmarks, Colonel Garang was constantly seen with Major Arok Thon Arok, a highly respected and popular security officer in the military.” (Arop, 186) Thirdly, Garang “held long discussions with Elijah Malok Aleeng and Martin Majier Ghai—members of the regional assembly representing Bor North and South constituencies respectively.” (Arop, 188)

With the stalemate over the crisis in Bor threatening to degenerate into an all-out war, authorities in Bor were furious at Kerubino Kuanyin whom they were accusing of “inflating the figures of salaries of Bor soldiers in order to provoke the standoff” (Arop, 189), a standoff that they understood was bound to destroy their hometown and kill their loved ones. MP Elijah Malok of Bor north, in particularly, had “informed Garang that Bol had inflated the salaries for his own personal gain. Malok added that he thought Kerubino could have inflated the salaries in order to have sufficient money in the treasury to pay the troops in Bor in case the war did break out suddenly.” (Arop, 189)

Finally, Garang convened an extra-ordinary meeting in Juba with “all the members of the Secret Juba Committee of the Underground Movement” (Achuoth, 175) in which a “contingent plan was promptly adopted in order to preempt a possible attack by the Army Headquarters in Juba to cordon off Bor.” (Arop, 188)

After the meeting, Garang “decided to send Major Arok Thon Arok to go to Bor and to ask those involved in the case of money to leave the army to join the Anyanya-2 to separate the issues so that the fixed date of the action remained as planned.” (Achuoth, 175) However, Arok “could not make it because, as the head of Security Intelligence for the Sudanese Government all over Southern Sudan, he had no strong reason to be allowed permission with the then existing precarious security situation in Bor.” (Achuoth, 175) That is, the Army Southern Command headquarters in Juba, worried about Major Arok’s personal security, could not allow him to proceed to Bor because of the Bor Crisis.

In all these clandestine meetings, Garang repeatedly stressed the urgency and gravity of the situation, making it “clear that due to the growing tensions and the government’s apparent plans to preempt their move, in case such a move had already been discovered, the August deadline to launch the Revolution had to be abandoned.” (Arop, 188) Besides his consultations with their secret cells in Juba, Garang was also “planning to visit Torit and Kapoeta to meet soldiers and officers of Battalion 117 in order to put them on full alert to defy orders of their transfer to the north. They were told to be ready and to back up Battalion 105 in Bor in the event of a sudden insurrection in the midst of resisting an attack from the government forces from Juba.” (Arop, 188)

Meanwhile, as Garang was busy putting final touches to his People’s Revolution in Juba, “the drama created by the salary issue had already created a dangerous commotion in Bor town.” (Arop, 188) The frenzied efforts by the saddled provincial commissioner, Nathaniel Anaai Kuur, had come to naught, as both sides of the quarrel were squaring off for an epic battle. It was evidently clear that Commissioner Kuur’s desperate attempt to “diffuse the situation was thwarted by General al-Banna’s hardline stance.” (Arop, 189)

In a move that must have been calculated to give the unmistakable impression of ‘I-am-giving-you-a-final-chance-now-or-else’, Gen. al-Banna, in late April 1983, had organized an impromptu meeting at the Army Southern Command Headquarters in Juba that brought together “all the MPs of Jonglei Province” (Arop, 189) and senior military officers such as “Major General James Loro Siricio, Major General Musaad al-Nueri, and Major Arok Thon Arok and four other members of the security.” (Arop, 189) In that extemporized meeting, Gen. al-Banna took the opportunity to inform the wary participants that “the commotion in Bor had become a security concern to the authorities” (Arop, 188) in Khartoum and sternly “warned the MPs from Jonglei that unless they convinced the soldiers in Bor to obey the lawful orders from their commanders, they would be held responsible.” (Arop, 189)

Undeterred by the explicit threat directed against them, the MPs from Jonglei unequivocally told Gen. al-Banna that according to the security protocols embodied in the Addis Ababa Accord of 1972, “the administration of the national army was the responsibility of the President of the Republic in his capacity as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces in the country” (Arop, 189) and therefore had nothing to do with them as they were not part of the military. After an argumentative, lengthy meeting, it was resolved that a “committee to handle the stand off” (Arop, 189) would be formed and was to be chaired by Dhol Acuil Aleu, Vice President of the High Executive Council.

