Republic of South Sudan: 190 years of national liberation struggle - PART 1 OF 2

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Sunday, 10 July 2011 17:55
Written by Atem Garang de Kuek, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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(Juba, ROSS) - The gallant victorious People of South Sudan, today the 9th of July 2011, have finally and infinitively had thrown away the yoke of serfdom, courageously forever abandoned chains of colonialism, willingly dumped spirit of ambiguous identity and determinedly discarded alien cultures that were imposed on them. Today is a significant day for the mighty legendry warriors of this new nation; it is a day that induces us to look back with sadness and sympathy but it is also a day that charges us with pride and dignity. It is a day that opens asunder the gates leading to our freedom and sovereignty.

Today, 190 odd abomination years have passed, from that gloomy day on which the Muslim Ruler of Egypt, Mohammed Ali Pasha, invaded what was known as Funj kingdom. In July 1821 the invaders occupied Sinnar the principal town of the kingdom and the royal seat of the Funj kings who were the rulers of what we know today as Central Sudan. The invaders came and occupied Sudan with clear colonial objectives namely:

  1. Slave hunt of non Muslim black Africans  for enslavement and to be exported to Egypt in order to form from them a new strong army to be used in further colonial invasions of other regions that have geographical similarities  with Sudan;
  2. Exploration and exploitation of gold from rich regions with deposit of that precious mineral, specifically from what is today Blue Nile state;
  3. To “discover” the sources of the River Nile and occupy the Nile valley, to be controlled  and administered forcefully;
  4. To strategically and militarily  control Egypt’s southern borders so that it does not become a hiding zone for Egyptian rulers’ opponents and
  5. To colonize the territory then known as Sudan and the adjacent territories for socio-economic exploits.

The non Muslim black Africans who were targeted for enslavement by the Muslim rulers of Egypt were the today’s present people of South Sudan and Nuba Mountains. The first official slave hunt, organized by any modern government, assigned and tasked to a professional army, armed with the latest weaponry and largest arsenal of the time, was conducted in July 1821 against the Abialang Dinka of today’s Renk County of Upper Nile state. The commander of the slave hunt force was Ibrahim Pasha, one of the sons of Mohammed Ali Pasha, who proudly wrote back to his father in Egypt, informing him that his mission in hunting slaves was a success and that he had captured some hundreds of blacks to be sent to Cairo and to be followed by consistent consignments of slaves. The hunt for enslavement of non Muslim black African peoples engulfed the whole of today South Sudan and continued unabated for 77 years (1821-1898), to be followed by bloody and disastrous era of wars (1898-2005), an era which was not less in dehumanization or cruelty to the people of South Sudan. It was an era of wars devoid of any human values as well as lacking any religious principles.

When we examine those atrocious 190 yesteryears, we find ourselves filled with deep regret and bitter remembrance for unjustified enslavement and untold inhuman conditions that were endured by our unfortunate brothers and sisters, who were brutally seized by slave hunters and carried away into slavery where they were subjected to serfdom in Egypt and North Sudan. The painful modern tragedy is the illusory notions the descendants of those former slaves are harbouring, the culture of enslavement that is rooted in their souls and minds, which they downloaded from their great grandparents and from the legacy of their former masters, this had made them to pursue a falsified glory and an imaginary superiority for the last sixty years. They ruled and administered the whole of Sudan and attempted to build a nation that is based on values, beliefs, concepts and attitudes extracted from the culture of slaves’ former masters, and projected themselves as absolute owners of the country and superior to the people of their own origin, the black Africans. It is a painful tragedy because they are unconscious of the roots of this illusion; it is a tragedy because they are unaware of heterogeneous nature of people and cultures of the Sudan; to them there is only one true culture, the Arabic and Islamic values for homogenous people or else vigorously convert the non conforming cultures into one which is homogenous.

