What has Aggrey Jaden’s 35th Memorial taught us?

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On Saturday 30th October 2021 the children, grandchildren and relatives of one of South Sudan’s prominent heroes of the post-colonial and pre-independence eras, supported by hundreds of members of his community – the Pojulu People – marked the 35th Memorial of Aggrey Jaden in grand style. The ceremony took place in Juba the capital of the country and was marked by traditional and contemporary Pojulu songs (some recently composed), dances, ululations and befitting tributes to the iconic pioneer politician.

But, who was he really and what can be learnt from his memory?

Aggrey Jaden Lado Wani (1924-1985) was born of Pojulu parents (Lado Wani and Sarah Reja) at Loka village in the present Lainya County, South Sudan. Commonly known by his second name, Jaden was one of the first South Sudanese to have graduated from the first institution of higher learning in Sudan – Gordon Memorial College (later renamed University of Khartoum) in 1952 with a major in economics and public administration.

From a student activist while studying in an environment dominated by pseudo-Arab culture, to a reluctant civil servant full of resentment, to a hostile political environment where a black African is treated like a second class citizen, the youthful Jaden led an uncomfortable life and was obliged to embrace politics early in his life. This was the time, the Sudanese political environment was dictated by an elite class of intelligentsia led by post-independence political parties; the likes of Umma Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who thought pan Arabism was better identity for the multi-racial former Anglo-Egyptian colony. Jaden found himself questioning whether this was the country his African people would live a dignified life in! From that early age, he chose to resist the ‘new colonial masters’.

Jaden joined forces with fellow South Sudanese activists to form a political grouping “the Southern Front”. A notable political move initiated by him was a memorandum he authored which he submitted to the Condominium Government at the declaration of Sudan’s independence on 19th December 1954. In that memorandum, Jaden categorically rejected the independence arrangements, arguing that the territory then known as Southern Sudan should enjoy a separate self-administration status under federalism.

However, his plea was contemptuously ignored. He then resorted to rally South Sudanese political consciousness toward a call for self-determination. The message was well received by South Sudanese. On 18th August 1955, a regiment of the government army comprised mainly of South Sudanese mutinied in the town of Torit (located 136 kilometers east of Juba). For detailed accounts of Jaden’s activism and political activities, see Lokosang (2010).

Fast forward, Jaden co-founded and led a pro-independence South Sudan armed movement known as South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) with its armed wing Anyanya Army. This movement was the first meaningful resilience to the Arab Sudanese hegemony over African ethnic minorities in the then Sudan (by then the largest country in the whole of Africa).

Being a civilian with no military training, and not interested in such a career either, Jaden chose to remain the political leader of the movement. He adopted Kenya as his second home where he also worked and catered for his family. He was employed by the Kenya Railways Corporation, serving as a Director. However, apparently due to his political role, Jaden was purged from that job and subsequently expelled from Kenya. It is alleged that after a declaration to reach a peace agreement by the government of Sudan, some of his subordinates and colleagues conspired and clandestinely sneaked important documents to the Kenyan government authorities.

Without consulting Jaden, the Anyanya Army’s Chief of Staff, Colonel Joseph Lagu Yanga, signed the Addis Ababa Agreement on 3rd March 1972. Utterly dejected, feeling humiliated, rendered an illegal immigrant (persona non grata) in Kenya and deported, Jaden returned to Juba wearing simple clothes and a ragged pair of shoes. While in Juba, he refused any offer of government positions or other perks. He chose to walk and live a private life.

Eye witnesses reported that the first President of Southern Sudan’s semi-autonomous government, Abel Alier Kwai (a political appointee of an Arab-led government), offered Jaden the position of Director of Rural Development, but the latter turned it down. Obviously, he had not recovered from the feeling of gross betrayal and loss of hope.

Jaden died quietly a poor man on 6th August 1985 survived by his wife and seven children, who fortunately were not forced out of Kenya, but grew up and studied there. His remains were laid to rest at his birth place. Later, his now grown up children and a few Pojulu Community intellectuals erected a mausoleum over his tomb and established the Aggrey Jaden Foundation.

In this author’s humble view, the memorial of Aggrey Jaden should not go down quietly like many posthumous hero memorial public events. Of course, it is in our Africans’ blood to organize such fanfare and little or nothing to write home about than memories of the songs, dances and ecstasy the occasion created. There are a number of lessons to learn and points begging for reflection.

First, the memory of Jaden’s life has reminded us not to forget who first championed the call for the relative freedom the country is now enjoying. It is gratifying that his children who have definitely seen the seeds sown by their father withering away, thought of this occasion. The charitable foundation is certainly a great and laudable initiative, but the 35th Memorial was an epic one.

The occasion has brought to the limelight a deep reflection of the man’s legacy. Imagine if the man was not betrayed and allowed to see his patriotic project go through! Whether South Sudan was to wait for another 39 years to become fully independent, is a question left to the divine powers to answer.

However, it is common sense that a nation nurtured and born out of a vision and passion of its founding father, would fare better than one without these ideals. The present day USA, China, Singapore and Kenya are but living examples. It is everybody’s guess that our country, after ten years of independence, has been radarless and in the mercy of clueless military generals and tribal warlords.

Second, the occasion of Jaden’s Memorial has taught us that a person with a grand idea and cause can be eliminated through killing or ignored altogether, but the reality can catch up with the suppressors. Noble causes should not let die.

Third, Jaden refused to cohabit with betrayers and treacherous scalawags who are after vanity and earthly comfort. Probably many had branded him an idealistic, extremist and hard-headed maverick, but the man saw what was coming. Certainly, a nation entrusted to wannabes and self-gratifying jockeys will never thrive. Simply put, the current reality of the country has justified Jaden’s recalcitrance. Could it be why he is now posthumously saluted as a hero by his own. I reckon the answer is ‘yes’.

Fourth, South Sudan have been given some food for thought. The way things are unfolding, there is reason to believe that the country needs a Jaden-like liberator; not the self-styled, power hungry, materialistic and praise-demanding leaders we have come to know. Although not given an opportunity to lead and get tested, Jaden has set the standards high. Well-meaning South Sudanese should now get to the realization of what measure of a leader to lead them into the bright future the country desperately needs. Is it the one who succumbs easily to offers of wealth, position and pursues fame; or the one who opts to resist worldly gains?!

In conclusion, Aggrey Jaden’s memory must live on. In this sense, there is need for the family to widen the scope and reach of the Aggrey Jaden Foundation. It must not be left to social media platforms only. It would befit the great man’s wish that the organization’s brand be recreated and made to glow. The Foundation needs a clear vision stated, a governance board installed, proper management structure set up, resources mobilized, and actionable strategy designed. The Foundation should have projects that are results-based. Let’s propagate the farsightedness the Aggrey Jaden had!

The Author, Laila Lokosang (PhD), is a member of the South Sudanese Diaspora. He is the Author of “South Sudan: The Case for Independence and Learning from Mistakes”, which is available on Amazon.com.

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