Joseph Ukel Garang Wel: The Firebrand Marxist and Intellectual of South Sudan

Posted: July 14, 2018 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in History, Junub Sudan, Mangar Amerdit

By Mangar Marial Amerdid, Juba, South Sudan

Saturday, July 14, 2018 (PW) — Regarded as one of the prominent intellectual minds to emerge from Southern Sudan, Joseph Ukel Garang was a controversial figure who held the Marxist ideology which were ingrained in his political career. Born in the 1930s in Kiyango close to Wau, Bahr al-Ghazal, Garang received his education at St. Antony’s Busserre and Rumbek Secondary School. He then obtained a law degree from the University of Khartoum in 1957.

He is regarded as the first Southern Sudanese to have obtained a law degree at a time when many Southern students were being prohibited from enrolling in the University of Khartoum. As a student, Garang was an assertive political activist which led him to join the Sudanese Community Part (SCP) in the early 1950s. This propelled him to become a leading member of the Political Bureau and Central Executive Committee of the SCP.

Upon graduating, Garang was offered the post of chief justice in the judiciary, but he declined and instead chose to pursue politics. For one year, he worked as an advocate in Khartoum until he was expelled to Wau by the Abboud regime in 1958.

While in Wau, Garang defended students from Rumbek Secondary School over a strike they held in 1960 and Bernardino Mou Mou, a commander of the Anya-Nya Movement who attacked Wau in 1964. As an advocate, he also defended Southern political detainees. In late 1964, he wrote a memorandum calling for an autonomous government in the three Southern provinces and proposed Wau as the capital of Southern Sudan.

When President Gafaar Nimeiri’s National Revolutionary Council came to power in May 1969, Garang was appointed as the Minister of Supply and then became Sudan’s first Minister of State for Southern Affairs. He became recognized as the primary author of the June 9th Declaration of 1969, a monumental policy on the Southern Sudan which enabled Nimeiri’s regime to acknowledge the cultural identity of the Southern people and the significance in authorizing autonomy for the three Southern provinces.

As the Minister of Southern Affairs, he introduced Southernization which advocated for Southern Sudanese to obtain key positions in the Southern region which were primarily occupied by Northern Sudanese or foreigners. Garang also encouraged Nimeiri’s regime to offer amnesty to former Anya-Nya soldiers who rejected the Anya-Nya guerilla movement. In addition, he proposed a five-year socio-economic plan to develop Southern Sudan.

As a minister, Garang was able to build the Wau bridge and established the May Training Centre in Wau.

Over a period of time, Garang’s leadership was stifled by inconsistent statements and policies on issues in Southern Sudan. For instance on July 26, 1970, a church massacre took place in a village called Banja near Sudan – Congo border. According to the accounts of survivors reported by a Norwegian television journalist named Per Oyvind Heradstveit, a group of Sudanese soldiers stormed in on a Christian community of the native Bakerole Church while people were praying.

The soldiers numbered twenty-one and had in their possession machine guns. The soldiers then went from one village hut to another and gathered the villagers who were mostly women and children. They tied the villagers and parishioners on chairs inside the church; though few lucky natives managed to escape. The soldiers then went outside the church, took position and emptied one or two magazines of ammunition apiece into the church.

A commanding officer is alleged to have stated, “We’re shooting you in your house of worship. Let your God come and save you.” Fifty people died inside the church. The report of the Banja incident was submitted to the President of the United Nations General Assembly by a delegation of the Southern Sudan Liberation Front (SSLF). It was noted by the SSLF that the Banja incident was among numerous atrocities that took place in the South during Nimeiri’s presidency.

When Garang received the Banja report, he regarded it as false, going as far as to state, “Everybody knows that there are no churches in villages either in North or the South.” Southern nationalists condemned Garang’s remarks and stated he was out of touch with his own people.

In an essay published in 1971 titled ‘The Dilemma of the Southern Intellectual: Is It Justified?,’ Garang offered his input on the role of imperialism in Sudan and North-South relationship. He stated, “Since 1950 there has been a political movement in the South, but it has no made progress. Why? Precisely because it has been dominated by rightists’ concepts.

The mistake of the rightists lies in ignoring the major contradiction (the struggle against imperialism) or at best subordinating it to the minor contradiction, namely the South-North differences, while the mistake of the perplexed intellectuals lies in their putting the two contradictions on an equal plane. Hence, their dilemma.

Thus in order to succeed, one must subordinate the struggle against the northern exploiting classes to the struggle against imperialism.”Garang’s intellectual pursuits led him to write other publications which include ‘The Southern Sudan’ printed in the African Communist and ‘An Historical Perspective,’ printed in the Horn of Africa publication.

In July 1971, Garang and other leading members of the Sudan Communist Party were accused for allegedly conspiring to oust President Nimeiri in a short-lived coup. This led to Garang being executed by Nimeiri. As Southern Sudanese, we are often left to wonder what the Southern region would have achieved by having in its midst for a prolonged period brilliant individuals like Joseph Garang.

The author, Hon. Mangar Marial Amerdid, is the National Coordinator of Northern Corridor Integration Projects ( for South Sudan, the Chairman of SOS Children Villages International for the Republic of South Sudan, and the Founder of the Leadership Institute of New Sudan (LIONS). He graduated with Bachelor of Science Degree in Finance and a minor in Economics from University of Colorado, USA. You can reach him via his email:

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