Today, when we scan those horrendous 190 years, we feel proud because we were able to uphold our identities in the face of one of irresistible cultures of the world, the Arab culture woven and intertwined around Islamic religion. No any known society in a territory invaded, occupied and subjected to (Cultural Imperialism) of the Arab that remained indigenous and aboriginal in its cultures, beliefs and religions. With all odds: illiteracy, primitive technology, archaic organizational systems (administration, economy, military and literature etc,) with exception of few communities that had centralized authority and systemized administration, e.g. Shilluk, Azande and Anyuak kingdoms, all other South Sudanese communities lacked centralized system of administration and did not have a defined hierarchy of command. All these deficiencies contributed greatly into their vulnerability during the era of the slave hunt. Nevertheless, in spite of all those weaknesses, the people of this New Nation, the Republic of South Sudan, had persistently and indefatigably, struggled, resisted and fought fearlessly the foreign invaders for 190 years and millions of our martyrs paved the road to our freedom with invaluable holy souls and inestimable precious blood. Our resistance and resentment to Arab cultural assimilation, destruction, barbarianism, cruelty, genocidal and annihilation wars, has no matching in both ancient and contemporary African history.

Today, we are a jubilant and enthusiastic nation, but when we look back into those agonizing 190 years, we recognize that several aspects of our social life had undergone tremendous changes; some are progressive while others are retrogressive and devastating.

At the dawn of the occupation of our territories by the Arab forces and with continuous aggressive and intensified slave hunt, many communities were coerced to desert their villages and settlements and took refuge in regions which were inaccessible to the slave hunters, but unfavourable for human settlement, such as rugged mountainous terrains where agricultural land was limited and infertile or uncultivable swampy marsh lands where malaria and water related diseases were endemic. South Sudan in the process witnessed gradual demographic changes; South Sudan was depopulated as a consequence of seizing and abduction of economically productive segments of its population, permanent famines swept across the land due to successive reduction in food production and rampant death caused by the endemic diseases.

Prior to the day on which the slave hunting forces of Islamic Egypt occupied our land, the socio-economic relations between the Northern Sudan Muslim tribes and black African people were mutually cordial, full of respect and good neighbourlines, leading to peaceful coexistence. This was possible because the Islamic state of the Funj kingdom was essentially African in its origin and identity; it was also not superior in military capabilities, such as armament and training, compared to the other non Muslim black African people. Since the date of inception of Funj kingdom in 1504 to its demise in July 1821, there were periodic disputes and skirmishes between the two peoples (the Arabized African subjects of the Islamic kingdom of Funj and confederate tribes of South Sudan), but throughout, there was a sort of military equilibrium in capabilities of both sides. These good relationships and balances in military power were drastically changed when the Islamic Egypt, armed with the then modern firearms of the era, conquered our people, occupied our land and staged the first government sponsored and organized slave trade that was a monopoly of the state in the primary stages of the occupation of South Sudan.

The Black Africans lost their social status in the eyes of the former subjects of the Funj kingdom when the people from South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains started to appear in North Sudan slave markets like livestock, subdued, dehumanized and reduced to sub humans without any social identity and no fundamental freedoms. They were turned into commercial commodity like cattle, chickens or grain that they used to own. After 77 years of continuous slave hunt, it was officially criminalized by the new invaders, the Anglo-Egyptian rule known as Condominium Rule, (1898-1955). Meanwhile, the social value and status of any black African from the Nuba Mountains and South Sudan in the psychic of the Northern Sudanese were socially conceived to be less in any national rights and were considered to be of lower social value and this belief was administratively supported and strengthened by the Condominium Rule polices.

In other words, the main social changes that took place during the decades ranging from 1821 to 1955 were deepened and assimilated into cultural values on both sides, the Arabized Muslims including those of slave descendants in the North and indigenous black African peoples in the South. In my view, the fundamental social values and stereotypes that each side has formulated and assumed as facts are:

