IN THE LION’S DEN: HOW OGINGA ODINGA RESCUED YOUNG JOHN GARANG FROM DEPORTATION AND EXECUTION EARLY 1960S!
By Jon Pen
August 2, 2018, I chanced to sit down with Mr. Raila Odinga, a.k.a. Baba, for peace activism and some historical story-telling session in his Nairobi’s office at an area called Community.
Among my CSO colleagues, I was present on how the shrinking civic space is undermining peace and democracy in South Sudan in particular and the region in general. However, the main mission was the fate of the HLRF Peace Process that was being juggled among the IGAD leaders in their respective capital cities.
The last leg was expected in Nairobi.
On mentioning the arbitrary arrest and detention of Peter Biar Ajak that happened within just that week, the veteran politician interrupted me with more questions and broke into an analogy of a certain Sudanese young activist that his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, saved from state-sponsored kidnapping and execution nearly 50 years ago.
That boy was John Garang de Mabior. Some time in the late 1960s, John was an exile in East Africa, very critical of the post-independence Sudan Government, just as Yoweri Museveni was on the post-independence Uganda under the Kabaka and Milton Obote.
The Sudanese activists, mostly the Southern youth, were in danger. The Sudanese Governments of the day (Al Azhari, Al Mahdi, and Numeiri, respectively) had started anchoring their colonial roots on Southern Sudan). They requested the Kenyatta Government to hand over their dissidents, most of whom were Anya-nya supporters. Jomo Kenyatta obliged and most South Sudanese political activists were rounded up and deported.
John Garang de Mabior was on the list. He was arrested with his colleagues at Moyale border crossing (Ethiopia) in January 1963. He later joined the Anya-nya by the end of the decade.
Prior to the day he was to be deported from Kenyatta Airport to Khartoum Airport, a word came to Raila’s father, the then former vice president of Kenya. Some young politician in the name of John needed to be rescued from deportation and possible condemnation to death.
As John was their family acquaintance, Raila narrated that his father visited the Minister for Internal Affairs and begged that the young man be deported to Uganda instead of Sudan. The minister accepted and John’s journey to perdition was secretly diverted to Uganda.
The politically obstinate Garang was handed over to President Obote, who kept him as a refugee in Uganda till the time he crossed to Tanzania for his studies. There, he met Yoweri Kaguta Museveni at Dar es Salaam University and consolidated their political ambitions. Both Garang and Museveni later succeeded in their visions and delivered their people out of the oppressive regimes using armed revolutions.
To cut this juicy piece of history short, here is the reason the Baba told us the story. He emphasized that we should not lose heart in pursuit for the good of our post-independence South Sudan because political persecutions did not just start with our current generation. The political luminary also encouraged us with the glorious testimony of his political activitism. A story for another day here.
Another moral to learn from this story is that a critic is not an enemy of the nation but of the notion; that particular political ideology run by the regime of the day. Therefore, any leaders who employ the method of physical elimination of their political opponents are themselves enemies to that nation. Say, if John Garang (not yet a Dr. then) and Yoweri Museveni were disappeared and killed just like those who were done so during by the budding African regimes, would South Sudan be that independent country today?
In conclusion, those South Sudanese youths rioting in tge diasporas or rotting in horrible dungeons of the notorious National Security Bureau in South Sudan are our potential leaders of this nation, now and tomorrow. It is a treasure any visionary leader cannot just play around with.
And to the leaders of the region, the late Jaramogi Odinga must be emulated, unless you do not want such an aromatic legacy in your annals of history. No citizen, critical or not, must be humiliated upon their views that accrue to your success as a leader.
Then to my fellow South Sudanese strugglers, despite this tremendous disappointment by our leaders, with whom we secured this abused independence together, let us take heart and pressure them into submission for the sake of our future.
Of course, let us not forget Odinga-dit for saving for us the victorious life of our dear Dr. John Garang de Mabior! In reality, our SPLA liberation strughle was thus started by historical Uncle Oginga Odinga, wasn’t it?
The Odingas Oyee!