19 Jun 2018

 

Tribute To Andrew Makur Thou

“General Andrew Makur Thou was not looking for a position for himself. He wanted the war to end with justice...I found him very congenial and knowledgeable about the affairs of the country..."

By Atem Yaak Atem*
 
 Glowing tributes have been paid to General Andrew Makur Thou, who died last week. As will be seen later in this appreciation, Makur was a freedom fighter, a decorated military officer, a politician, a diplomat, a community leader, and towards the end of his life, an honest broker in peacemaking process to end the debilitating armed conflict in his country.
 
Reacting to the news of the death of General Makur Thou, one of the Eminent Personalities working to resolve the armed conflict in South Sudan, the office of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Mechanism (JMEC)- headed by the former president of Botswana, Festus Mogae- released a statement to express the body’s condolence.

“Ambassador General Makur was a patriot, a champion of peace and indeed a key pillar in the 2015 Peace Agreement of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS)”, read the release in part. It went on to describe late Makur’s contribution as “sober and honest”, and with the general’s death “the entire South Sudan Peace process” will miss his role.
 
As chair of Security Working Committee, retired General Andrew Makur worked alongside the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM) team. The organ’s head, Major General Ibrahim Abduljellil, has recognised late Makur as a leader who “had an ability to instil great understanding amongst CTSAMM forum”.
 
Makur the patriot
Across South Sudan itself, Makur’s death has been greeted with shock accompanied by tributes that are superlative-laden, depicting him as an outstanding public servant who devoted his life to the service of his people.
A former senior SPLM member, who requested anonymity, holds high late Andrew Makur and his role in the peace process:
“He was a nationalist”, 1 adding, “he was pro-peace and pro-people. He was not like some characters within the government or in the opposition, who are bent on protecting their positions or fighting to get into government even at the expense of the ordinary citizens who are suffering because of the war they have caused”.
 
He concluded his judgement: “General Andrew Makur Thou was not looking for a position for himself. He wanted the war to end with justice”.

Another South Sudanese- a civil servant and a student in Khartoum during the 1980s and 1990s, and one of the persons I interviewed for this piece- remembers General Andrew Makur as a man of principles. “He was trusted by many Southern Sudanese for his stand over the rights of our people”, he told me.

Within the Southern Sudanese circles in Khartoum of the time, my source stated that it was widely believed that the termination of his tenure as governor of Bahr Ghazal [region] was that authorities in Khartoum could not trust him to remain in the South where he could be in contact with the rebels of the SPLA. For that reason, the general was appointed as an ambassador at the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs “just a pretext”, he surmised.

The former student also remembers Ambassador Andrew Makur as active in social and cultural affairs of Southern Sudanese communities in the capital, Khartoum; his frequent presence at customary marriage and dance events and church services. And he was not a passive participant during those social functions.
 
“He used to urge Southern Sudanese not to abandon their cultural values”, he said, adding the general constantly reminded students to “focus on their education and baai”. The last word in Dinka, baai, means home, household, land or country among others. It was a code for the liberation struggle, he elaborated.
 
As one of the youth who used to attend community events graced by Makur’s presence, he recalls that the former Anya Nya guerrilla soldier, used to tell students to make a choice between studies or joining the SPLA rebels in the bush. Having been one of the students who cut short their education in Rumbek Secondary School in 1964 but in later years was able to obtain a master degree in military science, Andrew Makur could give that piece of advice with a clear conscience.
 
My source has also stated that the soldier turned diplomat was a regular churchgoer. After the coming to power of the National Islamic Front (NIF) led by Hassan el Turabi and his brand of political Islam, Christianity to many Southern Sudanese in Khartoum began to have an additional status attached to it: cultural identity, defiance and steadfastness.
 
Although not widespread, it was not uncommon for a few among Southern Christians to convert to Islam. Such a change of faith was done in secret by a handful of people. At the time, it paid to be a Muslim than a kafir or an “infidel”: gaining favours including appointment to positon of power and influence.
 
