Today, Saturday July 9, 2011, a new nation - SouthSudan is born.
The Juba administration today cuts of all links with the Khartoum regime to become a sovereign state. As the people of South Sudan celebrate the birth of their nation today, the sacrifice that the late Dr. John Garang de Mabier towards the statehood of this nation will be etched deeply in the minds and hearts of many Southerners.
The death of Dr. Garang in July 2005, just six months after the signing of the Sudan Peace Accord was seen by many as a major blow to the Southerners’ freedom struggle.
But had Dr. John Garang lived till the January 9 2011 Referendum, opinion is divided what the Southerners would have voted for: separation or unity. Some say that Dr. Garang breathed and believed in a united Sudan free of discrimination on the basis of creed, ethnic background or race.
Indeed, prior to his death and the rousing welcome he received in Khartoum when he went back as Vice-President after many years, there was talk that if he took on President al-Bashir in the 2010 national elections, he was poised to win.
In his absence, Garang’s successor, Salvar Kiir, opted not to challenge al-Bashir at the national level and instead concentrated on the separation of the South.
This strategy was based on the argument that Dr. Garang could combine the South and other regions unhappy with the Khartoum regime such as the West, North and extreme north to beat al-Bashir.
However, the majority of the people of South Sudan believe that the separation of the country is the best heritage Dr. Garang gave them as the Referendum vote showed.
In October last year, the adviser to the White Nile state, Michael Rot Mayeng, also a veteran of the long civil war, told this writer that separation portended more danger than unity.
He argued that were Dr. Garang alive today, nobody would be talking about separation because Dr. Garang lived and stood for a united Sudan.
“Southerners who fought in the 21-year war are not keen on separation because they are concerned about a possible renewal of war,” he said.
That was the fear then; especially taking into account that nearly all Southerners believed that al-Bashir would not let them go without a fight.
The likes of Rot Mayeng believe that Dr. Garang was a strong advocate of unity, but hated discrimination with a passion.
History reveals that among the five main founders of SPLM/SPLA, it is only Dr. Garang who believed that the movement had the capacity to force the Arab North to accept a united Sudan without any form of discrimination. The other four were die-hard separatists.
The five were Col. Dr. John Garang de Mabior Chairman and Commander in Chief of SPLA, Maj. Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, Maj. William Nyuon Bany , Capt. Salva Kiir Mayardit and Nyachigag Nyachiluk.
Although there were several others who played a key role in early days, these five are known to have shaped the vision and mission of the struggle.
In a recent trip to Juba, a number of those in the know told this writer that the issue of unity was the only area where most Southerners differed with Dr. Garang.
But there are those who strongly believe that Dr. Garang was passionately for the separation of the South from the North. This group cites his famous speech in Khartoum soon after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) when he was received by the biggest crowd ever seen in the city.
Dr. Garang said: “I and those who joined me in the bush and fought for more than 20 years have brought to you CPA in a golden plate. Our mission is accomplished. It is now your turn, especially those who did not have a chance to experience bush life. When the time comes to vote at the Referendum, it will be your golden chance to determine your fate. Would you like to vote to be a second class citizens in your own country? It is absolutely your choice.”
With his death before the Referendum, it can only be a matter of conjecture how the vote could have turned out had he lived till January 9, 2011.