The Anyanya Liberation Priest of New Sudan: Father Sartunino Ohure Hilangi

Potrait of Fr. Sartunino Ohure killed in Kitgum Uganda in 1967

By Muko Ochanda

Little is ever spoken of Fr. Sartunino Ohure’s (Lohure in Lotuko pronunciation or other texts) contribution in the struggle of Independent South Sudan. In the history of South Sudan’s struggle against the oppressive North Sudan, Fr. Ohure was amongst other heroes such as Joseph Lagu, Ferdinand Adiang, William Deng, Joseph Oduho, Alexis Bakumba and Ali Gbattala. Several people of South Sudan consider these to be the Fathers of the present country “New Sudan.”

As early as 1955, these leaders felt that it was impossible to coexist with the north. Separation or secession was was beginning to be seriously favored by these pioneer African leaders. Following the brutal executions of more than hundred South Sudanese soldiers and other atrocities on the citizens, these group of leaders led an army mutiny in Torit in 1955.

Father Ohure is considered to be the first Catholic Priest of the Lotuho born in 1921. He was baptized in 1931. He joined the Gulu seminary in 1938 and was ordained a priest in 21st December 1946. After his ordination he was posted to the Lirya Mission where he served until 1955. At this time a new vicariate  of Rumbek under Bishop Iraneous Dud had been created and hence several Sudanese priests were transferred to it.

welcoming the remains of hero back to the native soil

As a young priest Ohure was very conscious of the oppression suffered by his people which also deeply disturbed him. He was among the few most educated people of his time amongst the members of his community. Most of the time while he was carrying his ecclesiastic duties, he was torn between joining in the active involvement of the people’s struggle which was very dangerous or to embrace the serenity of quiet accompaniment as a pastor.   As the dissatisfaction with and resistance to unjust treatment from the North grew stronger in the South, he decided to put his  talents at the service of his people by offering political and intellectual leadership to the resistance movement. Recognizing the unique circumstances of the situation, the Vatican gave Fr. Ohure permission to undertake  this precious and important mission.  He hence continued his new role as a priest.

In order to foster meaningful dialogue with the North he decided to join the politics in 1955. Sooner later he became a leader of the of Southern Mps in the Constituent Assembly. This assembly was dissolved by the military government in 1958 November. With this dissolution Fr. Ohure retired to Yei and Porkele. In 1961 he received romours of his eminent arrest by the military government. He and other ex-parliamentarians    (Ferdinand Adiang, William Deng, Joseph Oduho, Alexis Bakumba, Aggrey Jaden and Ali Gbattala) escaped to Uganda. While in Uganda Fr. Ohure and his companions continued with their political activities. Ohure on his part also undertook to assist the suffering refugees by giving them counseling, spiritual companionship and encouragement. He thus became an important presence amongst the suffering refugees.

final procession for the hero of Torit

Three years of exile enabled Fr. Ohure and companions to assemble a formidable movement which led to the creation of Anyanya I. Father Ohure is considered to be the main architect and force behind the Anyanya movement. The core mission of Anyanya was the liberation of South Sudan which had already started with a mutiny earlier on in 1955 in Torit. Later in 1962, Ohure and companions formed the  Sudan African Closed Districts National Union (SACDNU) which later changed its name to Sudanese African National Union (SANU).  In 1963 the party petitioned the UN seeking autonomy for the South. In the same year it changed its name to SANU. The first officials of SANU included Joseph Oduho as the chairman, Marko Rume as the Deputy chairman, Willian Deng Nhial as the Secretary, Aggrey Jaden as the deputy secretary, Pancrasio Ochieng as the Treasurer, Valerio Oregat as Deputy Treasurer. Father Sartunino Ohure was considered a founding member alongside Ferdnand Adiang, James Wek Athian, Akuot Ayem de Mayen, Alexis Mbali Yangu, Phillip Padok Leith, Chief Basia Rensi and Nathaniel Oyet.

SANU played and continues to play a very important role for the liberation of South Sudan to this date.   At the Round Table Conference of 1965, that was supposed to solve the conflict in the South, SANU called for the right of self-determination for the South. The SANU figures are said to have been the mentors of Dr. John Garang Mabior who was later to become the founder of the SPLM/A.