Young freedom fighter
Makur Thou was born in 1942 in the former Yirol district. The area later became part of Lakes province and state, respectively. He belonged to the third generation of South Sudanese freedom fighters. These were mostly members of the intelligentsia of the early 1960s, consisting of secondary and intermediate school students, civil servants, members of the armed forces, police, prison wardens and in later years, young men from rural backgrounds. Those Southern Sudanese who had been fired by nationalist fervour defected and formed Anya Nya guerrilla movement, which in the early 1960s became a force the world and the ruling class in Sudan could no longer ignore.
 
 
The second generation involved with liberation struggle for South Sudan is made of the political party leaders, legislators representing the South in Khartoum from 1953- 1958. The first generation, on the other hand, is reckoned to be represented by the community leaders who resisted foreign rule especially the Turco-Egyptian occupation of 1821 and the Condominium rule from 1898- 1956.

Andrew Makur was one of the students from Rumbek Secondary School who abandoned their studies to become part of the embryonic Anya Nya fighters, later its commanders. He trained at the rebel bases on the Southern Sudan border with Uganda. He later on went to Israel for further military course.
At the warfront, 1st Lieutenant Andrew Makur distinguished himself as a gallant guerrilla fighter. Following the death of Philip Nanga Mariik, Andrew Makur became an overall commander of a battalion that operated in Yirol and Rumbek districts, a role that involved civil administration. That was at the beginning of the second half of the 1960s.

In his book, The Genesis of Political Consciousness in South Sudan, Arop Madut Arop has written this about General Andrew Makur: “… the patriotic humble [sic], gallant freedom fighter”.
 
It is said that Andrew Makur Thou, then a lieutenant colonel, was one of the officers who had written to the Anya Nya leader, Major General Joseph Lagu, not to sign the agreement between the rebels’ political wing, Southern Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM), and the Government of Sudan, which in their view fell short of the aspirations of the Southern people.

The draft agreement offered the South a regional self-rule in which the South would have executive and legislative organs, to be in charge of internal security, local administration, among others. Those concessions on the side of Khartoum, had convinced a large segment within Southern internal front as well as the movement’s foreign backers who argued that the offer on the table was better than the status quo ante and that it was worth accepting. Consequently, pressure was brought to bear on most members of the rebel leadership. Anya Nya top commander, Major General Joseph Lagu finally signed in March 1972 the accord that became known as the Addis Ababa Agreement.

With the civil war having officially come to an end with the coming to force of regional self-rule, Andrew Makur Thou was absorbed into the Sudan’s armed forces with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
 
During the peace period that followed the end of Sudan’s first civil war, Col Andrew Makur became garrison commander in provincial capitals in Bor, Rumbek and Aweil. That was not an easy assignment as the forces in those units were former enemies: ex-Anya Nya guerrillas and members of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF).
 
The relations between the two groups were often charactrised by mutual distrust and in some garrisons such as Akobo, mutiny in 1975, when elements from the absorbed forces of Anya Nya killed their commander, Col Abel Chol, an officer originally from SAF.
 
Col Makur later attended advanced military course at Sudan’s military college at Wadi Seidna, north of Omdurman.In1982 became deputy president of the High Executive Council in the caretaker administration of Southern Region in which he also served as minister of commerce, industry and supply. A couple of years after leaving government he was elected to represent Yirol area in the legislature in Khartoum.
 
As his services in the army were still needed, Andrew Makur was recalled into the force in the late 1980s. He was returned with an elevation: rank of major general. From 1989 he was appointed military governor of Bahr el Ghazal region where he served until 1991.
 
The Islamic regime of National Islamic Front removed him from that post and retired him as ambassador at the ministry of foreign affairs. He later served as ambassador to Russia and Italy among other countries.
 
When Gen Makur was sought for a mission impossible
It was in about 2010 during the time when the people of what is now South Sudan were preparing to conduct their choice for independence or continued unity with the rest of Sudan, when I met General Makur in Juba. When a mutual friend tried to introduce me to him, Makur said he knew me through my writing; only that we had not met face to face. From that time until 2014 when I left the country, General Makur and I would spend hours talking whenever we met. I was listening to his version of his experience in Anya Nya. I learned a lot from him, especially about the early days of Anya Nya.
 
