Interview with Rt. Hon. Angelo Bangbaru Beda


WASS –  I want to thank you very much for agreeing to talk to us. Please tell us a bit about yourself: your background, childhood, education, early political life.

Angelo Bangbaru Beda (ABB): My name is Angelo Bangbaru Beda. Because people have difficulty with pronouncing my middle name, they generally refer to me as Angelo Beda. I was born in a village called Akpa, In Tombura.  I started my education in 1950 in a bush school established by the missionaries. After spending 2 years there, I went to the main missionary school in Ngboko.  After completing my studies at Ngboko, I was admitted to Busere Intermediate School. From Busere I went to study at Juba Commercial.

WASS – So how and why did you join the Anyaya rebellion?

ABB -The Anyanya was an embodiment of the frustration and hopelessness of Southern Sudanese. Southern Sudanese were frustrated with the inability of the Arabs to keep their promises made in 1947 that they will give the idea of federation ‘due consideration’.  Southern chose Federation because there were cultural, religious and educational differences between the South and the North of the country, that unfairly disadvantaged Southern. They wanted to be given an opportunity to develop at their own pace and then later join the Arabs when they will be able to relate on an equal basis. But the Arabs refused. In the Constitutive Assembly of 1954 it became clear to Southerners that the Arabs have moved away from the Federation and that if the Southerner did not react appropriately to this broken promise, they will be forever second citizens in their own country.

I left my studies and joined the rebellion to defend the integrity of my people. After I joined, the leadership of the Anyanya decided that those of us who were enrolled in universities should be allowed to go and complete our studies.  The leadership reasoned that once victory was declared, Southern will need qualified people to govern them and those fighting now could continue in the army. So, I went to Zaire and after completing six month of language course, I decided to go to Nigeria and completed my studies at the University of Ibadan. When I return to Sudan in 1973, the Anyanya had reached an Agreement with the Government.

WASS – Some people say that the war in South Sudan now is a struggle for power using ethnicity as a vehicle. Was this the same during the Anyanya struggle?

ABB – The Anyanya fought for how Sudan should be governed and not who should govern it. So, within the Southerners, the division was more an ideological one. The discussion was about choosing between federation and local autonomy. The two main ideologue groups were the Sudan African National Union and the Southern Front. As I told you, Aggrey Jaden, an Equatorian from Equatoria had no problem at all working with William Deng, a Dinka. In the Southern Front you found all the tribes in Southern Sudan and it was the same things with SANU. There was nothing like Dinka or Nuer or who was the majority or the minority tribe. Members of the two groups were even friends, there was no quarrel between the 2 groups. When the Anyanya signed the 1972 Agreement under the leadership of Joseph Lago they decided to hand over the governance of Southern Sudan to politicians. Abel Alier was not part of Anyanya 1. So, it was not tribe, but competence and character that mattered. That is why the Anyanya handed the government to the Southerners who were inside and who knew how to run the government.

At least two things differentiate the Anyanya from the SPLA and what is happening today. First, during the Anyanya, what mattered was Southernism. Secondly, the Anyanya fought a nationalistic war. When they achieved their modest goal, whatever little success they had in Addis Ababa in 1972, they had to return it to the politicians to manage the country on behalf of all Southerners.

WASS – So, are you suggesting that this is where the SPLA started to get it wrong?

ABB – Yes! Unlike the Anyanya, the SPLA did well too. They had the capacity to drive the Arabs away; Anyanya could not. But after driving the Arabs away, instead of concentrating themselves on the army and leave the political activity to politicians and other competent Southern Sudanese who had the capacity to govern, the SPLA became everything and run the government themselves.

The second mistake of the SPLA was that they allowed themselves to be dragged into this idea of who fought and who did not fight in the war. Instead of concentrating on nation building using all the talents they had, they were busy with finding out who fought. The Dinkas said it was them who fought, the Nuer said it was them. They said the Equatorians did not fight the war. But Equatorians are not complaining. They think things will adjust themselves in the future. In this context, tribalism found its way in The SPLA were good at fighting but not good at organising a party, which had a vision and a good discipline. Even if there is a quarrel, the party cadre can come out and resolve it and pinpoint somebody who is making a mistake. After 2005, Southerners came out and never mixed with other tribes. They stick with their tribes, even in the SPLM.