The members of the committee were politicians such as the Minister for Education Philip Obang, MP Abdel Latif Chaul Lom, MP Elijah Malok, MP Michael Wal Duany, ex-Minister Samuel Ghai Tut, and ex-Minister Akuot Atem de Mayen, in addition to senior military officers in the persons of Gen. James Loro, Brig. Musaad al-Nueri and Major Arok Thon Arok. Soon afterward, the Dhol Acuil-led committee charged with resolving the standoff in Bor left for the troubled town to meet and brief the rioting soldiers. “The troops were told that their transfer to the north was cancelled and that their salaries for April, which were unpaid, would be released with immediate effect. The delegation also assured the soldiers that their dismissed comrades would be re-instated back to their jobs.” (Arop, 189)

With the restive troops in Bor assured of, and momentarily calmed down by, the “government’s pledge” (Arop, 188) to rescind their planned transfer to the north, to immediately pay their detained salary and to quash the arbitrary dismissal of their comrades, Dhol Acuil and his upbeat delegation went back to Juba to brief the Army Southern Command Headquarters about their mission to Bor. Unfortunately, however, the government reneged on their earlier pledges since, between the end of April and the beginning of May, “nothing dramatic was done to ease the situation that was worsening by the hour” (Arop, 188) as soldiers in Bor had fully resumed their daily rampaging. Most Southerners, though, particularly the Underground Movement, were implacably convinced that “General al-Banna was just executing the orders of his senior commanders at the General Command Headquarters in Khartoum.” (Arop, 188)

It was in the light of these circumstances that Colonel Garang paid a courtesy call to General Siddiq al-Banna in the Juba Army General Headquarters, tacitly to gauge the true situation and to see whether it would be feasible and safe to travel to Bor.” (Arop, 188) As previously noted, Garang had already sent his family to Bor while he had remained behind to coordinate the activities of the Juba’s underground cells of their Clandestine Movement. This was how the May 12th conversation (Garang, 207) between Gen. Siddiq al-Banna and Garang proceeded:

General Siddiq al-Banna: John, when did you come to Juba? What do you want here, and where are you going?

Colonel John Garang: Three days ago, Sir. I am going on leave to Bor, Sir.

General Siddiq al-Banna: Where do you come from?

Colonel John Garang: From Bor, Sir

General Siddiq al-Banna: John, if I were you, I would not go to Bor

Colonel John Garang: Why Sir? I am an officer on leave and Bor is my home. I have taken my annual leave and the General Headquarters knew about it Sir. Moreover, I have my Agricultural Project in Bor that I intend to organize.

General Siddiq al-Banna: If I were you John, I would not go to Bor. To be frank with you John, those of Kerubino have revolted and as far as the Sudanese army is concerned, Bor, Pibor and Pochalla are no longer part of the Sudanese army. They are rebels. If you go there and if they do not kill you, it means that you are with them.

Colonel John Garang: I am very happy with your advice, Sir. But what you have told me has made it very necessary for me to go to Bor.

General Siddiq al-Banna: Why?

Colonel John Garang: I have sent my family to Bor four days ago. My family has gone ahead of me. They are in Bor. So, with your permission, Sir, if I leave tomorrow for Bor, collect my family and come back the following day, will that be acceptable to you Sir?

General Siddiq al-Banna: If you stick to that programme, if you go tomorrow and come back the next day, there will be no problem.

Colonel John Garang: Thank you very much Sir. You are really a senior officer. This is an advice a senior officer like you can give to his junior officers. But Sir, I am unhappy because I am a senior officer in the Sudanese Army. I am also the Deputy Director of the Military Research Unit. If there is something of that nature, I should have not been given my leave in the first place. In the second place, I should have been briefed in Khartoum of what is going on in Bor. I don’t blame you anyway but those in Khartoum who gave me leave without briefing me. I should not have been allowed to go to Bor where there are military operations. This is unbecoming. But nevertheless you have saved the situation Sir. That is why it is always necessary to have a good commander. You have briefed me about the situation in Bor. I will go to collect my family tomorrow. Thank you Sir.

