Was Garang Habyarimanad?

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Questions now swirl concerning the death of Rebel chief John Garang, a longtime survivor of assassination attempts, accidents and guerrilla battles. He had only recently become Sudan’s new Vice President following a peace pact to end the war between Southern rebels and the government in Khartoum. Many Southern Sudanese wonder what Garang’s death means to the future of their freedom struggle. How ironic that a giant of a man who fought all his life to liberate his oppressed people meets such an untimely fate.

The precise cause of the so-called helicopter “crashâ€? has not been established. Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, in whose chopper Garang was flying, now believes that foul play could have been responsible.  Earlier, Sudan government and Garang’s widow ruled this out. Museveni’s remarks  downplay the official report that the helicopter came down due to bad weather. Published reports state that “Westernâ€? diplomats believe Museveni may be deflecting blame;  his allowed the flight, at night, and without verifying weather conditions. There was even speculation on the Ugandan side that the chopper could have been sabotaged by Rwandan agents who wanted to kill Museveni himself. Rwanda denies such talk. Relations between Rwanda and Uganda has gone to the edge with both countries counter accusing the other for recruiting rebels to fight each other’s government.

According to Ugandan reports the ill-fated chopper was used for 8 years by Museveni. According to Amama Mbabazi, Uganda’s Minister of Defense, it was also the same chopper that President Bill Clinton and his wife flew in at night to tour Kampala city when the couple visited Uganda in 1998. He also told Ugandan parliamentarians that the chopper was overhauled recently and new weather detectors were installed to enable the pilot detect any weather related problems. Mbabazi ruled out bad weather as the cause of the “crash.�

Yet, according to a Ugandan news report, Museveni himself refused to fly in the ill-fated chopper when he recently visited Rwanda, citing mechanical problems. Ugandan members of parliament were very critical of the president’s office a few years ago when they learned that some military helicopters bought from Eastern Europe to be used in Uganda were actually too old to fly.

The president’s cronies including his own brother Maj. General Salim Saleh and some ministers were put to task to explain why they ended up buying junk choppers--- there was enough money budgeted to buy better choppers. Shortly before Garang left the home of president Museveni at Rwakitura, in western Ugandan, he is said to have met with Museveni and some Western oil companies’ representatives who tried to talk the Sudanese into extending oil drilling concessions to American and British companies in Southern Sudan. 

Garang and Museveni have been long time friends. It’s baffling why Garang was transported at night in a chopper that the Ugandan himself reportedly believed unreliable. Some people believe Museveni may have felt threatened by Garang's rise to prominence. Museveni’s regime has received substantial monies and military equipment from the U.S. and Britain in the name of fighting terrorism in northern Uganda. Stability in Southern Sudan, under Garang, could end the war in northern Uganda. This would cut off the money pipeline.

It’s understandable why many people find it difficult to accept Garang’s death as an “accident.â€? Recall that in 1994, there was a meeting in Tanzania to resolve the Rwanda war, which started in 1990 when the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded from Uganda. (Uganda had armed the RPF and allowed it to train there).  On his way home from that meeting, Rwanda’s president Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundi counterpart traveling on the same plane, Cyprien Ntaryamira, perished when the plan was shot down while landing at Kigali, the Rwanda capital. The assassinations sparked the Rwanda genocide. Later, a French official asserted that Uganda, the RPF’s benefactors, provided U.S. missiles to the insurgents to shoot down Habyarimana’s plane. Uganda denied the accusation.

All this is to say that there is deeper meaning when Museveni says there could have been an “external factor,� at play in Garang’s death. The rebel leader’s death needs to be comprehensively investigated by an independent international body, including the United Nations, as was the recent killing of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Garang was a real gallant son of Africa and a warrior who died for his people.
Okema Otika writes for The Black Star News on African Affairs. He maybe contacted for interviews via email at
p.okema@blackstarnews.com For more reports please click on “subscribe� on the homepage or call (212) 481-7745 to order the newsstand edition of The Black Star News, the world’s favorite Pan-African news weekly. “Speaking Truth To Empower.�

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