WASS – Maybe we lost the unity because we were united by the hatred for the Arabs not by the love for each other, and once the Arabs left, the basis for our unity was destroyed. What would you say about that?

ABB – That may be correct, but I disagree. We need to look at the problem holistically. The truth is that Southerners were very united even before the Arabs came. We saw this unity in the conference of 1947 too. But today people blame the failure to secure federation during the 1947 conference on the fact that those who participated in the conference were not educated. Even during the Addis Ababa Agreement, the leadership was blamed for being sale outs. But the leadership of the SPLM are doctors and PhD holders. They can easily surmount the challenges of disunity that we are talking about. They can easily unite people. But why have they not united our people? The reason is that there is no problem between the common people.  The problem is elitist; between the elites. Those people who are saying that the Dinkas are bad, they are wrong. The ordinary Dinka man or woman, apart from the educated one, they don’t see any problem between themselves and the other South Sudanese. There is really no tribalism between the ordinary people; that is why, for example, at independence 99% of our people voted for Salva Kiir as a president, although they knew he was a Dinka. Our challenge is not the people down, but the elite. Ask yourself: how did the elite decide to share power and national resources only with their relatives, friends and cronies? Please, let us not blame the Arabs for our disunity because there is somebody who is leading.

Dr John Garang was well educated. Ask yourself: how did he lead a system that crumbled immediately after his unfortunate departure? How was it that there were no strong institutions and systems that could have allowed a very competent leader to emerge and take over from where he left the SPLA/SPLM and go ahead with his vision? Dr Riak Machar is a doctor of engineering. How is it that he had to go to war to solve our problems? How come he only went to the people of his tribe to fight the war? How is it that President Salva Kiir bypassed the National Army and brought Mathing Anyor to provide him with protection? The President does not seem to have confidence in his army to protect him.

It is when ordinary people are blindfolded by their leaders that they began to see other tribes like enemies. You must ask yourself, who gave the orders for the ordinary Dinkas to kill the Nuers in Juba or to the Nuers in in the Greater Upper Nile to kill ordinary Dinkas? You can even say the order is from these same leaders and elites.  To simple say because the Arabs went away that is why the basis of our unity collapsed, is to relegate our own responsibility for the mess we have created as leaders. Even the traditional chiefs of South Soudan cannot reason that way. Unfortunately, it is those of us who went to the university who do not seem to get it.  Maybe, instead of blaming the absence of the Arabs for our lack of national unity, we should rather blame the petrol-dollars. When the elites got the money, instead of thinking of roads, hospitals, schools etc, they thought only of their pockets, their stomachs and their relatives. So, to suggest that the Dinkas, the Nuers, the Equatorians are against each other is not true. It is those people who are above, who are concentrating on their tribe instead of concentrating on all others that are fuelling the disunity of our people. This is what is creating the sense of tribalism and hatred.

WASS – How do you feel, having been invested and sacrificed so much for the struggle in South Sudan and its independence, when u look back and see what is happening in South Sudan today? Do you regret the sacrifices you made, are you heartbroken or disappointed?

ABB – The sacrifice was not mine, it was a group work. I only fought in the Anyanya war. But I was a bit disappointed immediately after the Addis Ababa Agreement when the Equatorians said that they don’t want Dinkas. That we should divide the country. That was the time I was the Speaker and I told the Equatorians that it is not good to group together and condemn entire ethnic groups such as Dinka or Nuer because of the ills of few individuals from those ethnic groups. We should deal with that fellow who has done something bad rather than condemning an entire tribe. That is why I think democracy is the best solution to deal with the problem of South Sudan. Democracy gives the voter the right to remove bad and incompetent individuals.