Col. John Garang—visibly amused by, and greatly pleased with himself for, how easy he had practically tricked his credulous boss—gave Gen. al-Banna a military salute as he left the office. Garang later proudly observed that “Siddiq al-Banna might have been a big fool. He knew the exact situation. As a veteran soldier, he should have not allowed me to go to Bor. However, I left for Bor the following day.” (Garang, 207)

3. The Bor Crisis

With formal ‘permission’ from Gen. al-Banna to go and “bring back his family from Bor,” (Arop, 191) Garang ‘officially’ left Juba for Bor on the 13th of May, 1983. Accompanying him were Major Arok Thon Arok, his confidante and security man; Elijah Malok Aleeng, MP for Garang’s home constituency of Bor north in Kongor district, and Captain Chagai Atem Biaar, Garang’s personal courier, and the coordinator for the Underground Movement.

It was on this journey to Bor that Malok was finally inducted into, and officially briefed about, the activities and strategies of the Underground Movement that he, as a mere politician unlike the military men, knew nothing about. Garang persuaded Malok to “abandon his grudges and quarrels against Kerubino, whom Malok had accused for creating the state of lawlessness in his hometown constituency, Bor. Elijah Malok was also informed that what Major Kerubino had been doing was a part of the underground plan to create a climate conducive for launching the Revolution that had been in the making for the previous ten years.” (Arop, 191)

That night, on their way to Bor, just near Mongalla, the car that Garang’s entourage was travelling in was almost knocked down by a hippopotamus (Chagai, 2013) that was grazing by the road that ran along the Nile.

At eleven o’clock that evening, Garang and his entourage arrived at the outskirt of Bor, wherein Major Kerubino Kwanyin, who was on night patrol with his men, met them. Upon seeing Garang, the presumptive leader of the Underground Movement, arriving in Bor on time for the official launching of the People’s Revolution, Major Kerubino Kuanyin proclaimed: “Garang, the son of my mother, have you come? Take over the command from here, now. Chagai, my work is finished: give me something to drink and celebrate the start of the Revolution. Chagai Atem, I said my work is finished here. Let the wise man, Garang of my mother, assumes the responsibility. Chagai, where is your AK-47? Garang will show us how to shoot the enemy!” (Arop, 191) In retrospect, that was the day Garang officially took over the rebellion and subsequently the SPLM/A. Later on, Garang and his team “learned that Kerubino had already lynched a secret agent sent from Juba to monitor and report on John Garang’s activities.” (Arop, 191)

On the same night of 13/5/1983, Garang met with Kerubino and his NCOs and “tried to persuade them to submit to the military authorities of the Headquarters while those concerned with the case of money should leave the army and join Anyanya-2 so that the issues are separated for the plan of the agreed date.” (Achuoth, 176) Explaining themselves to Garang, Kerubino and his military officers told him that “it was too late, because the mutiny has already started, as we have killed the security man and ambushed a merchant car coming from Khartoum, in which some people were wounded between Bor and Juba.” (Achuoth, 176)

Meanwhile, racing against time in an effort to avert the impending catastrophe, Arok and Malok, on 14 May 1983, “briefed the members of the Security Committee” (Arop, 191) in Bor and further “disclosed that they were in Bor to take the details of the salaries of the troops in Bor. They wanted to take along with them to Juba a properly adjusted payroll for the April salaries.” (Arop, 191) After the pay-sheet was duly adjusted, Arok and Malok returned to Juba the following day.

However, it was evidently clear to Garang that “Khartoum has given [the] okay for military operation in Bor.” (Achuoth, 176) Consequently, “The tension in Bor forced the underground movement to change its plans for August D-Day.” (Arop, 191) Garang accordingly called an urgent meeting of his men in Bor on 14 May 1983, in which the group unanimously voted to “change the date of the operation to May 18th, 1983 instead of August 18th, 1983.” (Achuoth, 176) It was in light of this latest change of D-Day that Garang, on 14/5/1983, “decided to send people to Malakal to inform their secret military committee, headed by Captain Salva Kiir Mayardit, about the changes of the date and asked them to take action on May 18th, 1983.” (Achuoth, 176)

