General Anthony Bol Madut, the former governor of Warrap who died in 2019 while undergoing medical treatment in Egypt, was one of the SPLA officers during its early days- from 1984.
I first saw Bol Madut in person in June 1984.
I was accompanying the SPLM/A leader, John Garang, when he went to Bonga, an Anyuak village turned to a military forward base and training centre for the SPLA. Garang was going to launch the first officer course, which was dubbed Shield One. The intake included fresh civilians, officers called from the war front and officers from Anya Two Bahr el Ghazal. Bol Madut was a brigadier. Whatever rank the commissioned or self-declared officers held, had to go. Everyone had to start without a rank; they had to wait until the end of the training, after which they would receive a new commission. (Among the former civilians on the batch were Alfred Lado Gore, Dr Akech Khoch Achieu and Riek Machar. This writer was in the list but was pulled out as he was organising the launch of Radio SPLA, which went on air for the first time on October 12, 1984. His training was deferred to Shield Three, and commissioned 1st lt, when cadets of Shield One holding master degrees like him were commissioned majors!).
The temporary suspension of ranks was silently not welcomed by some among those affected, Bol included.
After graduation, Bol Madut, now a captain became deputy to Major Ngachigak Nyachiluk, then a promising young officer with military and political leadership qualities.
As commander and deputy commander respectively, the two led Agreb (Arabic for scorpion) Battalion to capture the strategically important government garrison at Boma Plateau, which enjoys natural defence.
The occupation was a resounding victory for the SPLA; it meant that the rebel army was now to be taken seriously. With the government garrison out the way, Boma opened a gateway to Equatoria, rural Bor and ultimately opened the route to Bahr el Ghazal, Abyei and Nuba Mountains.
The fall of Boma to the SPLA could have been one of the reasons Koka Dam meeting between the SPLM/A and the political forces in Sudan would conduct a dialogue with the rebels about a year and a half later. (More about the importance of Boma and role of Bol Madut later).
When Major Ngachigak Nyachiluk, now a junior member of Political Military Command, was assigned to command forces in Kapoeta campaign, where unfortunately he died in battle, Captain, later Commander Anthony Bol Madut took charge of the forces.
Promoted to the rank of major, Bol Madut returned to Boma as its commander for years. While there he earned a reputation for intercepting SPLA soldiers on their ways to Southern Sudan or to refugee camps inside Ethiopia. There was a lot of grumbles against him on that account.
When I was on my way from Torit to Ethiopia after my recall after two years as secretary of SRRA from March 1989-March 1991- Kongor, Bor and Torit, respectively, Commander Anthony Bol Madut me and my family an exceptionally warm welcome that included an offer of an oz for food, in the traditional African honour to an important guest, which I politely turned down in preference for a ram. The sign of respect was to assign my family and me (there were many other senior SPLA officers in transit at the base at the time) to stay at the guesthouse, which was exclusively for the SPLA Commander in Chief, and who was not present at Boma then.
When my family and tried to move into the huge compound, the NCO in charge told me we were not allowed in and that those were his “orders”. When some soldiers informed the guard that I was a captain he responded “Whatever rank he is, he cannot get into the Chairman’s house only on my dead body”.
On hearing such a rude statement a bodyguard assigned to me ran to Commander Anthony Bol Madut, who immediately rushed to the scene to resolve the problem.
On arrival the NCO repeated his objection. Bol ordered him to allow my family and me into the guesthouse, but the guard stood firm: it was still no!
Bol backed down. He took my family and me to another accommodation within the garrison.
To say I was surprised by the turn of events- open insubordination- would be an understatement.
We left Boma for Ethiopia by vehicles the following.
Within a week from my return from the liberated areas I met Dr John Garang at his residence in Addis Ababa.
During the long chat, I raised the matter of SPLA soldiers being detained in Boma. Garang listened attentively before it was his turn.
“Where is Agreb?” he asked.
I replied “There is no force as Agreb that captured Boma”.
“So where do think Commander Bol Madut will get forces to defend this important base?”
Garang was right. Even after the fall to Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) of all the garrisons controlled by the SPLA following the rebellion of Commander Riek Machar in 1991, Boma to the east and Nimule to South were the only towns that remained under the severely weakened SPLM/A. It was after the SPLA took the initiative to reverse its losses in 1994 that the war ended in a stalemate.
A couple of months later, someone told me the secret- his apparent acceptance of being disobeyed by a junior. My colleague explained to me that Bol Madut and John Garang were great friends. The NCO, said my friend, represented Garang, and therefore taking disciplinary action against him would amount- in Bol Madut’s thinking- to disrespecting the Commander in Chief.
I chose be sceptical, but strange enough that rationale was what I received from several people who knew the strong bonds obtaining between John Garang and Bol Madut.
A few months after this incident I was among the SPLA captains who were promoted to the rank of alternate commander.
The first message of congratulating me was from Commander Anthony Bol Madut. He said he was pleased that at long last I got what he said I rightly deserved for my role in designing and the delivery of the message of Radio SPLA. “The leadership has recognised your contribution”, Bol concluded.
When some of my colleagues read his message, they confirmed the general view that Bol Madut was a difficult person, but that there were people he liked. And that I was among those lucky few.
I still wonder to this day why.