John Garang

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John Garang, August 2004
John Garang, August 2004

Dr. John Garang de Mabior (June 23, 1945July 30, 2005) was the vice president of Sudan and former leader of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army. A member of the Dinka ethnic group, he was born into a poor family in Wagkulei village, near Bor in the upper Nile region of Sudan.

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Early years

An orphan by the age of ten, Garang had his fees for school paid by a relative, going to schools in Wau and then Rumbek. In 1962 he joined the first Sudanese civil war, but because he was so young, the leaders encouraged him and others his age to seek an education. Because of the ongoing fighting, Garang was forced to attend his secondary education in Tanzania. After winning a scholarship, he went on to earn a B.A. in economics in 1969 from Grinnell College. He was known there for his bookishness. He was offered another scholarship to pursue graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley, but chose to return to Tanzania and study East African agricultural economics as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow at the University of Dar es Salaam. As a member of the University Students' African Revolutionary Front, a student group at the university, he made the acquaintance of Yoweri Museveni, who would go on to become president of Uganda and a close ally. However, Garang soon decided to return to Sudan and join the rebels.

The civil war ended with the Addis Ababa agreement of 1972 and Garang, like many rebels, was absorbed into the Sudanese military. For eleven years, he was a career soldier and rose from the rank of captain to colonel after taking the Infantry Officers' Advanced Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. During this period he took four years academic leave and received a master's degree in agricultural economics and a Ph.D. in economics at Iowa State University, after writing a thesis on the agricultural development of Southern Sudan.

The rebel leader

In 1983, Dr. Garang was sent to crush a mutiny in Bor by 500 southern government soldiers who were resisting being rotated to posts in the north. Instead, he started a rebel movement, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which was opposed to military rule and Islamic dominance of the country, and encouraged other army garrisons to mutiny against the Islamic law imposed on the country by the government. This mutiny marked the beginning of the Second Sudanese Civil War, which resulted in one and half million deaths over twenty years of conflict. Although Garang was Christian and most of southern Sudan is non-Muslim (mostly animist), he did not initially focus on the religious aspects of the war.

The SPLA gained the backing of Libya, Uganda and Ethiopia. Garang and his army controlled a large part of the southern regions of the country, named New Sudan. He claimed his troops' courage comes from "the conviction that we are fighting a just cause. That is something North Sudan and its people don't have." Critics suggested financial motivations to his rebellion, noting that much of Sudan's oil wealth lies in the south of the country.

Garang refused to participate in the 1985 interim government or 1986 elections, remaining a rebel leader. However, the SPLA and government signed a peace agreement in January 2005. On July 9, 2005, he was sworn in as vice-president, the second most powerful person in the country, following a ceremony in which he and President Omar al-Bashir signed a power-sharing constitution. He also became the administrative head of a southern Sudan with limited autonomy for the six years before a scheduled referendum of possible secession. No Christian or southerner had ever held such a high government post. Commenting after the ceremony, Garang stated, "I congratulate the Sudanese people, this is not my peace or the peace of al-Bashir, it is the peace of the Sudanese people."

The United States State Department argued that Garang's presence in the government would have helped solve the Darfur conflict in western Sudan, but others consider these claims " excessively optimistic".[1]

Death

In late July 2005, Garang died after the Ugandan presidential Mi-172 helicopter he was riding crashed. He had been returning from a meeting in Rwakitura with long-time ally President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Sudanese state television initially reported that Garang's craft had landed safely, but Abdel Basset Sabdarat, the country's Information Minister, went on TV hours later to deny the report. Soon afterwards, a statement released by the office of Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir confirmed that a Ugandan presidential helicopter, crashed into "a mountain range in southern Sudan because of poor visibility and this resulted in the death of Dr. John Garang DeMabior, six of his colleagues and seven Ugandan crew members." [2] His body was flown to New Site, a southern Sudanese settlement near the scene of the crash, where former rebel fighters and civilian supporters have gathered to pay their respects to Garang. Garang's funeral took place on August 3 in Juba [3].

Questions around Death

The Sudanese government and the head of the SPLA both blamed the weather for the accident, there are however doubts, especially among the basis of the SPLA, as to the truth of this. Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan president claims that the possibility of "external factors" having played a role could not be eliminated.

Effect upon Peace

Considered instrumental in ending the civil war, the effect of Garang's death upon the peace deal is uncertain. The government declared three days of national mourning, which did not stop large scale rioting in Khartoum which killed at least 24 as youth from south Sudan attacked Arabs and clashed with security forces. After three days of violence, the death toll had risen to 84[4]. Unrest was also reported in other parts of the country. Leading members of the SPLM, including Garang's successor Salva Kiir Mayardit, stated that the peace process would continue. Analysts suggested that the death could result in anything from a new democratic openness in the SPLA, which some have criticized for being overly dominated by Garang, to an outbreak of open warfare between the various southern factions that Garang had brought together.

References

Aufstand in der Dreistadt by Thomas Schimidinger in Jungle World Nr.32: August 10 2005; ISSN 1613-0766

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