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Aldo Ajo Deng’s doctorate: no age limit to learning by Atem Yaak Atem



The unconfirmed news that has been circulating on the alternative news media for a couple of days all over the world has now been confirmed with the posting by Dut-Machine de Mabior showing the now Dr Aldo Ajo Deng Akuei resplendent in academic regalia, and holding aloft his valued document as he stands next to the vice chancellor of the University of Mount Kenya. It is not fake news; it is real, coming from a member of Development Policy Forum, an online discussion platform. Aldo Ajo Deng, the newsmaker, is also a member of the forum.

During the days in the then Southern Sudan when conventional news outlets, mainly newspaper, radio and television, produced and disseminated highly verifiable information to correctly inform, educate and entertain the public, this news story would have vied for a page two space if not the front page of a newspaper worth its name. It could also lend itself to a feature article, similar to what is to follow.

What qualifies a happening as news in the category of “man bites dog” is that Aldo Ajo Deng is 78 years old. In South Sudan and many African countries, many in that age cohort are fully retired except when one happens to be a president who loves power very much and wants to die in office like Ben Ali, the former Tunisian head of state. Because of poverty combined with poor health services, Africans living beyond 65 could count themselves lucky consider themselves lucky, as the median life expectancy on the continent is around 62 years for males.

Aldo Ajou Deng, who is father to one of the world’s famous basketball players, Luol Deng among other children, has broken record, as far as South Sudan is concerned, in receiving an advanced degree from a recognised centre of learning.

The man known to many of his compatriots as a politician since leaving school while in second year in Rumbek Secondary 53 years ago to contest election to the Khartoum-based Constituent Assembly, which he easily won, has been known as a politician since then. One of Ajo’s classmate at Rumbek Secondary was Lual A. Deng, an economist with a doctorate from Wisconsin University in the US, and former Minister for Petroleum in the shared government between the SPLM and the National Congress Party, NCP during the 2005-2011 interim period. He has congratulated Ajo for his feat, and a challenge to nearly many people various age groups in his country.

Since leaving Aldo Ajo continued to get elected including to People’s Assembly affiliated the one-party system of the May regime (1969-1985). In that legislature, he once served as its deputy speaker.

Commendations for showing good example

After the publication of the news on the discussion forum, Aldo’s colleagues immediately congratulated and commended him for his achievement, which in itself a rarity that is likely to encourage other people facing situations similar to those that stood in his way, but which he overcame with determination. After congratulating Aldo, Dr Majak d’Agoot, another member of the forum, added: “Uncle Aldo has achieved a dream of his life”.

Ngor Garang, another member of the forum, sees Majak as another example of a young person who had to cut short formal education to take part in the service of the people. Unlike Aldo Ajou, Majak then a teenager, left school while he was a secondary school student, like Aldo, but for politics of any kind: to train as guerrilla soldier in the SPLA. Ngor’s narrative introduces Majak the soldier to those who might have not known the multiple assignments he took upon himself, one after another: a serving SPLA officer, a family man, and a university student- in that order of precedence- and satisfying all those demanding commitments at the same time. Majak completed his studies all the way to a doctorate degree level.

Timely advice

Aldo Ajo Deng’s age and long experience in public life as a politician would give him an advantage over the younger generation when it comes to knowledge and experience of important political events dating back to the past decades. With that in mind, Bishop Emeritus Enock Tombe Loro of South Sudan Episcopal Church, put this message to Dr Aldo Ajo Deng: “I hope you will share your Anya-nya experiences with your younger generation who seemed to have lost track of the liberation that you people started since 1955 based on high moral standards compared to our time”.

If I have correctly understood Bishop Enock Tombe Loro well, I personally urge Dr Aldo Ajo to get down and write his memoirs now while his memory is still fresh. His life story will include a huge chunk of the period he spent as a law maker, inside stories of the political parties- particularly Sudan African National Union, Sanu, and Sudanese Socialist Union, SSU, he was member at different times, and political developments of those years, with reference to the Southern Region in particular.

Both members of the younger generation as well Ajo’s own contemporaries, expect him to shed light on some of the troubling questions of the day, especially between from 1967, the time he went to parliament on Sanu’s ticket, and 1969, when the military overthrew an elected government to usher in the May regime. Many questions remain unanswered. Among these are those relating to his Ajo’s own political party, Sanu and its politics:

· Sanu, Aldo’s party stood for a federal system of rule for the whole Sudan (Southern Front was calling for self-determination). What is his position towards the call by some sections of the country for a federal South Sudan now?

· The origins of the Congress of the New Forces that brought together parties from Sudan’s peripheries such as the General Union of Nuba, or Gun, under the leadership of Rev Philip Abbas Gaboush, William Deng’s Sanu and Mohammed ‘Awadh of the Beja Congress are not clear. Since those parties represented areas inhabited by Sudanese of African origin, was it wrong to assume that the Northern ruling elites viewed such a development as a racist approach and a danger to their hold on power? Was Sadiq el Mahdi’s wing of Umma which was member of the Congress a founding member or did they join later and why?

· How was it possible for Sanu to have won more votes (15 from Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile provinces) to the parliament that Nimeiri dissolved in 1969 than the rival Southern Front which managed garnered 10 seats from Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile provinces? (I welcome anyone to correct my figures if they happen to be inaccurate). The basis of this question is that while Southern Front was perceived to be more national than Sanu, which did not win a single seat in Equatoria (again I stand to be correct), Sanu had more popular support from the electorate numerically. The anomaly needs an unambiguous explanation, which Aldo and the few of his colleagues from the two parties can provide.

· What were the main reasons that led to the emergence of the breakaway “Big Six” wing of Sanu? Since its leaders, Alfred Wol Akoch, Andrew Wieu Riak, Philip Obang, Nikanora M. Aguer, and company, have passed on, could Aldo explain the root causes of the split? Did Southern Front show sympathy for the “rebels” of the Big Six and the schism in general, stories which used to be whispered within the corridor of power then and if yes, then why?

· It is widely believed that the coalition government of Umma Party- Hadi el Mahdi Wing and National Unionist Party, NUP, of Ismail el Azhari planned and carried out the assassination of William Deng Nhial. Was that suspicion shared by the leadership of Sanu? Did they have evidence to support their allegations?

· Was there any Southern Sudanese who was involved in the assassination of William Deng? If the answer is yes, was there any concrete prove such a belief?

· How did Sanu leadership react to the official government’s statement released immediately the night William Deng’s assassination was announced over Radio Omdurman, and in which the government claimed the Anya Nya rebels had killed him allegedly for “accepting an Islamic constitution for the country?” What was the government’s source of their information since Anya Nya never made any public statement on the matter?

Being a living witness to some of outstanding events and having interacted with instrumental leaders of the day, Dr Aldo Ajo Deng Akuei is well placed to revisit the past to supplement the gaping holes in information vital areas of the recent history of South Sudan. The enquiring members of the public look towards recollections the figures such as Dr Aldo Ajo Deng Akuei. I will be first to review such a publication. Good luck with the endeavour.

Finally, my congratulations to him for reaffirming to the youth of our country as well as everywhere, the maxim that old age should not be an obstacle to learning since it is “from cradle to grave.”

Atem Yaak Atem is a South Sudanese journalist and founding director of Radio SPLA, and former speechwriter for John Garang from 1984- 1988. He is currently writing his multi-volume memoirs on his role as a journalist and his time within the SPLM/A.

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