As part of the preparation for the scheduled May 18th D-Day, a “short programme for training students and other volunteers to know some basic elements of the military started on the outskirt of Bor town.” (Achuoth, 176) However, events were running so fast that, on the very day of May 14th that Garang had sent Salva Kiir a message about the changed plan for D-Day, Salva Kiir himself had sent him an urgent message stating that the town of “Bor would be attacked within the next 48 hours. That the Buffalo-planes were transporting troops to Akobo. That troops were being massed in Akobo in order to attack Pibor and Pochalla. That Bor would be attacked from Juba.” (Garang, 209)

While the attack on Bor had been largely speculative before, it had become certain, a reality that, when it finally dawned on the members of the Underground Movement, sent Garang and Kerubino into frenzy of actions. On the one hand, they were manifestly excited that the long-awaited D-Day for the beginning of their interrupted People’s Revolution had finally arrived, while on the other hand, they were not sure that they had made all the necessary military preparations in Bor, and political mobilization and sensitization across Southern Sudan, lest they would be wiped out by the highly trained, well-armed and much bigger government forces.

At the house of Dr. Lueth, which was made into an operation room for planning strategies of resisting the armies being sent against them” (Arop, 191) from Juba, Garang called a brief meeting with Major Kerubino, Captain Chagai, Captain Bullen Alier plus the other members of the Underground Movement. The meeting observed that there were three main army posts in Bor. Firstly, the ex-Anyanya One Battalion 105 was headquartered at Malual-chaat, South of Bor; it was ordered to face Juba to intercept and obliterate the attacking government troops approaching from Juba. Secondly, the Platoon at the Airstrip East of Bor, though composed entirely of northern-Arabs troops, was not considered a threat because a Southerner was commanding it.

Thirdly, “there was a company at Langbaar suburb, North of Bor, which was meant to guard the Jonglei Canal Project and the Dutch DeGroot Road Project facilities. The latter was constructing an all-weather Juba-Malakal highway.” (Arop, 188) The company at Langbaar was seen as a grim threat not just because it was commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel who was a northerner but also since it was entirely made up of northern-Arab troops. “According to Garang’s calculation, if an attack came from Juba with Langbar supporting from the rear that would dislodge the defenders completely. Major Kerubino and Captain Bullen Alier were instructed to take over the command of the Battalion 105 Headquarters at Malual-chaat. John Garang was to go and put up with the Commander of Langbaar Company. As a senior military officer, he would automatically take over the command there.” (Arop, 188)

It is to be noted that the company at Langbaar was purposely brought, at the dawn of the rioting by soldiers of Battalion 105, to quell the fermenting rebellion in Bor. Their arrival, however, coincided with the frenetic efforts by the then provincial commissioner, Anaai Kuur, who, in consultation with the Army Southern Command Headquarters in Juba, decided to accommodate them in Langbaar.

Langbaar was the Headquarters of the CCI French Company digging the Jonglei Canal. The Dutch Engineers of DeGroot Company constructing the Malakal-Juba Highway had also moved to Langbaar for protection. Former Vice President Abel Alier, after [he was removed] from office and replaced by his arch-rival Joseph Lagu, had moved to Bor to coordinate the embankment of Bol Achiek estuary which used to impede the movement of the locals and their animals during the rainy season. With instructions from Khartoum, the Security in Bor brought Alier to Langbaar for protection.” (Arop, 188)

From the home of Dr. Lueth that the dissident group had converted into “an assembly place for discussing war plans,” (Garang, 204) Garang, on 14 May 1983, left for Langbaar as planned: “I told Kerubino to take over Battalion 105 and since I was on leave I would go to Langbaar to tie down the company there,” Garang disclosed to Arop Madut in 1987. “I told [Kerubino] that if we were attacked from the rear at Langbaar and attacked from Juba, it would be a disaster, as it would dislodge us altogether. So, I went to Langbaar to be around as a senior officer. And in order to control the situation, I made friends with the company commander of Langbaar. We used to play cards with him and other officers.” (Arop, 188)

On the following day, 15 May 1983, the Army Southern Command Headquarters in Juba officially informed Major Arok Thon (who had gone to the army headquarters to report about his 13/5/1983 mission to Bor) that the Army General Headquarters in Khartoum “had already given orders for the invasion of the rebellious Battalion 105 in Bor.” (Arop, 188) The message was swiftly passed to Garang in Bor and then to Salva Kiir in Malakal, and William Nyuon in Ayod.

