Southern Sudan buries ‘the great bridge’, Dr. Samson Lukare Kwaje (1952~~2010)

Category: Sudan
Published on Thursday, 05 August 2010 11:43
Written by Mading Ngor, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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Grief striken nation received late Dr. Samson Lukare Kwaje's coffin on August 3, 2010 ( in Juba on
(Vancouver BC
NSV) - We could remember Dr. Samson Lukare Kwaje for his academic excellence. We could remember him for his immense liberation credentials. Or we could remember him for his generosity.

However we commemorate the life of Dr. Kwaje—the late minister of agriculture and forestry in the government of Southern Sudan, who passed away on Sunday at a Nairobi hospital—politicians, colleagues and southern Sudanese alike agree southern Sudan has lost one of its greatest sons.

Dr. Akech Koch, the Sudanese ambassador to the United States of America, extolled the late Kwaje as a true embodiment of southern Sudanese nationalism and patriotism.  “He was a real Southern Sudanese,” he said on Tuesday. “He wasn’t a tribalist.”

Lt. Gen. James Hoth Mai, SPLA Chief of General Staff wrote  on Monday  in a condolence message to the family of his fallen comrade said the late Samson Kwaje “was an industrious statesman whose relentless dedication and resilience to the cause of marginalized people of the Sudan in general and Southern Sudan in particular are worth remembering.”

Although Dr. Kwaje died an accomplished man, he rose from a humble background. Born in Wunduruba village, Juba, around 1952, to Moje parents—one of the clans of the Pajulu nation— he grew up herding goats. The Pajulu are an agrarian people—they mainly farm and keep chickens and “they have few goats here and there,” according to Jimmy Gombu, a relative of the late Kwaje who works as an auditor for the Canadian Revenue Agency, a federal agency.

After finishing his primary education in Wunduruba, Kwaje later went on to complete a B.SC in Agriculture and Masters’ Degree in Plant Pathology at Makerere University in Uganda. He had wished to study medicine but Uganda made it difficult for foreigners to gain admission into the faculty, said Dr. Sam Laki, a Professor of Economics at Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio.

In the late 70’s  an opportunity presented itself for Dr. Kwaje to study in America, which he opted for. He finished with a PHD in agriculture, from Morgan Town University in West Virginia.   

Following his departure from America, Kwaje held several prominent jobs, including being appointed minister of finanace for Equatoria in the ‘80s.

Despite being a late comer to the SPLM as he joined in the early 90’s, friends and comrades remember a ‘selfless’ leader who gave up a well-paying job as director of ICIPE, a continental agricultural research council in the 1990’s to partake in the liberation struggle, where he became the spokesman and the visible face of the SPLM/SPLA.

“He was a very prominent man in Pajulu,” said Dr. Laki. “His death is a big loss not only to the Pajulu but Southern Sudan as a whole.”   

For Makuei Lueth, the minister of parliamentary affairs, who had watched and listened to him up close in cabinet meetings and outside, and who was one of the ministers who accompanied his coffin to Juba on Wednesday, Kwaje was a ‘very understanding’ and a ‘brilliant politician.’ “He was one of the most outstanding leaders from Equatoria,” he said. “”[His death] is a great loss for southern Sudan.”

At a personal level, Makuei and others say the late Kwaje had a down-to-earth personality and was one of the few politicians who did not have many enemies.

Dr. Laki said it was “difficult to find him angry.”

Gombu said Kwaje was “a generous man who was always there to lend a hand.” 

However, more than his compassion, a source described him as ‘the great bridge’ between Equatoria and Dinka and among southern Sudanese in general. He was one of the Equatorian politicians who opposed Kokora (division) and rejected its subsequent forebodings.

In some quarters, however, he was seen as ‘soft on the Dinka’ and a ‘Dinka collaborator’ in some extreme cases, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Although Kwaje remained with the mainstream SPLM during the testing years of the 90’s when Dr. Lam Akol and Dr. Riek Machar split from the mainstream SPLM—he acted as a go-between, between the two factions.

