New Garang book silent on his controversial death

Despite his tragic death, a book offering an inside look at late SPLA leader John Garang De Maboir’s life in the struggle for southern Sudan independence is silent on the circumstances that led to his demise. Titled John Garang and the SPLA the 162 page book is a revised edition and instead focuses on Garang’s career as a soldier, his early life and personal ambitions. It also talks about the chronicle of battles that the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army waged against successive Sudanese governments. The release of the book in Nairobi could not have been more poorly timed. It coincided with revelations by the wife of Garang, Rebecca Nyandeng that she knew all along that her late husband was assassinated. Speaking on Kenya Television Network (KTN) during an interview at the annual Uhuru Award, organised by the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation to honour the late Garang, she claimed his death was no accident and criticised stakeholders in the peace process in the south for their silence.

“Those who are culprits of this problem let me warn you. When you kill a lion you know what the lioness can do,” she warned.

Ms Nyandeng a politician herself is set to keep the issue of her late husband’s death alive for a longer time and perhaps create a buzz for another book on the subject. Her claims of assassination have been received coldly in Juba. The SPLA office in Kampala roundly dismissed them and in an official comment stopped at promising an investigation.

Garang died on July 30, 2005 together with 13 other crew members aboard a Uganda Mi-172 helicopter belonging to President Yoweri Museveni. He was on his way back to New Site in South Sudan after a meeting with Mr Museveni at the latter’s country home in Rwakitura Kiruhura district. His death threatened to throw Sudan into chaos causing riots in Khartoum that led to 100 deaths. Part of the problem was the mixed signals about how he died. At one point there were claims broadcast on state television in Sudan that he was being rescued. Other reports suggested he had been evacuated to Nairobi for treatment. It did not help that his death also came just weeks after he was elected Vice President of Sudan and as his own organisation SPLM was showing signs of rebellion against his leadership.

Soon after his death, a team of investigators from US, Russia, Kenya and Uganda were dispatched. In their report released on April 18, 2006, they blamed the crash on pilot error due to bad weather. Uganda’s National Insurance Corporation has since then paid $1.2 million as compensation for the families of five victims. Speaking to Daily Monitor, the author of the book James Bandi Shimanyula said he was glad to release the revised edition. In this edition, Mr Shimanyula, writes touching poems, one of them titled Song of Sudanese Returnees that mainly focuses on the plight of Sudanese refugees. The book comes out at time when the world has just celebrated the World Refugee Day. Many Sudanese have lived in exile as a result of the war in South Sudan by the SPLA against the Khartoum government.

Mr Shimanyula, also talks about Rebecca Garang, describing her as the pillar behind the warrior. Mr Shimanyula, a Kenyan novelist, poet, playwright and screenwriter, met and interviewed Garang exclusively on several occasions. He also spent seven years monitoring radio SPLA, the clandestine mouthpiece of the SPLA between October 1984 and November 1991. However, the focus of the book clearly means it will have too little impact. A more serious book should ask more questions about the landmark death of Garang and delve deeper into how this event linked to the unique tapestry that continues to define the struggles of the SPLA for the people of South Sudan. Monitor