Thus, at 5am of May 16th, 1983, a largely expected “assault was launched on Bor at dawn by the government’s forces under the command of Lt. Colonel Dominic Kassiano Sebit, an ex-Anyanya-1 officer.” (Arop, 188) Because they were adequately prepared for the battle, the gallant ex-Anyanya One soldiers of Battalion 105, rallied by Major Kerubino Kuanyin and Captain Bullen Alier, counter-attacked and a fierce battle thundered on for the next five hours till 10am when Major Kerubino was wounded on his right arm. “He was taken to the hospital for treatment and then escorted to Ajuong village, outside Bor town.” (Arop, 188)

Meanwhile, “Captain Bullen Alier took over the command and maintained the momentum” (Arop, 188) up to 11am when, finally, the “attacking forces of Khartoum regime were repulsed back to the direction of Juba in a decisive defeat” (Achuoth, 176) in which “the deputy commander of the invading forces and a number of soldiers were killed in the first day of the battle.” (Arop, 188) In addition, “Four trucks and one tank were destroyed on the side of the attacking army of the regime. And on the side of the rebel army, only one person, Corporal Maker Jol Deng, was killed and three wounded, including the commanding officer, Major Kerubino Kwanyin Bol, who was wounded on the right arm.” (Achuoth, 176)

Meanwhile at Langbaar, Garang was playing a pivotal role in the ensuing battle. Because his connection to the rebellion was not yet known, he covertly used the hospital land-rover car to provide logistics to the rebels. He also “advised the Commander of the Langbar Company not to take part in the fighting because there was possibility of Anyanya-2 attacking their position at any moment on the Northern side of the town. This advice was timely and decisive in the survival of the infant rebellion because the regime Company at Langbar wanted to launch a flank attack on the fighting rebel position. Another advice he gave was when the commander of the Company gave orders for [roads] leading out of town to be closed and not to allow civilian population to leave the town. John Garang told the Commander that it was better for the security of the civilian population to be allowed to leave the town for the villages. The commander also accepted this.” (Achuoth, 176)

Most importantly, in Garang’s own words:

“At one time the Radio communication set of the attacking forces from Juba went off the air. So the commander of Langbar was ordered to send a force to Bor to see what was going on there. He gave me the message and asked me what he could do. As a senior officer, I said, I advise that you do nothing. Because, I continued, ‘You are a company and if you send a platoon you would be left with only two platoons, and if the rebels come here they will over-run your camp. Moreover you have Sayed Abel Alier here. You have the white men of the Jonglei Projects and those of the De-Groot here. These are your responsibilities. What had happen to the Radio we do not know. But it could be some technical fault’. I assured him. ‘So let us sit and wait for two to three hours. There may come an answer from Juba informing us that they are on the air again’. So he listened to my advice and did not send any force. After three hours the reply came asking him not to send any force because the Radio set was on the air again. That was one occasion. The second occasion was when Kerubino was shot in the arm and was taken to Bor Hospital. The commander of Langbar received another message from the attacking forces that Kerubino was shot. The message ordered him to prepare a force to go to the Hospital. He gave me the message. I told him not to go to the Hospital because, I said, the people in Juba might not know what might be going on in [the] Bor theatre of operations. I told him that Kerubino might have not come to the Hospital alone, may be with more than a company being aware that you have only a company here. He might have come with two companies. ‘If he has a company you need three companies to attack him because the rebels are in a better position. They are better prepared and ready to repulse an attack on them than we are’. So I asked him to leave everything to me. I told him that I would diffuse the situation because I had been the commander of Battalion 105 before. I told him that, as their former commander, most of the rebels knew me and that they would not harm me if I go to them. I told him that I would go to the Hospital and if Kerubino was wounded and in the Hospital, if he was there, I would come back and give him the answer. I assured him that I would come back to decide what kind of action to take. He was happy!!! So I went to the Hospital. We took Kerubino and sent him across the river. I then returned to Langbar and told the Company Commander that Kerubino was taken to the Hospital and that he should send the message to Juba that Kerubino was brought to the Hospital, treated and had been taken away by the rebels. He immediately sent the message.” (Garang, 204)

