Brian Adeba reviews Monani Alison Magaya’s book, The Anyanya Movement in South Sudan, Focusing on Western Equatoria, 1962-1972 (Marianum Press Ltd, Kisubi, Uganda, 2015). Excerpted from African Arguments, full review available on their site.

[…] The first theme is one that any scholar of the Anyanya Movement is aware of: that the Anyanya were a disparate group of peasant soldiers lacking a central command and a cohesive political ideology. In Western Equatoria, the picture that emerges from Magaya’s book is one of organised and dedicated guerillas, almost akin to the partisans in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Here, readers are shown an organisation with a locally organised hierarchical military structure, albeit lacking political sophistication beyond wanting to drive the Arabs from their land. We see a self-reliant military organisation, whose main quartermaster was the civilian population with whom it had built amicable relations.

Although he dedicates ample space to how this “independence” of the Western Equatorian fighters prevailed, Magaya is silent on explaining how the lack of a central command fostered the birth of regionalisation and even ethnicisation, two themes that would later permeate and define the liberation struggle in South Sudan.

At its most basic, this regionalisation entailed that soldiers should fight in their home areas and not anywhere else in Southern Sudan, for better or worse. Perhaps there were practical reasons behind this policy, but Magaya does not care to explain. As such, Western Equatorian military leaders like Magaya, Samuel Abu John, Habakuk Soro, Dominic Kassiano, John Masua, Isaiah Paul, Dominic Dabi, William Bangafu, Samson Wasara, David Lewe and the famous Ali Gbatala mainly fought on their home turf.

An even closer scrutiny reveals that the Azande leaders fought in areas around their villages or hometowns, while the non-Azande like Ali Gbatala, John Masua and David Lewe, for example, were mainly based in non-Azande areas in present-day Maridi County. Sometimes, the Azande leaders were not even allowed command in locales that they were not native to.

A case in point is when Ismail Sidigi and Kelliopa Mene dislodged Magaya and Captain Dominic Kassiano from Naangere military camp in September 1965. This event happened after Magaya and Kassiano ambushed a convoy of trucks belonging to a Greek trader from Yambio called Dmitri, looting his goods ostensibly to punish him for his “closer cooperation with the enemy forces.”

Magaya bookMagaya subsequently cites two reasons behind the move to forcefully relieve them of command in Naangere: jealousy over the looted goods and “there was also an ultra sectarian motive because the two happened to be the sons of the area while we were not.” Sometimes this regionalisation was extended to other Southern Sudanese fighters, ostensibly to maintain law and order.

It is worth mentioning that Western Equatoria’s proximity to the Congo border meant that it was a strategic location for accessing arms from the Simba rebellion of the 1960s. As such, transit camps for receiving arms and ammunition for fighters in Bahr El Ghazel operated in Western Equatoria. But in 1968, the Western Equatoria regional command ordered the destruction of one such camp at Sakure, commanded by Captain Kerbino Kuanyin Bol, who was accused of looting, and mistreating the local population.

Captain Dominic Kassiano was assigned the task. And here’s where the adage ‘history repeats itself’ bears true for South Sudan. In May 1983, Kassiano, then promoted to major, led the Sudan Army assault against the Bor mutineers commanded by the same Kerbino, who had by then also been promoted to the rank of major. Facing defeat, Kerbino and his mutineers withdrew to the bush to form the nucleus of the SPLA  – and the rest is history.

The second key theme of the book is about how Israeli military support helped transform the Anyanya into a more effective combat force. Magaya elaborates on how this support resulted in upgrades in weapons, and tactics, and improvement in the capacities of the Anyanya officer corps through rigorous retraining exercises both in Southern Sudan and abroad.

Excerpted from African Arguments, full review available on their site.

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