When I refused the division of South Sudan, my people turned against me. As a result, I lost the elections of 1982 and I went farming. In 1983 the government of Nimeri fell and the SPLA started fighting, but I did not join the SPLA.  I was in Khartoum organising people and highlighting the cause of the South. Because of my advocacy on behalf of Southerners, they liked me and elected me as the President of the Southern Council. I continued to fight from within on behalf of our people. So even though some of us did not carry guns again under the SPLA, we were all fighting for the cause of South Sudan the difference being that those of us who were within had no guns. We were as disappointed and as concerned as those with guns.  But it was one struggle but different fronts. Our struggle within brought about the formation of the National Dialogue. It was during this dialogue that issues of unfair distribution of political power and resources between the North and the South as well as the question of cultural and religious domination were raised and discussed. We said these things and they were accepted. And this is how we introduced the concept of self-determination while in the north, which was initially opposed, but eventually accepted by the government. This was our participation in the war, though without guns.

WASS – We seem to have inherited some of the root causes of the problems you have mentioned between the north and the south. How did that happen that we ended up with the same vices we were fighting against?

ABB – The challenges people are facing now in South Sudan cannot be compared to the oppression, indignity, suffering and humiliation faced when we were under the Arabs. Secondly, the political domination we faced in the Sudan was planned and systematic. But what appears as political domination in South Sudan is not a result of a planned and systematic policy decision. It is a chaotic situation resulting from bad leadership. It is the result of unhealthy and primitive struggle for resources which has turned out to look like domination. If you are in charge in the Ministry of Finance and you only look at your relatives, as the right people to be there, that is political domination. But unintended; those doing it think they are helping the people who will help them tomorrow. So, in effect, it is just tribalism, favouritism and nepotism; when these grow bigger, they appear as a form of domination. If there was a very good civil service sector, and the three arms of the government were functioning properly, there would be no instance of nepotism and there would be no sign of domination. Unfortunately, the 2010 elections made things even worse. The elections were organised in such a way that only the SPLA party won. After the election, the SPLM made sure that those they nominated into these other arms of government were mainly ‘yes’ men and ‘yes’ women. As a result, the judiciary is unable to work.  The Parliament cannot hold the executive to account. In addition, the referee of our nation building did not do his part well. If the referee is not doing his work properly, the players cannot play well. If he blows the whistle only for those he likes, and not for those who he does not like, then there will be chaos, and you can call that chaos anything you want.

WASS –  You are the co-chair of the national dialogue and you have gone around the country; do you see the national dialogue as a vehicle that can address the challenges that you have outlined in South Sudan?

ABB – Yes, the national dialogue is a forum that will provide a chance to people to air their views and discuss frankly and more openly about this idea of political domination by others. The national dialogue will discuss about how violence can be stopped so that people can talk. It will also discuss the question of the army. As you know, there is no longer a national army, but militias where people bring their relatives who are jobless in the village. The question of the restructuring of the Army needs to be discussed too.  If all the actors can approach the National Dialogue with the spirit of sincerity, the confidence of the ordinary people in the process will be restored. I am already seeing some signs that the confidence of the people in the countryside is being restored. On the contrary, it is the educated people who are not interested in the National Dialogue. This is because these elites are interested in positions. The National Dialogue does not have positions to offer them.

WASS – Is that not the challenge then? Because from what you said earlier on that there is really no problem among South Sudanese, the problem is among the elites. If the elites are not ready to talk to each other, how can the National Dialogue succeed?

ABB – Yes, it is our hope that when the people hear through the radio about how transparent and inclusive the National Dialogue is, they will all come on board. It is already starting to happen. The generals of the SPLA have spoken frankly to us. People are saying that the National Dialogue is not inclusive because the opposition groups have not come on board. So, we, at the National Dialogue are happy that there is the Revitalisation process going on. We have agreed that there must be synergy between Revitalisation and the National Dialogue. The revitalisation will restore to the elite what they want; and this is mostly power sharing: who will be the minister, who will be deputy minister, who will be the president? If they can have cessation of hostility and it works, if they can have unconditional cease fire, then we, at the National Dialogue can access our people easily across the country. We don’t want to conflict with the Revitalisation process. However, we are committed to make the National Dialogue indispensable in the future and unavoidable. The National Dialogue will leave the narrow issues of distribution of wealth and power to the elites to sort out during the Revitalisation. The national Dialogue will concentrate itself on the issue of proliferation of arms, on how to restore the dignity of our traditional governance system, how to make our civil service professional and on how to reduce corruption in the public sector.

