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Remembering Torit Mutiny at 62

Author : | Published: Friday, August 18, 2017

August 18 marks 62 years since the first known liberation struggle of the South Sudanese began in Torit town of Eastern Equatoria state.

In 1955, Southern Sudanese forces in the Sudanese army mutinied against the largely dominated Sudanese army.

The move was in protest by South Sudanese against the political and military domination of the Sudanese government.

It was also in protest to the lack of willingness by the government, the British, and Egyptians to unilaterally place Southern region under the dominance of the northern Sudanese.

The sacrifices of the Anyanya and subsequent war veterans is marked under, the War Veterans’ Day.

President Salva Kiir declared August 18th every year as the Veterans Day.

However, today, no major event is taking place.

In commemoration of this day, we shall revisit the history of the Anyanya war, what triggered it, and how it ended.

The Beginning

It is said to be the first known civil war in the Sudan.

It is largely known by Sudanese as the Anyanya war. And was the birth of the first South Sudanese rebellion, led and dominated by Southerners in the then Sudan.

History has it that the Anyanya wars broke out in 1955 through 1972 between the northern part of Sudan and the southern Sudan region that demanded representation and more regional autonomy.

For 17 years, the Anyanya 1 was led by Joseph Lagu.

According to a recent interview, Joseph Lagu said the name Anyanya, is derived from a Madi word for a ‘snake venom’.

During the course of the 17 years of war, it is reported that half a million people died.

But how did it come to this?

Well, the history of the Sudan has it that up until 1946, the British colonial rulers, in collaboration with the Egyptians administered the Southern region of the Sudan separate from the Northern Sudan region.

Then a time came when the British decided to merged or combined the administration of the two regions under one region.

It is believed that this move was done without the consultation of Southern region leaders.

Out of suspicion, the leaders of the then Southern Sudan feared what they termed as the marginalization of domination of Arab elites in Khartoum.

The argument of the then Southern region leaders was that Southern Sudan was culturally Sub-Saharan African, and this to them would mean the two regions can operate under the dominance of another.

They demanded autonomy from the Northern Sudan through a federal system of governance.

The trigger

A few months towards the 1956 independence of the Sudan, it is said that the government in Khartoum, predominantly Arab started showing little commitment in granting the South a federal system.

This was observed during what is described as a deliberate exclusion of Southern leaders in the political, economic and governance planning of the would-be independent Sudan.

It is reported that the civil service and administration were placed increasingly in Northern Sudanese hands – largely excluding the Southern Sudanese from the government.

Southern Sudanese leaders then heighten their complaints of the display of favoritism by the British and Egyptian authorities towards the northern Sudanese.

The Southern region was disregarded when it came to education and social upbringing.

Then on 18 August 1955, a number of South Sudanese leaders were arraigned for trial under accusation of incitement against the government, and then there was an alleged telegraph that was received by some Southerners that said northern Sudanese administrators have been instructed to maltreat any Southerner.

A number of soldiers in various government unit were also picked out for arrest, but rather than surrender, a unit known Sudan Defence Force Equatoria Corps, composed mainly of southerners, disappeared into the bushes and hiding with their weapons.

In the days to follow, more Southerners mutinied in Juba, Yei, and Maridi.

This officially marked the beginning of the first war in southern Sudan of August, 1956 made up of former southern army officers, warrant officers, civilians and a small number of non-commissioned officers.

At first fighting uncoordinated, the mutiny was said to have been spearheaded by Father Saturnino Lohure, General Emilio Tafeng and Ali Gbattala.

It is estimated that the number of those who escaped to the bushes and launched attacks on the Sudanese government were initially between; 5,000 to 10,000 personnel.

Full scale

In the years to follow the Anyanya had developed contacts to obtain weapons and supplies, and in turn took control of much of the southern countryside while the Sudanese government forces occupied the region’s major towns

By 1970s, Joseph Lagu, who had become the leader of Anyanya announced the creation of a new name; the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement, although informally it continued to be known as Anyanya.

The SSLM went on to establish civil administration throughout many areas in southern Sudan under their control of Anyanya, but at this time, President Jaffar Nimeiri stilled wield much power across Sudan.

It is said President Nimeiri believed he could stop the fighting and stabilize the Southern region by granting regional self-governance to the South Sudanese and launching several development projects in the south.


By October 1971, Nimeiri made contacts with Joseph Lagu through the SSLM, and by February 1972, a consultative conference between government and Anyanya delegations was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

During the talks, it is said the South Sudanese leaders demanded a federal and separate Southern government.

They also demanded a separate army that would directly be commanded by the leader of the Southern region, and only respond to orders of President Nimeiri in case of an external threat to Sudan.

They delegations disagreed severally, but with the help of Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie, they reached an agreement.

This was the birth of the Addis Ababa peace accord.

The Addis Ababa agreement guaranteed autonomy for a southern region.

Somewhat autonomous

This also was the birth of the three regions composed of Equatoria, Bahr al Ghazal, and Upper Nile regions, but all under a regional president appointed by President Jaffar Nimeiri on the recommendation of an elected Southern Regional Assembly.

The Southern leaders chose the then energetic and eloquent lawyer, Abel Alier Kwuai.

Joseph Lagu was endorsed to continue being the overall commander of the Anyanya forces of SSLM forces.

Moulana Abel would be responsible for all aspects of government in the region except such areas as defense, foreign affairs, currency and finance, economic, social planning, and interregional concerns.

Those responsibilities were retained by the national government in which southerners would be represented.

Southerners, including qualified 12,000 Anya Nya veterans, would be incorporated into southern command of the Sudanese army under equal numbers of northern and southern officers.

The accords also recognized Arabic as Sudan’s official language, and English as the south’s principal language, which would be used in administration and would be taught in the schools.

The Addis Ababa agreement also enabled the formation of the High Executive Council or cabinet named by the Abel Alier.

It is said many SSLM leaders opposed the settlement agreement, but Lagu approved its terms and both sides agreed to a cease-fire.

The first Addis Ababa accord was signed on 27th of March, 1972. This day was celebrated in the Sudan as the National Unity Day.

Nimeiri issue a decree legalizing the Addis Ababa Agreement and creating an international armistice commission to ensure the well-being of returning southern refugees.

He also announced an amnesty, for all those who took arms against the government dating back to 1955.

A 17 year ceasefire was observed.

Trouble again

However, the Addis Ababa agreement that ended the First Sudanese Civil War is believed to have failed to completely dispel the tensions and grievances that had originally caused it.

This was largely attributed to disregard of the agreement by various regimes in the Sudan.

This reignited another prolonged north-south conflict known as the Second Sudanese Civil War, championed by the SPLM/SPLA from 1983 to 2005.

The period between 1955 and 2005 is considered by many as a single conflict with an eleven-year ceasefire that separates two violent phases.


After the creation of an autonomous Southern Sudan and its government as a result of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Naivasha, President Salva Kiir in 2007 declared August 18th, 2 as the official annual commemoration day of the War Veterans.

This day combined all veterans who fought for equality, freedom and justice for South Sudan dating back to 1940s.

In 2014, the first major event to mark the 59th anniversary of the War Veterans Day was celebrated at Dr. John Garang Mausoleum in Juba.

The theme was: “Veterans; the founders’ of our freedom.”

No other event to commemorate this day has been officially held.

This year, the governor of Imatong state, to which the town of Torit lies, says the day is being marked at individual levels.

Tobiolo says the state has no funds to organize a public function.

Joseph Lagu who led the Anyanya 1 war and Abel Alier who led the first Southern Regional government are both still with us.

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