Dr. John Garang de Mabior and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
The Principal Fisherman
In this week, many Sudanese have been commemorating the untimely death of Dr. John Garang De Mabior, the founder of SPLM/A, the first South Sudanese to be the First Vice President of the Sudan, and the first President of the Government of South Sudan. John Garang was on his way on 30th July 2005 from Uganda to his head quarters in Sudan-Uganda borders when the helicopter he was on came down on a mountain range. Bad weather was blamed for the crash. I thought we switch from sorrowful, down cast mourners to joyful, and forward-looking heirs of great legacy. I believe this legacy, if preserved well, will guide and inspire us along the difficult road of nation building.
Give a child a fish and you have fed her for that day. Teach her how to fish, and you have fed her for the rest of her life. So goes the famous Chinese saying. In other words, while the principal fisherman may be absent in the body, his teachings have been laid bare enough to guide the flocks. The master chef may be away from the kitchen, but the magic recipe has been clearly written on the kitchen wall. I am talking about ideas and strategies used by John Garang to bring about a relative freedom to South Sudan and Sudan in general, a work that was partially accomplished. Yet it is being carried forward by thousands of freedom fighters who have learned at his feet.
And before going further, allow me to say at the outset that when I write about Dr John Garang (having criticised his human rights record for a decade) I am conscious that some fellow citizens will view this as nothing more than shedding crocodile tears. Wrong. We often forget John Garang was a fallible being with his highs and lows. Criticising him in life was the most natural choice of any responsible citizen for improving his leadership. In death, we gain nothing in dwelling on his shortcomings and the negatives (or at least not when commemorating his death). For records, I was among the first to call Chairman John Garang "my future president" while Naivasha peace talks were still going on. It was not about gaining favours or "U-turn" by me but stating the obvious. Hence, we do well here in highlighting what was best in our leader.
And in that spirit while reflecting recently on Garang’s legacy, I saw parallels between what he had aspired to achieve in Sudan to that which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, did manage to achieve for his country. We can learn a great deal, and dare I say be inspired, to reflect on political life of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: military commander, freedom fighter, founder of Turkish nationalism, and first president of free Republic of Turkey, and above all a model world leader. In like manner Dr. Garang’s political clout had transcended Africa to be visible across Middle East, Asia and in significant parts of western world with his philosophy of New Sudan which in essence is secular. Hence, while writing about Ataturk I want us to keep glancing back at political philosophy of Dr. John Garang and his remarkable achievement in Sudan as epitomised by CPA, which currently forms the basis and spring board for democratic transformation of the Sudan, and which also facilitates exercise of self-determination by the people of Southern Sudan and other marginalized peoples of Sudan.
Meet Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
Mustafa Kemal was born in the city of Thessaloniki (modern day Greece) in 1881. He led war of independence against Allied Forces and became the first elected president of Republic of Turkey in 1923. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal was named by National Grand Assembly (the Turkish Parliament) as "Ataturk", meaning "the of Turkish Nation." Kemal means "the perfect one" and was given him by his math teacher. His transformation of Turkey was based on 6 guiding principles (also known as Arrows of Kemalism): republicism, nationalism, populism, statism, secularism, and revolutionism. Make no mistake, Mustafa Kamal Ataturk was no political upstart. He started his career as a military officer and progressed through the ranks to the peak. He fought and won battles. Represented his country as a diplomat. Led underground freedom movements. And eventually led the revolt against foreign forces in the war of independence and declared independence of his country. At some point he was stripped of his military ranks by the emperor only to be restored to rank of commander in chief by the free Republic of Turkey.
Turkey: Old and New
Ottoman Empire ruled Middle East and Asia Minor through Turkey between A.D. 1300 to1922. That is or more than 600 years. Islam was the religion of the Turkish state. A dynasty of Caliphates led the empire which was in essence was dysfunctional. Dress code would have been similar to that worn in modern day Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Arab Emirate. Turkish language used Arabic and Persian letters and numerals, and with a vocabulary full of Otoman Turkish, Arabic, and Persian. Women did not have the same rights as men and wore veils.
What made Kemal Ataturk so memorable a leader is that he changed all that for good.
During his struggle for freedom followed by 15 years as president and statesman, Kemal Ataturk saw all the above reality as hurdle for Turkey to fully develop and flourish on the same footing as her European counterparts. Inspired by French revolution and French democratic ideals, Ataturk, once in power, began to transform Turkey from top to bottom. He abolished the crumbling Ottoman empire (or Sultanate) and its dynasty of Caliphates in November 1922. He erected a Republic in its ashes. He closed down religious schools and separated between state and religion. Ever since Islam ceased to be the official State religion. Turkey was declared a secular state. He gave women equal rights as men. His government discouraged wearing of veil by women in favour of Western clothes. He encouraged the use of surnames. He changed Turkish language to use Latin letters. He established Parliament. He encouraged objective scientific thinking and reasoning. He asked his fellow countrymen and women to "dress like Europeans, think like Europeans, and act like Europeans." If accepting the already reformed Turkey as a member of European Union is challenging to current membership, how much more would have been difficult without Ataturk preparing the way and laying the foundation for modern Turkey?
Ataturk was no democrats in the traditional sense of the word. He encouraged one party system (his party) and locked up his political opponents after accusing them of plotting an assassination. The mention of his name could provoke many in Arab and Persian quarters who might view Ataturk to be anti-Islam and anti-Arab. However, an overwhelming majority of Turkish people still revere him and regard him the true founder of modern Turkey. The same could be said about John Garang and his Sudan People Liberation Movement.
Ataturk died in 1938 and was burried in Instanbul and is remembered as Turkish national hero. In 1981 UNICIF declared the year as "the year of Ataturk" as recognition for his reforms in Turkey. Today there organisations that go by name: Daughters of Ataturk. Does that ring a bell regarding "Sons of Garang or Garang Boys"? Inlcuding Kiir of course!
Sudan: Old and New
Let’s come back from Turkey to Sudan. Certainly there is plenty that needs changing in Sudan to make unity "attractive" to all. John Garang captured the imagination of Sudanese people when he argued in favour of Sudanism as opposed to Arabism or Africanism. He declared: Religion belongs to individual and the country belongs to all. He sought to persuade all the Sudanese to fight hard in order to increase Sudanese "commonality." By which he meant keeping all those things on which the great majority Sudanese are more likely to agree and discarding those things that has been dividing them. He said New Sudan is where "I am above nobody and nobody is above me." He minced no words saying that the Sudanese state as it stood was headed for disintegration unless a fundamental shift takes place in its political mind set. His call struck a chord with millions of Sudanese from both the north and the South be they Muslims or non-Muslims, Africans or Arabs. Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005, despite many implementation setbacks, has opened up a new opportunity for progressive political forces to come closer to a secular united Sudan. A video recording of a speech delivered in Rumbek by John Garang shortly after his inauguration contains lines where he explained that his office of Vice President is open to the public. Had that happened, he could have been a headache to authorities. This was truly revolutionary idea in a country where ideas are still feared.
This brief article has not done justice to interesting subject of comparing work of Ataturk and Garang. Suffice to say that John Garang is no lesser figure than Kemal Ataturk in terms of what he set out to achieve. He fought for 22 years and saw his dream coming true for just 3 weeks. He has taught Sudanese how to fight for their freedom. If you like, John Garang has lifted the political bar in Sudan to new heights and shook its political system to the core. He often said: Sudan will never be the same again. Time will prove him right.