We want to solve the issue of disarmament and cattle raids, the difficult relationship between cattle people and the farmers. As you know, most of the cattle keepers now are not the traditional cattle owners. These days it is the generals who keeps the cattle. They come and buy cattle and send the SPLA to guard. This brings conflicts among the armed cattle keepers and farmers. The farmers get disappointed and go looking for guns, so that is why we find so many armed groups.
The National Dialogue is the traditional forum for solving these types of grievances. That is why the National Dialogue does not want to put blame on tribes. If it starts to do so, that is its failure. That is why the National Dialogue is preoccupied with identifying ills; whether the man who is doing something wrong is a Dinka, a Nuer, they should leave this matter.  It is all about concentrating on the question of accountability, transparency, good governance and the rule of law.

Once we have all these in place, then the country is ready for elections. I must tell u at this juncture, that it is unfair to have only one political party- the SPLM. We need to develop a political space for other political parties to spring up. Governance is like playing football: you cannot play it by yourself and the spectators will enjoy it. We don’t want to vote for only one party or for an individual; we want to vote for parties.

WASS- Some people have suggested in Addis Ababa as part of the proposal for revitalisation, the establishment of a technocratic government in the interim period. What do you think about this proposal?

ABB – In theory, it is a good idea. But how do you implement it in practice? If you put a technocrat who does not have relationship with these warlords, how will he or she survive?

WASS – Who has the responsibility for implementing the recommendations of the National Dialogue?

ABB – When the National Dialogue’s Steering Committee completes its assignment, it will submit its final report and recommendation to President Salva Kiir for implementation. Salva Kiir is the one who established the National Dialogue, so we want to see if he will implement it. If he cannot implement it, maybe they may set up an authority to implement it.

WASS – Just as I round up, it seems to me from what you have said that ethnic division among South Sudanese is a recent phenomenon, our youth might take this seed of ethnic hatred forward. What message would you like to give to young South Sudanese?

ABB – The hatred is generated out of nepotism. The hatred is coming out of patronage of political leaders to satisfy their relatives.  What is very unfortunate is that this nepotism is done by educated people – by men and women on the top. In other countries, these vices are done by men and women at the bottom and so the men and women on the top can come and control it. Having said this, I appeal to the youth whose hearts are clean, who have gone to university, to the diaspora, and those who have gone to neighbouring countries and who have seen examples of problems that nepotism can cause a country, that they should try and identify our problem as tribalism and should try to jump out of it. They should treat tribalism just the way we treat HIV. The youth must ask the question: where did our wealth go? And not: which tribe one comes from. I congratulate the youth of Rumbek, I read on the internet that they have by themselves and for themselves decided to collect the guns from the people.  I appeal to them not to give the guns collected to anyone, but to burn those guns. We do not need guns now as a country. The youth should love and respect people not because of their tribes, but because of their competence, character, and their ability to serve their people.

WASS – There seems to be a perception by some sector of/within the South Sudanese society that our neighbours in the region are playing a negative role inside the country.

ABB – This is again blaming others wrongly for our own undoing. Without the support of these neighbouring countries we would not have achieved our independence. These were the people who helped us and from where we got logistics to fight for our independence. It cannot be these same countries, after helping us to have our own country and have our own money, who will turn around and invest energy in destroying us. It is our own irresponsibility that is destroying us. So rather than blaming others, we should blame ourselves. There is no need to blame neighbours. This is discouraging them to pull away from us ad allow us to kill each other. It is these same neighbours who have come up with revitalisation to try and help us stop killing each other. Rather than blaming neighbours, Salva Kiir should find ways, through these neighbours, to meet and talk directly to the opposition. See how many people have been displaced; and where do they go? They go to our neighbours. And we want to blame them again?



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