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The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei

Interview by Mawien Deng


Contribution to the peace process and the issue of Abyei

Francis Mading Deng

Many more developments were to take place before I joined the government. After all, the war was still raging in the South, and I was decided not to join the government while the war was going on. As the new Minister for Southern Affairs, Abel Alier soon engaged in consultations with the Sudan Council of Churches and the All-Africa Council of Churches that would lead to the Addis Ababa talks to end the war. He formed a committee of senior South Sudanese politicians and intellectuals to prepare the ground for the talks. On another UN meeting in Africa, which was to be held in Lusaka, I passed through Khartoum.

The committee preparing for the Addis Talks was meeting. My colleague, Natale Olwak Akolawin, lecturer in the University of Khartoum, and a member of the committee, invited me to attend the meeting. The specific issue under consideration was the definition of South Sudan. It was agreed that South Sudan comprised the three provinces of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile. I raised my hand and was given the floor. I asked whether they were not leaving out of their definition an area that was part of Southern Sudan. My question was met with laughter, as they all understood that I was of course alluding to Abyei. So, the definition was adjusted to include Abyei and other areas that the South claimed were wrongly occupied by the North.

As the talks were about to convene in Addis Ababa, Abel Alier asked Bona Maya, his political ally in the Southern Front, to join preparatory talks in London with leading members of the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement – Anya-Nya. Bona proposed to Alier that I join him and Alier readily approved. Those in the talks included Enoch Mading de Garang and Lawrence Wol Wol. Elio Duang Arob was also there. Dr. Zachariah Bol, who was interning in London, also attended. Peter Gatkuoth, then a minister with Alier, later joined.

The line of approach which I had always argued with people like Mading de Garang and Lawrence Wol Wol was that instead of fighting for independence without any clear prospect of success within a foreseeable future, while the people were suffering and dying, South Sudan needed to cut its losses by agreeing to regional autonomy to bring relief, recovery and development so that our people could build the capacity and gather strength to more effectively pursue the struggle in the future. I had earlier pretty much persuaded Mading de Garang to that point of view.

I later learned that while he himself was persuaded, he did not want to weaken their negotiating position by conceding that much at the outset. Mading made this point unequivocally clear to me in a meeting he and I had with an Arab woman journalist. When I indicated that I thought the South might compromise on regional autonomy, Mading surprised me by categorically denying a position which he and I had just agreed upon. Once the Arab woman had left, Mading profusely apologized for his conduct and explained that he did not want to expose to the North a position he would eventually accept as a compromise. Years later, Mading de Garang would surprise me by saying that it was I who made him understand the strategic value in accepting a compromise solution. He said he intended to leave all his papers for me to use in writing about the peace. Unfortunately, for some reason, his declared intentions ended there.

Mawien Deng

Did someone in his family object to your inheriting his papers?

Francis Mading Deng

I don’t think so. As you know, our people are not used to writing wills. And I am sure that during his short fatal illness, the issue did not arise and I never raised it with the family.

Negotiating a peace agreement that would bring reprieve to our people even if it did not achieve our final goal was the line Bona and I pursued in our London pre-Addis Ababa talks. Accepting the principle of regional autonomy and including Abyei as part of South Sudan became the guiding principles of the rebel representatives.

The Addis Ababa Agreement was of course an endorsement of regional autonomy as a principle of unity in diversity. Abyei proved to be a very divisive issue, as Khartoum insisted that it was part of the North, while the South saw it as part and parcel of the South. In the end, Abel Alier, who led the government delegation, negotiated a compromise by which the Ngok Dinka would decide their status through a plebiscite.

I have given the details of my role in the peace process as a South Sudanese in response to those who question my loyalty to South Sudan or assert that I have never accepted Abyei as part of the South. I keep wondering about these absurd allegations. I hope what I have said makes it crystal clear that I not only recognize Abyei as unquestionably part and parcel of South Sudan, but that I have devoted my Duot life to promoting the cause of both Abyei and South Sudan.

The roots of the Abyei tragedy

Mawien Deng

I understand how painful these baseless allegations must be for you. But be assured that they come out of ignorance of facts on the part of most people. There are of course a few who have other motives in promoting those ridiculous allegations, but they should not be taken seriously. There are always individuals who are driven by ulterior motives that should not be given serious consideration. On a more serious note, from all you have said so far, Abyei seems to have been well covered in the talks and the outcome agreement. What went wrong later?

Francis Mading Deng.

