Torit August 18th, 1955 Revisited

Torit is Synonymous with South Sudanese Armed Struggle.

“Alam akaac Torit, alam jech John, kabuku laar Juba Thudanda Jidiit. Kalashnikov adhiaau Thudanda aluel John, kabuku biok mutfa Thudanda Jidiit”—SPLM/A revolutionary song in Dinka acknowledging and praising Torit as the heart and soul of the Movement.

By PaanLuel Wel,
(Washington DC, USA)
 

GURTONG- Torit town is the apotheosis of South Sudanese armed struggle against the sadomasochistic successive Khartoum regimes. It was in Torit town that the first bullet of the first Southern uprising was shot at the Jalaba on August 18th, 1955. The Equatoria corps, the valiant Southern soldiers who spearheaded the Torit Mutiny, was from Torit town. Father Saturnino Lohure, the priest turned rebel leader of Anyanya One, hailed from Torit. Torit was the first official SPLM/A headquarters. After the failed Nasir coup against Dr. Garang’s leadership, his faction was christened SPLM/A-Torit. The recaptured of Torit town by the Al-Bashir regime from the SPLM/A in 1992 engineered a frenzied celebration in Khartoum. The subsequent re-recapturing of Torit by the SPLM/A during the CPA negotiation nearly hemorrhaged the peace talk.

Of all South Sudanese historical events and dates associated with Torit town, none is as important, encompassing and influential as the Torit Mutiny of 18 August 1955. It was the first time that Southerners openly displayed, in bullet and blood, their pent-up anger and political frustration with their colonizers: the British, the British-favored northern Sudanese Arabs and their Egyptians surrogates. In the days leading up to Sudan independence from the British, the colonial administration under the British and the Egyptians had anti-South Sudanese state policy. Southerners were administratively and educationally ill-prepared and politically marginalized.

As if that was not enough superfluous provocation, any concerted attempt by leading Southern politicians, traditional leaders/elders, and few educated individuals, was dismissively characterized, in the word of the first Sudanese Prime Minister—Ismail Azhari, as “childish complaints of the Southerners." Entirely excluded from the political and economic preparations for the independence of the Sudan, and with no further room or outlet to air their grievances, the Equatoria Corps of Torit town could not take it anymore. They decided to rebel on August 18th, 1955, after they were told to relocate to Northern Sudan, purportedly to participate in the celebration of the Sudan independence, the very occasion in which principal Southerners were summarily excluded and sidelined.
August 18th, the day the first rebellion was initiated against the Khartoum government in Torit town, later became the D-date of South Sudanese armed struggle.

The Anyanya One of Joseph Lagu was launched on 18 August, 1962. The Clandestine Group or the Underground Movement of Dr. John Garang and his dissatisfied members of Anyanya One ex-soldiers planned the launching of what later became the SPLM/A on 18 August 1983. Unfortunately, Kerubino Kwanyin Bol and his money issues, plus other various unforeseen political events, necessitated the revision of the date to May 16th 1983. So ingrained in the political psyche of South Sudanese armed struggle is August 18—the Torit Revolution Day of August 18, 1955—that the current President of the Republic of South Sudan, H.E. Salva Kiir Mayaardit, declared it on August 18th, 2007 as the official annual commemoration day of the war veterans who fought for freedom, justice and equality for South Sudanese.

Torit town, too, produced the first war veterans of South Sudanese armed struggle. Among these courageous heroes were the veterans of Torit Mutiny of 1955: General Emilio Tafeng and Ali Gbattala etc. Secondly, among the sons of Torit town of Anyanya One armed struggle were leaders like Father Saturnino Lohure. Fr. Lohure was the real political leader of the Movement before he was brutally assassinated on 27 January 1967 in Uganda on his way to and from Southern Sudan.

