Peter Gatkuoth was a notable figure in South Sudan who gained prominence as a politician and economist. Born in 1938 in Akobo, Upper Nile in South Sudan, Gatkuoth graduated from Rumbek Secondary School and obtained a degree in Economics from the University of Khartoum in 1964. After completing his studies, he worked at the Bank of Sudan in Khartoum while participating in politics by joining the political party, Southern Front. By 1969, he was the advisor on economic planning for the Ministry of Southern Affairs in the government of President Gafaar Nimeiri. When the Southern politician, Abel Alier was appointed as Vice-President of Sudan, Gatkuoth became the Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Southern Affairs in Khartoum.
When the Ugandan President, Milton Obote was in power, he was supporting the Sudan government in their fight against the Anya-Nya guerilla movement in Southern Sudan. When Pres. Obote was overthrown by Idi Amin in 1971, Pres. Amin’s stance towards Southerners was more sympathetic which did not sit well with the Sudan government. In June 1971, at the Organization of African Unity (OAU, present day African Union) ministerial meeting, the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Faruq Abu ‘Isa accused Pres. Amin of engaging in verbal attacks against the Sudan government by comparing the situation in Southern Sudan with events unfolding in South Africa. Minister Faruq added that Pres. Amin was blatantly interfering in the internal affairs of Sudan. Uganda responded by accusing the Sudan government of providing assistance to the deposed leader, Pres. Obote who now resided in Sudan. A few months later, on December 15, 1971, serious fighting took place inside Uganda between the Sudanese forces and Anya-Nya guerilla movement. The Ugandan military spokesperson issued a grave warning to the Sudan government that if they did not withdraw from Uganda’s territory by the following morning, maximum force will be used by the Ugandan military to repel the Sudanese forces. The following day, Pres. Amin announced the Sudanese forces had withdrawn and left Uganda. He then invited to Uganda a delegation from the Sudan government to talk over the situation.
On January 26, 1972, Gatkuoth who was now the Minister and Advisor to the Ministry of Southern Affairs in Khartoum led a delegation of Sudanese leaders to Uganda. At the meeting, Pres. Amin informed Gatkuoth that Uganda hoped to achieve a cooperative relationship and sustained peace between the two countries since it was the only means to achieve stability in the region. He also told Gatkuoth to warn Sudanese refugees not to engage in fighting inside Uganda. That same year, Gatkuoth was among the Southern delegates who participated in the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement in Ethiopia. After the Southern region became semi-autonomous, he became the Director General of Special Fund for the Repatriation Commission. He successfully solicited funds from the International community which led to the resettlement of more than a quarter million Southern Sudanese. In 1973, Gatkuoth became the commissioner of Upper Nile and later became the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning in Juba. After being appointed by Gen. Joseph Lagu as the Vice President of High Executive Council (HEC) in Juba, he rose to prominence and replaced Gen. Lagu as President of HEC. A position he held from July 12, 1979 to May 30, 1980.
In February 1980, Pres. Nimeiri held new elections in the Southern region with Gatkuoth overseeing it. The result of the elections saw Abel Alier gain the seat of President of the HEC for the second time. Gatkuoth once more became the vice president of the HEC and Minister of Finance and Economic Planning in the Southern region. In this capacity, Gatkuoth identified schemes that could boost the economy in the South such as the Aweil rice scheme and Nzara scheme as well as the Malut and Mongalla sugar factories. The lack of financial backing from Khartoum halted the implementation of the projects.
In 1982, the University of Juba awarded Gatkuoth an honorary PhD for the important politicl role he played in the country. Three years later, he was appointed as Minister of Transport and Communication in Khartoum and was a founding member of the Southern Sudan Political Association (SSPA). The SSPA advocated for the separation of religious practices from state affairs. They also denounced Sharia law which infringed on the rights of Southerners and those with different religious views.
The 1989 military coup by Col. Omar Hassan al-Bashir led to Dr. Gatkuoth being held in Kober prison in Khartoum for a year. After being released from prison in 1990, Dr. Gatkuoth’s health began to deteriorate; he had a stroke which was followed by a brain hemorrhage. On January 28, 1992, Dr. Gatkuoth passed away. The legacy Dr. Gatkuoth left behind calls on all South Sudanese to become nationalistic and place the interest of the country and its people at the forefront.
~Mangar Gordon Amerdit