Nora Boustany
Correction to This Article
The Feb. 3 Diplomatic Dispatches column misstated the title of Rebecca Garang, the widow of former Sudanese rebel leader John Garang. She is the minister of roads and transportation in the southern Sudanese government.

A Partner in the Sudanese Struggle Turns Her Sights to Fulfilling Peace

Rebecca Garang, Sudan's transportation minister, is the widow of John Garang, the former rebel who negotiated peace deal.
Rebecca Garang, Sudan's transportation minister, is the widow of John Garang, the former rebel who negotiated peace deal. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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By Nora Boustany
Friday, February 3, 2006

Now that her "lion" is gone, Rebecca Garang will roar from his graveside until his dream of a unified Sudan is truly fulfilled. The wife of John Garang , the longtime Sudanese rebel leader who died in a helicopter crash last summer, has turned her grief into action and made the transition from guerrilla figure to stateswoman.

"I cannot get my husband back," she said, "but I have to hold on to my people."

John Garang, a charismatic and well-known figure, commanded the Sudan People's Liberation Movement during a 21-year civil war between the largely Christian and animist south and the Islamic government in the north. The fighting left 2 million people dead, most through war-induced famine. Millions more were displaced.

A peace accord signed last year ended the war and gave the southern part of the country religious and political autonomy, as well as a share of the national oil wealth. As part of the deal, John Garang was sworn in as Sudan's first vice president, the second-most-powerful post in the government.

Just three weeks later, as he was about to glimpse the rewards of his long fight and tough rounds of negotiations, he was killed.

"The day I buried my husband, I said: 'The lion is dead and we will see what the lioness will do,' " Rebecca Garang said.

She came to Washington this week to remind the world of the continuing difficulties her people face and to seek development aid for the long-neglected region.

"My husband and I were partners in struggle," she told the audience at an overflowing auditorium at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on Wednesday. "We were partners in peace and we were going to be partners in development."

Last summer, she had driven to a small airport in New Site, John Garang's base village in southern Sudan, with a couple of soldiers to meet Garang, said Aluat Atem , a friend of the family's. When he did not show up, she returned to their compound and anxiously told her companions she knew he was never coming back.

That night, she was told that her husband was dead, Atem recalled.

"She cried and cried and said: 'My husband has become a Moses. Where is Joshua, who will be the Joshua to save our people?' "

Rebecca Garang constantly speaks about her husband and tells her staff that he is guiding her. When she goes to a meeting, she says: "I will go with Dr. Garang, he is with me, near me, helping me," Atem said.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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