Everything was to go wrong for Abyei. But more developments were to take place first. The first development was that Father’s prediction and dying will continued to be fulfilled. Several months after the Addis Ababa Agreement was signed, I received a letter from Abel Alier. He had persuaded the President to have me appointed as Province Judge, Chief Justice of the Province. They had in mind Kordofan Province under which Abyei was being administered. Abel Alier himself had served as a Judge in El Obeid, the Headquarters of Kordofan. He was a strong believer in the critical importance of the justice system. I was therefore not surprised that he made a strong case for the position.

There is no doubt that the position was a great honour that would have pleased our father. But I trusted that he would have understood why I could not accept that offer. I had been years abroad, had pursued an academic path, entered into international service, and had just married an American, with post-graduate credentials and a profession. I could not see myself back at El Obeid as a judge, which would require unreasonable adjustments on her part. In fact, I saw the position so incongruent with my situation that I did not even respond to Abel Alier then. My silence was not for lack of appreciation or respect for Alier, but simply inability to find an appropriate way of turning down the honor. I later explained the situation to Abel Alier and apologized for my lack of response. Bol would later tell me that if Father had been alive, I would probably have accepted that offer. I knew why Bol thought so, but as I have just said, I felt confident that Father would have appreciated my position.

Dr. Francis Mading Deng

While I was pondering over how to respond to Abel, I got another offer from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be the first Ambassador of the Sudan to the Nordic countries, with Sweden as the resident country. Again, I appreciated the offer, but procrastinated in responding. Then, Ambassador Fakhreddine Mohamed, who had been Sudan’s Permanent Representative to the UN before Dr. Mansour Khalid, wrote to inform me that the position of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, which he was about to vacate, was also available for my consideration.

That was when I approached my wife, Dorothy, who had seemed comfortable with my apparent disinterest in the offers, that I could not turn down four offers to serve my country and expect to

be given another opportunity in the future. I was firm that I had a call of duty to serve the country. As the war was over, it was the right time to join the government. When she expressed concern about how her parents would feel, I suggested we put the case to them. They responded in full support for my position. I then decided that Ambassadorial post would be a more convenient transition to national service. So, I gave that as my prepared choice.

Mawien Deng

How did she react to your final decision?

Francis Mading Deng

She was persuaded. And she became very supportive in all the positions I subsequently took in serving my country and later the international community. We spent years in Khartoum under conditions that required major adjustments for her. Supporting my service and raising our four sons became her life commitment about which, I am glad to note, she has never voiced regret. I must say that this is because she realized and respected the fact that what I was doing was not just a job, but a sense of mission with a strategic vision.

Mawien Deng.

That is wonderful. And it is much appreciated by our people. It shows that what you have been doing is noble mission for which her support is a blessing. This also explains the way your children are following your footsteps in the service of our people and country.

Francis Mading Deng

I feel profoundly appreciative of both her support for me and dedication to raising our children. Before formally accepting the offer, I wrote a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Mansour Khalid, explaining how I would approach my mission. Sudan had been negatively known in the world as a country torn apart by a crisis of national identity. The crisis divided the nation along racial, ethnic, cultural and religious lines and generated gross inequalities. The Scandinavian countries were particularly concerned about the war that had raged in the country since independence, and were very supportive of the cause of the South.

The Addis Ababa Agreement was replacing war with a unifying national identity framework that reconciled the African and Arab identities and promoted equitable development throughout the country. Through this radical transformation of the country, Sudan would play a constructive role in the region as a model of peace, reconciliation and nation-building. I wanted this to be the focus of my engagement with the Nordic countries. More generally, I conceptualized foreign policy as an extension of domestic policy in which our diplomacy would have an attractive domestic commodity to sell abroad. I thought that our diplomacy should be directed toward mobilizing international support and partnership for this domestic model that was worth emulating in the region. I wanted the Minister and the President to approve this as my strategic vision for diplomatic engagement. Dr. Mansour wrote back fully endorsing my proposed strategy and assuring me of the support of the President.

Mawien Deng

That sounds like a very ambitious and courageous move. Did you live up to the high bar you had set for yourself? And did the President and the Minister fulfill their promise to support your mission?

Francis Mading Deng

You are right that it was indeed an ambitious mission. But they fully blessed it. In fact, the greatest satisfaction I got in my years of diplomatic service was the support I enjoyed from the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Over the years, I proposed far reaching policies that they fully endorsed and which we applied in promoting our image internationally with considerable benefits to the country. Anyway, once my vision for the mission was cleared, I went with my wife to the Sudan to be sworn in and to formally undertake my assignment.

Click the link to read PART FOUR The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily

Click the link to read PART THRREE The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily

Click the link to read PART TWO The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily

Click the link to read PART ONE The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily