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John Garang, the dark skinned, stout and grey bearded strong man of the Sudan People Liberation Movement is no more. John Garang De Mabior became vice president only three weeks ago following a peace deal that ended 21 years of civil war between north and south Sudan.

He was charismatic, and his uniting ability brought the people of southern Sudanese together in the struggle for freedom from Islamic oppression. He was articulate, and his mastery of the English language enhanced his eloquence and composure, especially during interviews on BBC or CNN.

Garang, 60, had a firm control of the 60000-strong Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) until his death in a helicopter crash in southern Sudan at the weekend.
He was a pan-African revolutionary who fought not only for the Southern Sudanese rights, but the liberty of other Africans as well.
The SPLA/M and the Bashir government signed a comprehensive, lengthily negotiated peace deal in January this year, bringing to an end 21 years civil war. One of the provisions was giving the SPLM the post of first vice president, a seat that Garang had just climbed three weeks before his death. He died a freedom fighter and pan-Africanist.

In the 1960s, he was a member of the University Students' African Revolutionary Front (USARF), a grouping of black African students campaigning against colonialism.
The association was strong at Dar-es-Salaam, where President Yoweri Museveni met Garang. According to Museveni's book Sowing the Mustard Seed, Garang "who came in 1968 to do some post-graduate work, was also a very active member.
He was always telling us about their problems in Southern Sudan. At that time, he was a junior member of the Anyanya...," writes Museveni, a great friend of Garang.

Garang was part of the Anyanya (stinking poison) movement, an earlier struggle for southern Sudanese autonomy. The Anyanya fought the Islamist Sudanese government until 1972, when a peace deal was reached. That deal fell apart in 1983, from whence, the SPLA/M, a more protracted struggle, sprung up. Garang eventually became its natural leader.

After the 1972 peace deal, Garang joined the Sudanese army and received training in the United States. He gained an economics doctorate, after which President Jaafar Nimeiri promoted him to colonel in 1982. But he turned against Nimeiri a year later when he (Nimeiri) tried to impose sharia law on the southern community.
Garang led both the political and military wings of the SPLA/M struggle, which has cost over two million lives, mainly through famine and diseases.

"He was an adept politician who allied himself with communists, courted U.S. Christian groups and juggled tribal rivalries to hold power even when infighting threatened his grip on the SPLA," writes a Reuters analyst.
"Garang was the gel who holds everything together. He had the vision that no one else had. There is nobody who can match him," observes Dan Eiffe, a senior aid worker with long experience in Sudan.

He led the SPLA through a powerful personality. He was determined to give the mainly Christian and animist south and equal voice in Africa's largest country. Others say his genial demeanour and academic credentials masked opportunism and ruthless treatment of potential rivals.

Some critics blame Garang, the SPLM president, for keeping most of the power to himself, instead of delegating some authority to his deputies. "Garang had been trying to hog all the decision-making 8 SPLM have been asking for more transparency and accountability. Everything was being run out of Garang's back pocket - now is the opportune time to have a system to replace one person that dominated," Jamera Rone, Africa Researcher for Human Rights Watch, says in a Reuters interview.

A few days before his death, Garang had named SPLM deputy chairman, Salva Kiir Mayardit as vice-president of the government of south Sudan. Mayardit, a Dinka from Bahr el Ghazal, had in the past clashed with Garang, a Dinka from Bor, prompting a split in SPLA/M.

"We want to assure everyone that the leadership and all cadres of the SPLA/M will remain united and strive to faithfully implement the comprehensive peace agreement," Mayardit told Reuters. It is unpredictable what will happen after the departure of Garang. Whereas some people think it might open the door for new blood to take over from the Garang legacy, others fear it might plunge Southern Sudan into a new phase of conflict, and even jeopardise the pacification of northern Uganda.

Garang was a close friend of Uganda. It is this good relationship, which has encouraged an influx of Southern Sudanese to northern Uganda towns, West Nile and in Kampala where the Sudanese community has grown.
Five years ago, President Yoweri Museveni hosted Garang and Sudanese President, Omar el Bashir to a reconciliatory meeting in Kampala. It was lovely seeing Museveni, Garang and Bashir smiling, shaking hands and toasting for peace. Uganda, certainly, was the second home of Garang, who used to spend days or weeks in Kampala. That explains why Bashir often accused Kampala of backing SPLA. And Uganda, in turn, spat back at Khartoum for giving arms support and sanctuary to Kony.

Lately, peace was beginning to flicker on the horizon of the north, thanks largely to improved relations between Kampala and Khartoum. But most of all, Garang's SPLA, which controls most of Southern Sudan, had given a huge positive dose to the quest for peace in northern Uganda.

He was partly responsible for allowing the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) to hunt for LRA rebels inside Sudan since 2002. And he has visited Uganda on a number of occasions, the day he died. He had just met Museveni and discussed the war in northern Uganda.

Garang, who was economist, politician and soldier, once asserted: "I have got a war to win."
Certainly he won the war on the battlefield and political platform. But unfortunately he could not win the war against death, which came just at a time when, as vice president of Sudan, he should be enjoying the fruits of his long struggle. What an irony of life!


Born June 23, 1945
Married to Rebecca Nyandeng, and had three children.
1964: Magamba Senior Secondary School, Lushoto, Tanzania
1969: Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa, USA
1969-70: Research Associate, Dept of Economics & Rural Economy, University of Dar-es-Salaam
1970: Rejoined Anyanya I struggle for freedom of Southern Sudanese.
1972: Joined Sudanese Armed Forces and became a Captain.
1972-73: Adjutant, Upper Nile Province
1973-74: Adjutant, Bahr el Ghazal Province
1974: Operations Officer, Torit Garrison, East Equatorial Province
1974-75: (Infantry Officer Diploma) at Military Academy, USA.
1975: Instructor, Infantry Platoon and Company tactics, Sudan Military College
1976-77: Commander, 105th Infantry Battalion, Bor
1977-82: Iowa State University of Science and Technology, Ames, Iowa
1982-83: Economic Advisor to Military Agricultural Corporation, Sudan Army Economic Institution. The same year he was also deputy director of Military Research Branch, Sudan Army General Headquarters, Khartoum
1982-83: Lecturer, Dept of Rural Economy, University of Khartoum.
1983: Founded Sudan People's Liberation Army
July 9, 2005: Sworn in as Sudan's first vice president as part of a peace deal signed between the SPLA and the government in January this year.
July 30, 2005: Dies in a helicopter crash.


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