In the elections of 1967 SANU won ten parliamentary seats, mainly in Bahr El Ghazal. SANU supported the peace agreement of Addis Ababa, which ended the first civil war in 1972 and granted autonomy to the South. Politicians of SANU – which was officially dissolved under the one-party rule set up in 1969 – entered into various government positions.  In 2005 SANU along with other Southern parties endorsed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended the second civil war.  In November 2008 it signed the resolutions of the “Dialogue between SPLM and Southern Political Parties” that aims at closer cooperation between the SPLM-dominated Government of South Sudan (GOSS) and its opposition. SANU has supported the SPLM on various issues, especially regarding the implementation of the CPA. However, it is a more outspoken promoter of Unity in Diversity and of Federalism. Now that the government of New Sudan is born, the contributions of SANU in promoting liberation and democracy cannot be over emphasized. Thanks to Fr. Ohure and companions.

As can be seen the contributions of Fr. Ohure in the New Sudan political space have relevance to this day. He was said to have been extremely intelligent and articulate. Accordingly the missionaries who knew him well, found him to have been true to his call. Despite the heavy cross of working to liberate his people, he is remembered for having celebrated mass devoutly on a daily basis. He is known to have overlooked his personal pains and gone to great lengths to encourage the suffering and share with them the love of God.

Despite his kindness and his good works his life was threatened in Uganda too. He was given a warning on this in early 1967 but it was too late to escape. While on a mission to minister to the refugees he was killed by a Ugandan soldier near Kitgum on January 22nd 1967. He was burried in Kitgum, Uganda. In order to honour their patron in Torit, the large square in front of the government secretariat was named in honor of Fr. Ohure. After forty five years in 2009, January the SPLM government of Eastern Equatoria and the Church exhumed the remains of Fr. Ohure from Kitgum in uganda and transported it to Torit. A monument was also constructed to house his remains.

The memorial mass of Fr. Ohure was celebrated by Bishop Akio Johnson Mutek of Torit. A large number of people including clergy, religious, local and regional leaders turned out to witness the home coming of the remains of the liberation hero back to his native soil. The “welcome ceremony” was full of life, color, dance and energy. Most of the songs were from Lutuko.  At the end of the mass Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu knelt before the congregation and asked for forgiveness because of the fact that Fr. Ohure had been killed in Uganda underscoring spiritual and cultural unity existing between the people of both dioceses. This was so moving and a section of the congregation shed tears. Archbishop Odama taught the congregation a practical lesson on humility and reconciliation.  Bishop Akio thanked Archbishop Odama for the kindness extended to Sudanese refugees over the years especially during the war. The church has always been a great companion of people during their moments of suffering.

a casket with the remains of Fr. Ohure

In concluding, we ask ourselves.. WHO WAS FR. OHURE??  The simple answer is the Anyanya Priest. A man who understood the true call to stand up for the physical and spiritual welfare of the poor and oppressed. He did not observe the suffering of his people from a distance or from the safety of the pulpit and and the alter but joined in the struggle as pastor, politician, rebel soldier, healer, leader and social worker.  He did everything for the greater Glory of God and for the least of his brothers and sisters.  Most writers find that Fr. Ohure was a distinguished priest, and an unselfish, prudent, and courageous leader. The Anyanya Priest will always be a great role model to the gonerations of young Africans both religious and lay.


Sudan African National Union Here

Oduho History Blog Here

Fr. Sartunino Ohure Here

William Deng Nhial here

Politics of two Sudans here

Joseph Lagu speaks here

Racism and Public policy in Afro Arab Borderlands (P16) Here


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. William Omondi
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 08:10:35

    Greetings of Peace and Freedom.
    I have read your document and hereby say that it is so edifying on the travail that the entire Southern Sudanese People have undergone. It also brings forth a new dimension to the assumption that the liberation struggle in Sudan has been a preserve of the Dinka and the Nuer per se. In most cases, the Equitorians have portrayed as collaborators and sellouts by the S.P.L.M/A propaganda mouthpiece.

    That needs to be an eye opener to the leadership of the S.P.L.M/A that they need to mainstream the policy of inclusiveness of all in their governance. Otherwise, exclusion may propagate tension and God forbid, reincarnation of another Lohure and thereby another liberation struggle. It is sad that Amu/uncle Oduho was killed by the S.P.L.M/A. Where do we place Joseph Lagu in your piece? He was also very instrumental during the establishment of the Anyanya at Owing Ki Bul. Then it would also be important to mention the meaning of the term/word Anyanya. In his
    publication Shaping a Free Southern Sudan, Fuli Boki Tombe, writes that Anyanya denotes snake poison. Thanks Rich for the enriching piece.
    Warm Regards.



  2. tom alberto emidio tafeng
    Jan 09, 2013 @ 17:18:27

    Any way all the hero of anynya were mention since 1963 -1969 ,who was the their leader , some say ohure and oduho,and some say ali guatalaand other say william where is EMIDIO TAFENG LODONGI you equatoria do u know only ohure but you forget the first leader great thank am tom alberto



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