Saturday, 15 January 2011

Elephants and Aliab patrols

Peculiar things come up at auctions. Like the Paris home of infamous Central African dictator, Jean-Bedel Bokassa which just sold for £720,000. I admit it is less flashy than a mansion, but I took a lot of geeky smugness is discovering this lot of medals at Bonhams.

They were awarded posthumously to a Major Chauncey Stigand of the Royal West Kent Regiment.  On the 8th of December 1919, Chauncey Stigand was shot through the heart with a spear and he died instantly. He had been on ‘patrol’ in the home of the Aliab Dinka, located in the most south easterly part of Lakes state.  I drove through this area on my way to Yirol in December.

The patrol he was on was sent in response to an uprising that started at the end of October of 1919. The Aliab felt (not unreasonably, one might think) resentful of the British presence. As even the Governor of Mongalla Province admitted “The Government has done nothing for the Aliab. It has not protected them from aggression, has given them no economic benefits…it has forced them to do a certain amount of labour, to pay taxed and to endure a not negligible amount of extortion by police” (quoted in Daly’s Empire on the Nile…).

So it is no great surprise that in October 1919, a group of Aliab attacked and killed eight of these policemen. When Stigand et al went to investigate these deaths, 24 of their party (including Stigand) were killed. The Government, as you can image, responded to this with a macho display of superior fire power, but it still took them several more patrols and burning of villages to assert themselves in the area. The British administration then held, as far as I can see, a rather schizophrenic perception of the Aliab for the next 30 years. Despite the problems in 1919, by the late 1940s the Governor of Bahr el Ghazal was writing in the letters home to his mother how great the Aliab were (the letters are in the archive here, and I can assure you he was a very good boy about writing to mum regularly).

According to the auction details, Stigand was then buried at Tombe (on the bank of the Nile) with stones sent by his wife from his home in Kajo-Keji (on the border of Sudan and Uganda). Military officers in Southern Sudan were not technically supposed to have wives or families because it was considered a hardship posting. But, in Stigand’s case this rule had been overlooked on account of the fact that he had been trampled by an elephant (while hunting) the year before.  'Sorry you got trampled by an elephant, have a wife', kind of thing.

Elephant hunting appears to have been Stigand’s great passion. Despite his successful army career he found time to write a guidebook/manual to elephant hunting, which was introduced with utmost respect by Theodore Roosevelt. I have read (ok, skimmed…) this book and I am not sure how helpful it would be in actually getting your hands on an elephant. But given the trampling incident I don’t think I would take Stigand’s advice as gospel anyway…

The past seems like a very odd place sometimes.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Not yet Uhuru?

 Something resembling this picture may be about to happen in Sudan

(as represented by SSRC voter education guidebook)

No, Southern Sudan is not floating away, but it is probably about to become Africa’s newest country. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the last civil war stipulated that after a 6 year interim period, the South could vote to go its separate way. And now, that appears to be what is happening. I remember going to see a panel of experts on secessions discuss the phenomenon at Oxford last year; most of the discussion was on former Soviet states, but when Sudan’s situation was raised the panelists all scoffed incredulously! How could think that anything other than a vote for separation was a real possibility? Staying together is just not the sort of thing that people tend to choose in this kind of situation.

My research is not about the referendum, in any way, really. In my original PhD proposal, my period of study ends at the referendum, so following that, today is the last day in Sudan’s history I am looking at (but who is counting? Or holding doctoral students to their original proposals!). Such a massive political transformation is impossible to escape from and I will be joining the ranks of people anxiously biting their fingernails over the coming days. Although the Southern Sudanese friends I have spoken to over the last few days seem very happy and excited, and why not relish this moment?

I heard a talk in September by the historian Douglas Johnson who pointed out that self determination has been a major and recurrent theme in Southern political thought. Yesterday, while I was going through Durham’s collection of documents from Sudan I came across a pamplet, written by  Gen. Joseph Lagu and produced for the Anyanya, the rebel movement of Sudan’s first civil war (1955-1972).

Its fascinating to read the official statements from the intellectual and military leaders of this past struggle for self-determination. This pamphlet, interestingly published just weeks before the signing of the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement in 1972, is a rallying call to support the Anyanya movement. Of course, it is political positioning written in war and not meant to be moderate. With that in mind,  a few excerpts from this pamphlet are interesting to compare with today’s political discourse in the South and to think about the evolution of these ideas.

“South Sudan is African
Since Independence was granted to Sudan in 1956 the Arabs of the North have never regarded the South as a real part of their country and the Southerners as a people with equal status. They regarded the South as a colony left to them by the previous colonial regime and they felt themselves free to exploit the land and enslave its people. The enemy cannot even conceive of independent of autonomous existence for our country because he considers it his property. So force must be used to prove to the enemy his ignorance and stupidity, to make him accept and recognize our national identity, We had not been a colony of the North when the whole of the Sudan was under the Anglo-Egyptian comdominium. The North and South won independace together as equals, now freedom must be equal for all.”

How they saw their position in the region is fascinating too - especially today

“Defending Black Africa
Our Brothers and Sisters in East Africa must realize that ever since the first Arabs reached Malakal, Juba and Wau, we, the people of South Sudan, have been defending not only ourselves but also them from the onslaught of Arab colonialism…while we fight this war we also protect our brothers in East and Central Africa”

My flat mate pointed out to me last night that some of the Kenyan press are embracing narrative of African solidarity in their coverage of this referendum. There is vast news coverage of the referendum from Europe and the US, but I will be making sure I follow East African reaction just as closely in the coming weeks and months.