  1. The North Sudanese believe that the black Africans were inferior, cultureless and sub human; hence the forceful urge to civilize them through Islamic teachings and Arab “rich” culture and values; (racist, imperialist and colonial attitude);
  2. That the land of South Sudan is an Arab and Islamic land that obliges any Muslim and Arab individual to die for it and eradicate whoever stands against this claim; (Jihad licensing);
  3. That black Africans in South Sudan, being inferior as they were, were simple stooges molded and manipulated by the Western World, Churches and Zionism, that they were people without own will or aspirations;
  4. That South Sudanese are lazy and dependent folk, who are driven by bitter unjustified hatred against the hard working and God fearing  North Sudanese people;
  5. The South Sudanese on their side, believe that cruelty, barbarianism, lack of human values, lust for killing and assumed superiority were the stereotype of all Arabized North Sudanese Muslims;
  6. That the Islam as projected by the slave hunters and the Arabized Sudanese, is void of mercy and lacks compassion for non Muslims (before Darfur war, Muslims against Muslims, and no mercy or compassion in that war either, as the ICC had attested)
  7. That the North Sudanese whenever they are defeated by invaders they joined them and participated in plundering the people and the land of the South. The Northerners became part and parcel of the invading Egyptian forces in 1821 (All claim Arabism and Islam) and they did the same when the British and Egyptian forces conquered the North, with their knowledge of the South territories during the slave trade period (1821-1898), where they became informants, guides and obedient partners to the new rulers of Sudan from 1898-1955 and were rewarded by the British colonial authority with support from Egyptians in 1956 when they were entrusted and handed the state power of the newly independent Sudan.
  8. That the North Sudanese are not pure Arabs but due to false belief, based on inferiority complex syndrome that if they associate themselves with black Africans would lower their social status in the eyes of the Arabs  (Specially Egypt that enslaved black Africans 1821-1885). Regrettably their behaviours and attitudes had stained the culture of the real Arab people as well as they have distorted the universal message of the Islam. I wish the indigenous Arabs and the faithful Muslims will have to correct this historical distortion of their image and this misrepresentation of the universal spiritual principles of the Islam, this will purify and disassociate the core beliefs from the falsified ones that were projected and presented by convert slaves and their masters to the people of South Sudan through the last 190 years.
  9. That the British colonizers were equally racists in their beliefs, attitudes and behaviours which they translated into administrative regulations and legal frameworks, they executed and applied those regulations and laws as their colonial adopted policy through which the people of Sudan were administered, controlled and ruled.  It was a divisive racist policy. They erroneously believed that the Arabized population of North Sudan was superior to South Sudanese in cultural values and social status; and they therefore educated, trained and prepared North Sudanese to take over the control of the machinery of the nation that they crafted in sixty years (1898-1955). What followed the 1956 independence of Sudan in handing over economic, social and political power in the Sudan to Arabized Muslim North was a result of racist policies of the British Colonial Administration that allied itself with the Arabized Northern Sudanese.

But also during this period of 190 years our people were exposed to the external world, and as the colonial authorities wanted to maximize the loot and exploitation of the people and their land, they opened some windows of education only through limited church meager resources for people of South Sudan which was positive development though essentially aimed at developing low level officials to serve them as clerks, tax collectors. Modern trade was another opportunity that crossed over the tribal affiliations and amalgamated their boundaries.

The fragmentary character of the tribal social formation of the communities and division among the people of South Sudan were among other factors that rendered the South to be easy prey to the foreign invaders. This Achilles' heel was overcome when our people realized that their existence as people relied on their unity and this glorious day is a result of such realization. Hence, the unity was the most powerful weapon that we have used to achieve our independence.

Proudly, today we honour our fallen heroes and heroines who scarified their lives and died bravely in order to preserve our freedom, maintain our identity and safeguard our sovereignty forever. The generations who are today celebrating this occasion must be joyous for this achievement that has been realized during their life time.

The Almighty God is praised to have designated us to be the generations that have concluded a long waged protracted, bloody and deadly liberation struggle in which over seven generations of patriotic South Sudanese had participated. The first stage of our national liberation struggle was the wars of survival waged against the slave hunting forces of Egypt 1821-1885 and the Mahadists state 1885-1898. The second stage of our resistance was wars fought for national identity against the Angelo- Egyptian colonial rule known as Condominium Rule 1898-1955. The last period of our wars against foreign forces was the wars of national independence, one phase led by brave Anya-Nya freedom fighters 1955-1972 and the last phase for our historical struggle was shouldered by Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) 1983-20011.

*Hon. Atem Garang de Kuek is former Deputy Speaker of Sudan National Assembly, (Sept 2005-March 2011). He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.