Torit also produced laudable and gallant leader in the persons of Joseph H. Oduho: an Anyanya One war veteran and the cool mind with unmatched experiences that provided the political wisdom during the hectic days of the formation of SPLM/A when the egoistical squabbling between Dr. Garang group vs Akuot Atem camp almost miscarriaged the nascent Movement. In the same ranks of great Torit sons are leaders like the late Brigadier Paterno, Angelo Lopuro, Captain Jada, and Major General Obuto Mamur among plentiful others.
Of all the Southern towns captured by the SPLM/A during its first glorious days of the war of liberation, it was Torit that became the first meaningful official headquarters of the SPLM/A leadership under Dr. John Garang. The captured of Torit from Jalaba by the SPLM/A heralded the age of SPLM/A as a serious revolutionary army to contend with and not to be mistaken for the rag-tags soldiers of Anyanya Two Movement. The SPLM/A leader, Dr. John Garang, in his media/propaganda war with the north, exploited and made a big deal out of the capturing of Torit from Nimeiri regime; a scenario that was later vividly replayed when Al-Bashir recaptured the town in 1992 from the SPLM/A and Dr. Garang was there to receive the taste of his own medicine.

Not only was Torit town the political headquarters of the SPLM/A, it too became its very name after the fateful split of the Movement in 1991. The downfall of Mengistu’s Derg government in Ethiopia that was the political godfather of the SPLM/A, coupled with the Nasir coup and the resurgence of Jihadistic Al-Bashir regime, put a considerable amount of pressure on the SPLM/A and profoundly weakened it to the point of near annihilation. Almost the whole of Upper Nile region was retaken by the enemy and so was Bahr al-Ghazal region. With Western Equatioria solidly in the hand of the Arabs, it was Torit and Eastern Equatoria region that SPLM/A had small breathing space till Torit was retaken too. In the height of South-South self-destructive partisan hostilities, the SPLM/A faction under Dr. John Garang was renamed as SPLM/A-Torit while the faction under Dr. Machar and Dr. Lam took Nasir to its acronym. Thus, there was SPLM/A-Torit under John Garang and SPLM/A-Nasir under Riek Machar.

It was not only in Torit that the first revolutionary armed struggle for South Sudan independence started, it was also where the last big final battle was fought. Just as SPLM/A was teetering on the verge of extinction at the hand of Al-Bashir Jihadistic army, the Movement, with the help of Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the USA, rebound and swiftly recaptured many towns from the advancing NIF operation “Seif Obuur” that had easily recaptured all towns under SPLM/A with the exception of Nimule where they were badly pinned down by the besieged SPLM/A soldiers.

The new impetus from the resurgent SPLM/A compelled the NIF government from their much publicized nationwide planned declaration of final defeat of the rebel and the end to the southern war and onto the negotiating table. By then, it was all apparent, to both parties, that any talk of military solution to the war was all but an entertaining illusion with no tangible corroboration from the ground. The SPLM/A, contrary to their revolutionary songs of “Khartoum abukku dom, 91”, was never going to realize their intended triumphant march to Khartoum and neither was the Khartoum government going to defeat the rebels at the barrel of the gun. So, grudgingly and resignedly, both warring parties went to the IGAD peace talk.

But with the SPLM still relishing their recent victories against the Arabs and their appetite whetted for more, they launched a successful armed operation that first re-recaptured Kapoeta and then Torit. While Al-Bashir was not that fired up by the fall of Kapoeta to the SPLM/A, he was not going to accept anything less than an SPLM/A withdrawn when it came to Torit. The recaptur of Torit by the SPLM/A almost derailed the Peace Talk and threatened to stillborn the CPA till Khartoum government, with the backing of Equatoria Defense Force, retook Torit town.

Honorably, not only was Torit the first Southern city to fire the first shot of the first Southern uprising, it was also the last Southern city to fire the last shot of the Southern armed struggle before the advance of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the war and gave Southerners their political freedom and independence from the north. As such an important town in the historical struggle of South Sudanese people, Torit town has the honor of being the capital city of Easter Equatoria State in the newly independent nation of South Sudan.

It was this sublimity of Torit town that H.E. Salva Kiir Mayaardit, the current president of the Republic of South sudan, acknowledged in his 2007 speech in Torit, on the occasion of opening a newly built Secondary School in commemoration of Dr. John Garang, when he solemnly proclaimed: “since Torit is a town of history, I am declaring 18 August a national day because it will remind us of what happened on the 18th August 1955 when our people mutinied in this town.”

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