I found him very congenial and knowledgeable about the affairs of the country, particularly things military for which one would, in the absence of a better word, consider as a blue print. He rarely minced words. 
 
One evening he told me the president of South Sudan, General Salva Kiir was one of the officers in the Bahr el Ghazal sector during Anya Nya and that they had very cordial relations, beginning from the bush war days to the time we were chatting. The South Sudanese head of state, Makur informed me, had asked him to take a role in the transformation of the former guerrilla force, the SPLA, into a modern and conventional army. He had gratefully accepted the request, he told me.
 
It was a story I was prepared to follow no matter how long it took him to narrate. It turned out I would spend many hours, spread over more than two weeks talking with him about his experiences in the military and how his plans for the SPLA would benefit from those.

I wondered how he was going to pull the trick where others had dismally failed in the transformation of the SPLA. Previously, the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) had assigned a retired officer from SAF, General Garang Thuch, to train the officers with the objective of turning the former guerrillas into a professional and conventional army.
 
He came to grief: every time he was frequently told “With your professionalism, we beat your former comrades in the battlefield. What is that which is new you want to impart to us?” Garang Thuch was gone, smarting with a searing disappointment. Others followed, tried but without any tangible results. The SPLA was behaving like wayward and incorrigible child, it seemed.
 
 
Cleaning Aegean stable
Any talk about the SPLA, the national army of South Sudan, was nothing but bleak; a tall catalogue of complaints about nearly everything: lack of professionalism; widespread illiteracy mostly among officers of militias which fought against the SPLA on behalf of the government in Khartoum during the war; of corruption (a top leader once told a gathering that paymasters, most of whom were NCOs [non-commissioned officers], were richer than the generals who commanded them); of senior officers in uniforms collecting salaries from the Central Bank and carrying coffin-like boxes loaded with wads of banknotes onto trucks; of officers in uniform walking between their headquarters at Bilpam because they did not have army cars or buses assigned to them; of a soldier ordering a foreign diplomatic at Juba International Airport (or is airdrome?) to open his suitcase from which he snatched money in foreign currency for his personal use; of another soldier guarding a VIP who stopped another foreign diplomat for “not giving way to his boss”, whom he ordered to get out his saloon car then slapped him and broke eyeglasses in his face; of SPLA officers who were in the habit of usurping the management of traffic from the police force during visits of foreign VIPs to the capital… And countless misdemeanours by members of the SPLA.

During one of those sessions I used to hold with the retired general, he confided to me that he was not only aware of all those embarrassing and inexcusable blunders but that he was also aware of other shortcomings, mostly matters of relating to army professionalism, which he said the force seriously lacked. So why was he so confident that he was going to succeed where others had roundly failed in what was essentially a mission impossible or what has been described as a task similar to cleaning the proverbial Aegean stable?
 
He assured me, if given the task, he was confident of success; different people, especially professionals, could have different approaches to even a particular complex situation and that not all of them would fail, he assured me.

Paradoxically, before crossing the bridge, he was facing his own problem: seeing the President. Since his arrival from Khartoum, fixing an appointment with the head of the state, who is an ex-officio commander in chief of the national army, was being delayed for no obvious reasons. By the time I left Juba he was still waiting. Someone divulged to me that his presence in town had not been relayed to the President. Someone else was allegedly blocking the meeting between the two to take place. My source whispered the name of the alleged saboteur but the rationale for such a ridiculous act, if at all it was true, beggared disbelief.
 
I would have dismissed that out of hand such an outlandish claim, but being South Sudan where the incredible, the absurd and the outrageous, have become the new normal, I reluctantly accepted the account. It did not take days for the veracity of what was nothing but sabotage in its full nakedness and vulgarity was confirmed. The reason was that if General Makur were to get the task for which he was wanted, he was going to achieve the goal and as a result outshine others, especially the one who was obstructing the meeting between the President and General Andrew Makur Thou. His ability and commitment to the service of his country and its people were well known to the extent that if he got the mission he was going to achieve the long-awaited transformation of the SPLA as a national army of South Sudan.

*Atem Yaak Atem is a South Sudanese journalist. He is currently living in Australia where he is a full-time writer and translator. 

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