His intervention remains one of his legacies, in addition to being a tough negotiator and one of the architects of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.    

In his letter of condolence on Monday, Lam Akol, the chairman of the SPLM DC said “Dr. Samson L. Kwaje will be remembered for his contributions to the struggle and being a conciliatory person, keen on the unity of the Movement and of the people of Southern Sudan.”

‘Wake up call’

Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the head of the GoSS Mission to America, urged southerners to use the death of the late hero to unite the country, ahead of the sensitive referendum in January. “It’s a wake up call to all of us,” he said. “It should be seen as a way to unite ourselves and reach the promised land” in 2011,” he added.

So far, the death of Dr. Kwaje has brought the south together, much in the same way the death of the late SPLM Chairman and Southern President, John Garang, brought the south together in grief.

Thousands of mourners, including President Kiir and members of the cabinet, and residents of Juba, turned up on Tuesday to receive their late hero’s body at the Juba airport.  His body was then taken to the parliament in the afternoon, where lawmakers paid their last respects to the larger than life figure.

Two days prior, Kiir had declared three days of national mourning and ordered the flag to fly at half-mast in memoriam.



"The late Kwaje and his supporters wanted to enact Wunduruba to Lainya, since both areas are occupied by the Pajulu." -( Photo)

Even as he is laid to rest on Thursday, the late Kwaje will carry two controversies to the grave: one nearly took his life in April when gunmen killed his bodyguards and shot him in the arm, and the other has been about his final resting place.

The latter is about the fate of Wunduruba, where late Kwaje was born. Wunduruba, like Lainya, are both belonging to the Pajulu. Wunduruba is technically part of Juba; it has always been the case. However, the late Kwaje and his supporters wanted to enact Wandruba to Lainya, since both areas are occupied by the Pajulu.

Dr. Laki called it a “misunderstanding” between the old guards and the new guards. Some of the elders feel attached to Juba, and want to remain with the Nyanguara et al. 

Dr. Laki explained it would be politically advantageous for a politician like Kwaje to have Wunduruba annexed to Lainya, which he helped create, in order to secure an undivided loyalty from the greater Pajulu.   

The former is the debate about where national leaders should be buried. The family of the late Kwaje have expressed their desire to have him buried in Lainya, as a symbol of unity of the Pajulu, while the government preferred to have him buried in Juba.

Dr. Laki said the solution is to build a national cemetery where great leaders like Kwaje are buried for the benefit of all the citizens.

However, the controversies pale in comparison to the loss, and there is a common understanding among foes and friends alike to bury the hatchet and join hands to commemorate a man who had dedicated much of his life in the pursuit of the common good.

There’s never a conclusive explanation about the exact cause of his death.  Nevertheless, sources close to the late said Kwaje had recurring problems with his leg. They said he collapsed one day in his office in Juba, about a month ago, and lost consciousness.

He was then flown to a hospital in Nairobi, where he was placed in an intensive care. He reportedly briefly gained consciousness before he closed his eyes forever. Death had robbed the south of one of its most talented sons.

Ironically, he died a day after Martyrs’ Day and five months before the referendum in January.

He is survived by two wives, two daughters, and a son, and maybe a few more, but fewer than 12, according to Laki.  

Gombu said Dr. Kwaje believed that the south would be better left to its own devices than being lumped together with the north, again.

He said Kwaje said the south would be able to make it successfully on its own.  

Laki said he was “traumatized” when he heard of the sudden death of Dr. Kwaje. It reminded him of Garang’s premature departure in 2005, three weeks after signing the CPA.

“It hit me exactly like when we lost Dr. John Garang,” he said. Briefly, he felt like asking, “Do we really have a sense of direction?”   

The ball is now on the court of President Salva to appoint the late Dr. Samson Lukare Kwaje’s successor.

To Laki and to many southerners, however, the late Kwaje’s shoes are simply too big to fill. “I don’t think you can replace people like him easily,” he said.