By Dr Lam Akol*
“The only way a man can remain consistent amid changing circumstances is to change with them while preserving the same dominating purpose.” Winston Churchill, British Statesman (1894-1965).
Today, the 28th of August, marks the 20th anniversary of the glorious Nasir Declaration. On this day in 1991, three members of the SPLM/A Political-Military High Command, Dr Riek Machar, Dr Lam Akol and Cdr Gordon Kong, issued the Nasir Declaration to all units of the SPLM/A. The declaration signalled a clean break with the Movement’s policy of unconditional unity of the Sudan in favour of advocating the right of Self-Determination for South Sudan. The Nasir move adopted other important policy matters that were of concern to the Movement at that time: respect for human rights, establishment of civil administration in the liberated areas and to build the SPLM into a strong political party to lead the struggle.
These matters would have been discussed and resolved within the Political-Military High Command, the only known organ of the Movement, but many requests for the convening of that body fell on deaf ears. Hence, the split was unavoidable. In fact, the first meeting ever of the PMHC took place after the split. Attempts to subdue the Nasir Move by the force of arms led to military confrontations in which many civilians lost their lives. It also happened that both sides of the divide committed mistakes that took the lives of many innocent comrades for no reason other than belonging to a particular tribe.
These incidents are abhorrent and regrettable but the responsibility for them lies squarely on the shoulders of all the leaders of the SPLM/A on both sides. In a meeting of the SPLA officers of Upper Nile Region in Kongor in 2004, I addressed the officers that the bloody events that accompanied the Nasir Move are to be regretted and the SPLM/A Leadership, including myself, have to accept responsibility for that. That position cannot and should not be taken to concern particular leaders or a community or two. It applies to all, for no community in South Sudan has not been at the receiving end of the SPLM/A actions or that has not lost their loved ones, and there is no one ‘holier than thou’ in that fratricide. It is a chapter we need to close with a genuine spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation that does not make some of us feel as if they are on top of others. Labouring under the propaganda of the adversaries, the SPLM/A-Nasir leadership failed to live up to some of its commitments and suffered from internal rifts and schisms. All that was the unintended dark side of the Naisr Move.
The brightest side is that, the Nasir Move changed the political calculus in Sudan drastically. Self-Determination, long buried by the northern political parties in 1965, resurfaced again like a phoenix from the ashes. To the South Sudanese, Self-Determination has never been a second option nor one in a “spectrum of objectives”. It has always been the sole objective, and they kept their eyes fixed on the ball. We believed that only an agreed peaceful democratic process could avail the opportunity for the Southern Sudanese to choose the political system that accords with their national aspirations. We were vilified and scorned as the separatists, but we persevered for we know the tide of Self-Determination was unstoppable. Soon the government of Sudan signed to it in Frankfurt 1992, the SPLM/A-Torit adopted it in Chukudum in 1994 and the National Democratic Alliance gave it a nod in Asmara in 1995.
Thus, by the close of 1995, all the political parties in North and South Sudan have pledged themselves to granting the South the right to Self-Determination, a great victory which could not have been possible if there were no change of policy within the liberation Movement in 1991. Also, at the close of the century, the gap on the other issues of difference in 1991 were getting bridged; the violations of human rights in the SPLM/A were acknowledged and being addressed, administration in the liberated areas was beginning to take shape and the SPLM as a political party was emerging. On the other hand, at about the same time Khartoum had shown signs of reneging on the right to Self-Determination for South Sudan that it had promised in Frankfurt and The Khartoum and Fashoda Peace Agreements and enshrined in its 1998 Constitution. These were the factors that led to the reunification processes at the beginning of the new millennium, which in turn made the conclusion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement possible. This spirit of coming together was misinterpreted by some as “rejoining” rather than reunification of the Movement. This is how the point was missed, causing unnecessary friction within members of the Movement after the agreement.
Today there are people who claim to have alone brought about the independence of South Sudan, when we know that even last year they were dubbing anybody who called for the separation of South Sudan to be “suffering from inferiority complex”. Success has many fathers, and failure is an orphan! But, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that those adept in stealing revolutions do not do it this time round.
The intense propaganda from opponents made some leaders of the Nasir Move to feel contrite and walk with heads down. What is to be ashamed about when your dream has come true? What is to be contrite about when what you demanded twenty years ago is now a reality? You cannot be ashamed of your own achievement. Instead, you should walk tall with shoulders high for our achievement is great and historic. Great events in history come about because of a leadership that looks beyond its nose.
The 20th anniversary of the glorious Nasir Declaration acquires a special significance as it comes at a time when the South Sudanese are celebrating their independence in a new state of their own. They deserve to be proud of themselves for it is a culmination of their long struggle over the decades including their votes in the referendum. They liberated themselves, and nobody whosoever can claim to have liberated them. We bow our heads in salute to our martyrs, and pledge, once the opportunity avails itself, to take care of their families. This is the least we can do for them.
The Nasir Movement may have had its ups and downs, but on Self-Determination it never faltered.
Long live an independent Federal Republic of South Sudan!
*Dr Lam Akol,Former Member of the Political-Military High Command, SPLM/A.