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“When my husband died, I did not come out openly and say he was killed because I knew the consequences. At the back of my mind, I knew my husband had been assassinated”

Those were the chilling words of Mrs. Rebecca Garang, the widow of the late Liberation fighter, Dr (Col) John Garang de Mabior, leader of the SPLA/M who was killed on July 30 2005 in a helicopter crash on the borders of Uganda, Kenya and Sudan. The helicopter he was traveling in belonged to President Yoweri Museveni, Dr Garang’s closest ally and comrade.

I was one of many people who refused to accept the immediate conclusion then that it was an accident. Not because we missed Garang too much and found it impossible to let go which we did but because the explanation was too obvious.

If anyone wanted to kill Garang (and there were many forces) there was no better cover for an almost perfect crime than for him to be traveling unofficially in the helicopter of his closest ally. Since Khartoum did not officially know that he was leaving the capital anyone of the many vested interests who felt threatened by Garang’s messianic entry into Khartoum early in July that trip provided your best opportunity.

Mrs. Garang has now thrown open widely what many had been suspecting. All the inquiries so far have ‘concluded’ that it is pilot error, bad weather, and other technical conclusions but the dearth was political.

So who could have done it?

My first suspect was and remains the extremist wing of the government and Northern hegemonists in the security and intelligence of the country. Their heart must have shook and their desperation further heightened by the tumultuous welcome from all Sudanese commitment to creating a New Sudan when he arrived in Khartoum to be sworn in July 9 2005. They must have seen their world collapsing before their eyes. A Black prophet arising from the South must seem like end of the world for them. Garang was not the first Black Sudanese to have been made Vice President. Khartoum has had a succession of Black poodles willing to be tools of misrule against their people and the whole of Sudan. But in John Garang, a formidable personality who had distinguished himself both militarily and politically the hegemonists shook at what would happen to their rule were Garang to have the opportunity to reshape the country because Garang could be no one’s errand boy. For Sudanese democrats he was a bridge of hope with the potential of turning the country into a genuinely democratic environment where Sudanese might, in the Martin Luther King hope , ‘ be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character ‘ . The enemies of hope had to act and act quickly before goodness broke out in a country that has been in conflict for most of its post independence (1956) existence.

Khartoum is not the only suspect in Garang’s death. Chief amongst other suspects could be extremist wing of Southern Nationalists whose agenda was to secede from Sudan and may have great fears that Dr John’s commitment to creating a New Sudan uniting the North and the South was a betrayal. Plausible but not probable. They needed Garang and backed him in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which gave them the option of full independence by referendum in the course of the 6 year term of the agreement.

Mrs. Garang is herself a believer in Southern Sudan Independence, and between her and her husband they agree to disagree on this issue therefore it is highly unlikely that Southern nationalists killed Dr John.

Mrs. Garang made her public disclosure at an award ceremony by the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation (JOOF) in Nairobi, Kenya. The late John Garang had been honored with a posthumous Uhuru Award for his contribution to the liberation struggles of Africa. Prof. Dani Wadada Nabudere was the guest speaker on the theme of CONFLICT AS A CATALYST FOR CHANGE.

It was not just about her husband’s death that Mrs. Garang spoke. Her speech also touched on a number of sensitive issues across Africa. One of them is how we treat. Partners of our heroes. Often they are not seen as persons in their own right. They may have been married to heroes but some of them have a place in the struggle in their own rights. Mrs. Garang spoke from the heart but not as a grieving widow rather as a combatant. She disclosed the embarrassing fact that that award by the JOOF was the first time that Dr John was being honored by an African organization. What doe this tells us about the way in which we treat our heroes and heroines. Garang was the recipient of many awards from all kinds of people in Europe ands North America but his first ward from Africa is posthumous and even then from an Independent foundation. Is this yet another case of a prophet having honor but not in his village or not in his life time?

* Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is the deputy director of the UN Millennium Campaign in Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya. He writes this article in his personal capacity as a concerned pan-Africanist.

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