THE DEATH of Joseph Oduho last week, a victim of the latest fratricidal fighting within the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), has shocked Southern Sudanese throughout the world. He was one of the few survivors of the Southern Sudan's first post-independence generation of radical politicians, and his death has not only cut a link with that early period of the Sudan's political development, it has nearly ended any hope of reuniting the factions who have been disputing for power within the Southern Sudan since the fragmentation of the SPLA in 1991.
Born of the Latuka people in Torit District, Equatoria Province, Joseph Oduho was educated in Catholic mission schools and became a teacher in the years immediately leading to the Sudan's independence from Britain and Egypt in 1945. His first political demonstration in 1953 protested against the exclusion of the Sudan's Southern and African leaders from political negotiations between the Northern (Arab) parties and the Egyptian government.
He was elected to the Sudan's first post-independence parliament in 1957, an advocate of political federalism for the Sudan's underdeveloped regions, until the army took power in 1958. He was one of the first politicians to flee into exile in 1960, combining with other exiles, the late William Deng among them, to form the first exile movement, later known as the Sudan African National Union, in 1962. Together he and Deng published the first statement of Southern Sudanese political objectives, The Problem of the Southern Sudan (1962), in which they argued for the self- determination and independence of the non-Muslim South from the rest of the Sudan.
Oduho spent the next 10 years in exile or in the bush as a leading figure in a succession of Southern Sudanese exile-guerrilla independence movements. He was involved in a number of internal quarrels, and he finally broke with the movement in 1971 when the commander of the 'Anya- nya' guerrilla army, Joseph Lagu, subordinated the political wing to his military organisation. Oduho was sceptical of the qualified autonomy which the Khartoum government of General Nimeiri offered the South at Addis Ababa in 1972, but despite his doubts he accepted the opportunity of peace and joined the transitional regional government in Juba and served as a minister in several successive regional governments.
Oduho's combative personality never left him, and he frequently quarrelled with his colleagues over what he, and many others, saw as Khartoum's failure fully to implement the 1972 agreement. He was firmly committed to the unity of the Southern Sudan and opposed the former guerrilla leader Joseph Lagu, when he proposed the dismemberment of the South and a retreat into a separate 'Equatoria Region'. Shortly after Nimeiri unconstitutionally dissolved the Southern Region in 1983 Oduho once again went into exile and helped to found the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the political wing of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, under the command of John Garang.
Once again Oduho eventually found himself at odds with the military, objecting to Garang's subordination of the political wing to the military command and spending several years in detention in various SPLA bases. He was released during inter- factional fighting among the SPLA in September 1992 and went to East Africa, where he was in contact with other anti-Garang leaders in the movement he helped to found.
Last week he flew to Kongor inside the Southern Sudan to meet with dissident military leaders to discuss ways of developing a broad-based leadership. Many Southern Sudanese hoped that, his quarrelsome past history notwithstanding, his position as respected elder statesman would overcome the increasingly vicious animosities which continue to rend the movement. Shortly after his arrival fighting broke out once again between the factions, and Oduho was killed. It is possible that he was the main target of the attack. Pugnacious to the end, he was a man of great humour, courage and political integrity.