The ferocious battle raged on for three consecutive days till on 17 May 1983 when “the rebel forces began to organize themselves after they made the inspection on the site of the battlefield.” (Achuoth, 176) However, “on the morning of May 18, 1983, the rebellious forces in Bor were already outnumbered, outgunned and overwhelmed by continues reinforcements of the government forces from Juba. So they pulled out and marched into the bush.” (Arop, 188) The defeated rebel troops under Captain Bullen Alier “started withdrawing to the North, towards Kongor District where they went and reorganized themselves at Kongor.” (Achuoth, 176) Soon after the withdrawal of forces of Battalion 105 from Bor following the mutiny, and after making sure that the mutineers were already marching toward the Ethiopian border, Colonel Garang, his family and some closed associates involved in the underground movement slipped out of Langbaar and left for Kongor District on their way to the Ethiopian border.” (Arop, 188)

4. Withdrawal from Bor

Thus, on 17 May 1983, John Garang tactically “withdrew from Bor and marched towards Baidit, North of and about 16 miles from Bor town where he started reorganizing the rebel forces. As he was leaving Bor for Kongor using the same Land-rover car for the hospital, he was telling people he met on the way that he was going to Malakal. He made this as a camouflage so that if they happened to meet reinforcement on the way, he would tell them that he was going to Malakal running away from Bor where his annual leave has been interrupted by the Bor incident and that he was going back to Khartoum, and in case he never met any reinforcement, he would then turn to the East toward the Ethiopian border.” (Achuoth, 176)

Garang left Baidit for Kongor on 18 May 1983. He secured a drum of petrol for his car from the “project’s director of the Jonglei Canal Executive Organ that was based in Kongor town.” (Achuoth, 176) In the car that Garang himself was driving were his wife, Rebecca Nyandeeng and two sons—Mabioor and Chol, plus Captain Chagai Atem, Maker Deng Malou, Mabioor Kuir, and Thon Akec Kuur. Upon reaching Wunde Leem Station, Garang and his company turned Eastward in the direction of Ethiopia. Unfortunately, at Rualton Station, the Land Rover Garang was driving broke down on 20 May 1983, after which “they decided to walk, leaving the car behind.” (Achuoth, 176)

It was while they were walking to Ethiopia that they “saw Sudanese Government’s helicopter coming toward their direction; they quickly ran under a big tree for hiding. Fortunately, the helicopter could not see them, and so it eventually turned to where the car was. It kept on hovering over the car and circled nearby villages searching for the occupants of the car, but fortunately could not see them under the tree. The helicopter then proceeded to Ulang where it went and collected armed forces to come and search the area in order to find the people of that car.” (Achuoth, 176) When the helicopter flew and disappeared into the direction of Ulang, Garang and his group took advantage of the respite and “quickly ran towards the East where they went and found a group of Anyanya-2 rebels who welcomed them.” (Achuoth, 176)

An impromptu military parade was organized and conducted by the Anyanya Two forces in the area to welcome and greet the Dr. John Garang that they had heard much about from Gordon Koang Chol and Abdallah Chuol Deng but had never met before. It was a joyous occasion. They assured Garang that “this place is secured for you since the government forces never come here because of the presence of Anyanya-2 forces in the area”. (Achuoth, 176)

The following day, after thanking the Anyanya Two officers for their hospitality and protection, Garang and his company continued with their long and perilous journey to Ethiopia “through the villages of Ngok Dinka and eventually reached the home of Chagai Atem where they were joined by Garang’s colleague, Samuel Gai Tut, who invited them to his home in Kur-Mayom. They left the home of Gai Tut on 23rd May 1983 and reached the Ethiopian border on the 27th of May 1983. Gai Tut was left behind to prepare himself and to catch up with them on the way to Ethiopia.” (Achuoth, 176)

