Garang Leaves Gift of Hope for Sudan

(London Free Press — Editorial section — Wednesday, August 3, 2005)

GLEN PEARSON

Last week’s tragic death of Sudanese Vice-President John Garang in a helicopter crash has delivered a devastating blow to that country’s implementation of its new constitution. Signed only three weeks ago, the document effectively ushered in an era of cooperation and power-sharing between north and south Sudan that represented a clear hope for the troubled nation’s future. With his death has come a time of insecurity and grief that will keep Sudan in a precarious situation for months yet.

The mercurial rise of Garang from rebel leader of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army to the position of national vice-president was the crowning achievement of the peace settlement signed last January. His official presence in the nation’s capital provided hope to millions. Now that hope is in a truly vulnerable state.

More than any other single person, Garang introduced Sudan and its many complexities to the world stage. Invited to most major capitals over the past few years, he effectively advocated for the attention and support of Western nations. While others in the Sudanese south were calling for independence, Garang put forward a peace process that would actually promote a time of peace and national unity. This unique vision caused world leaders who had remained skeptical on Sudan to sit up and take notice.

Despite the many factions in Sudan, Garang successfully maneuvered both northern and southern leaders to the peace table. His dedication was rewarded with the signing of a comprehensive peace plan that even his most ardent supporters thought impossible.

And now he is gone, his memory assigned a permanent place in the shrine of Sudanese consciousness. Yet in many ways his departure calls upon his own people to assume responsibilities they have been hesitant to accept. Garang’s legacy is much more than just that of a rebel hero. He capably introduced a new constitution, a new set of laws, a united Sudanese political structure and strong Western support. While many feel his death represents a great unravelling, Garang himself would point his people to the very institutional changes and objectives he left behind. His belief was in the innate ability of his own people to not only survive two decades of brutal civil war but to transcend their own personal pains and experiences to embrace the vision of hope and prosperity he clearly espoused.

Like all effective political visionaries, John Garang refused to settle himself merely in the rhetoric of vision and dreams – he implemented those hopes into documents and institutional structures meant to guarantee a future for such ideals. What he would ask of his people now is that they embrace what he has left behind and work within that system to secure their own future.

Our own city of London has been involved in Sudan from the worst years of the civil war and effectively fought to free slaves, build schools, support the fledgling women’s movement and to keep Sudan on the front burner for our nation’s politicians. This year London businesses are cooperating together to initiate a number of micro-enterprises, the profits of which will be fully turned back into the respective Sudanese communities for the construction of schools and other necessary programs. Does Garang’s departure spell an end to all this? London has come too far in its support to pull back now in a spirit of timidity or doubt. The people of Sudan have worked their way for years now to a time of peace and proved over and over again their ability to rise above their difficulties to secure loftier goals. Such a national spirit is to be commended and rewarded with the kind of solidarity London has so clearly demonstrated.

John Garang introduced his people to the world. Far from leaving his fellow citizens in a vacuum, he has ensured they have been left with a constitution, an orderly process of succession and a world community determined to help his nation find their way to peace and prosperity. For Sudanese or Canadians to lose hope is to deny the work of a leader who looked past the violations of war and embraced a future of justice.

Glen Pearson is Executive Director of Canadian Aid for South Sudan.