By Mawan Muortat
May 22, 2012 – When the Addis Abba Peace Accord was signed in March 1972 and peace returned to Sudan, few South Sudanese believed it would last. There was plenty of unfinished business which the agreement had ignored. So when, a year later, Numeiri pushed through the excavation of the Jonglei canal despite strong opposition in the south, the countdown clock to the second war started to tick.
A few years later, Chevron, the American oil company, struck oil in the Upper Nile province. The Khartoum government, avoided to name the location of the finding, referring to it only as 450 miles south of Khartoum. Whatever the reasons behind Khartoum’s evasiveness were, the regime could not stop the truth from leaking. Rumours spread that the wells where in fact in Bantiu, Upper Nile. During a rally in Malakal in 1978 and while campaigning for the presidency (of the regional government of southern Sudan), General Joseph Lagu, the leader of the opposition and the ex head of the Anya Nya, waved a bottle containing a sample of crude oil at the crowd, saying that the sample was from Bantiu. He told the gathering that while the incumbent Abel Alier was not brave enough to challenge Khartoum for shrouding the whereabouts of the oil discoveries in secrecy, he, Lagu, was doing so from the rooftops.
Southerners recognized that oil was a national resource, but they wanted the oil industry including refineries to be built locally to provide jobs and tax revenue; to boost the economy that was trailing that of the north by at least two decades.
To their disappointment, not only did Numeiri reject their request but he also instructed for the oil to be piped and sold at Port-Sudan as crude and for the refineries if any to be built there. It did not stop at that, Numeiri began to carve off parts of the south’s territory that were presumed to be rich in oil into north Sudan. Southerners fought this in the parliaments in Juba and Khartoum but the fired-up Numeiri would not be dissuaded. The clock was now clicking faster and it is perplexing that the country did not plunge into war in 1980.
It wasn’t long before the case of decentralisation of the south arose. A bitter constitutional argument ensued among southerners, Numeiri seeing a gap seized the moment to deal the south a final fatal blow; he ordered the breaking up of the democratically elected southern government in Juba into three disconnected regions whose heads would be appointed by Numeiri himself.
A point of no return had now been reached and Numeiri reasoned that the only way to prevent a full scale rebellion in the south was to transfer the southern army units (composed of ex Anya Nya combatants) to the north and to replace them with more loyal forces from the north. His subsequent hurried and rash move on 16th May 1983 to dislodge the dug-in battalion 104 in Bor did not only ignite the second war but ushered his own decline and his eventual exit from power only two years later.
From the start, Anya Nya’s faith in the peace had been anything but strong. Secret cells existed, in which senior officers worked to thwart Khartoum’s attempts to transfer Anya Nya units north. Since they believed that the return to war was a matter of when and not if, the officers wanted to make sure that when the day came the Anya Nya would be prepared. However, the final outcome was more mixed than the cells members had hoped.
Some officers could not wait till doomsday and reacted early in a series of mini mutinies which occurred sporadically throughout the 10 year lifespan of the 1972 peace deal. They later assembled into a single grouping known as Anya Nya II. So it could be argued that the return to the bush was a cumulative rather than a catastrophic process. When the fallout finally arrived on 16th May 1983 in Bor, some members of the secret cells were in the forefront of the events, some followed them later yet others never rejoined the southern rebellion.
Led by Kerubino Kwanyin Bol, battalion 104, having exchanged fire with a Sudanese army unit that had been flown in from the north to quash them, withdrew from the town and began the long trek to Ethiopia. Amongst their ranks was Col. John Garang de Mabior (whom Numeiri had previously sent to Bor as a messenger of peace but had decided to switch sides and join the mutineers instead). Along the way they were joined by William Nyuon Bany leading battalion 105 out of Ayot, and from Malakal by Salva Kiir an officer from the intelligence corpse. The rest of the story is the stuff of legends.
Thousands of volunteers left their villages and towns from all over southern Sudan to join the new movement. The SPLM manifesto was published later that year, and the leadership was established. Garang, Kwanyin, Nyuon, Kiir and many other names entered the national psyche; battalions Jamus, Koriom, Muor Muor and others became household names. The history of Sudan had taken a sharp trajectory , nothing would ever be the same again.
Mawan Muortat has worked as Analyst/Programmer for UK and US firms for over 20 years and is interested in peace, development and human rights issues.