In the meantime though, shortly before Garang had reached the Ethiopian border, senior members of the Underground Movement in Khartoum had “immediately informed the Ethiopian embassy in Khartoum to notify the Ethiopian government that the leader of the Underground Movement, as the new rebel movement had no name then, was on his way to Ethiopia. Forthwith, the Ethiopian government instructed the commander of the western Ethiopian area to stand by and locate the whereabouts of the Sudanese rebel colonel once he arrived in the Ethiopian territory. The commander of the Gambela region sent his troops stretched out along the Sudan-Ethiopian border to monitor the colonel’s movement and he was soon located.” (Arop, 188)

As a result, when Garang finally reached the Ethiopian border on 27 May 1983, he was promptly spotted by the Ethiopian troops stationed at the border waiting for his arrival. “An Ethiopian area commander directed him to Adura village that he eventually used as his command post.” (Arop, 188)

But just as Garang was making his way to Ethiopia, his other principal co-conspirators also rebelled—Major Salva Kiir Mayaardit of Malakal on 26 May 1983 and Major William Nyuon Bany of Ayod and Waat on 6 June 1983. Nyuon revolted after he had obliterated the entire troops of northern Arab soldiers sent to arrest him and his adjutant, Machar Akau Machar, who was a police officer in Ayod. Machar Akau, currently an SPLA General in Bilpam, Juba, recalled on the 28th Commemoration of May 16th in 2011 that “it was not an accidental uprising against the Sudanese government but it was a properly calculated plan by all the South Sudanese within the Sudanese army. This was the beginning of the Sudan’s upheaval.” (Kuek, 2011)

On his part, Salva Kiir failed to muster sufficient number of troops to take over Malakal. Thus, they—Lt. Col. Francis Ngor Ngong, Major Salva Kiir, and Sergeant Deng Garang Bany, the originator of the mantra ‘SPLM/A Oye’—went to Ethiopia “with a mere platoon of 37 soldiers who stood with them in the uprising.” (Arop, 188) The fact that Francis Ngor-makiech, as the senior commander who led the rebellion against Malakal with Salva Kiir in second command, failed to either successfully take over Malakal or to bring with him good numbers of ex-Anyanya One forces has oft-time been cited as the reason why he was not included among the SPLM/A’s Founding Fathers—particularly, the five permanent members of the SPLM/A’s Politico-Military High Command (The SPLM/A’s PMHC).

This was the same time that part of Battalion 105 in Pibor and Pochalla, under the overall command of Captain Riek Machuoc (Manifesto, 1983), left their posts en-masse for Ethiopia. These were the nucleus of the army units that later gave Dr. John Garang an upper hand in his fabled sparring for power with Akuot Atem de Mayen and Samuel Ghai Tut.

This is an excerpt from the book “Who Killed Dr. John Garang?”  by PaanLuel Wël

PaanLuel Wël, the managing editor of PaanLuel Wel: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB), graduated with a double major in Economics and Philosophy from The George Washington University, Washington D.C, USA. He is the author of Who Killed Dr. John Garang, the editor of the essential speeches and writings of the late SPLM/A leader, Dr. John Garang, published as The Genius of Dr. John Garang, vol. 1-3, as well as a co-editor (with Simon Yel Yel) of President Sakva Kiir’s speeches before and after independence: Salva Kiir Mayaardit: The Joshua of South SudanYou can reach him through his email: paanluel2011@gmail.com or Facebook page

  1. Deng Mangok Ayuel says:

    Reblogged this on The Shoeshiner's Eyes.


  2. David Aoloch Bion says:

    wow! , to hear for the first time of who coined the SPLA OYE , congratulation , Deng Garang Bany


  3. Truth is Truth says:

    The authors like Malok and Achuoth are hypocriscies. Elijah Malok is migrator from Dinka Bor to Twi Dinka. So he has trying to go back to his original place, and that is why he wrote controversial book. Acuoth Deng is well know figure who always about Kongor pride above others, and nothing else. That is it all joke here, and PaanLuel wel blog owner has fallen into that footsteps as well.


  4. Reblogged this on PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers. and commented:

    Happy 32nd Anniversary of May 16th Junubeen!!!


  5. Anyar says:

    Good article and you would have mention the battle fought by Wildlife forces led by Maj. Thon Ayii Jok on 16, May 1983.


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