Dr. John Garang

President of Southern Sudan

In office: July 9, 2005 – July 30, 2005

President: Omar al-Bashir
Preceded by: Ali Osman Taha
Succeeded by: Salva Kiir

Vacant until August 11, 2005
Born: June 23, 1945
Sub-tribe: Dinka Twic East, Jonglei, South Sudan (then Sudan)
Died: July 30, 2005(2005-07-30) (aged 60)
New Cush, South Sudan (then Sudan)
Political Party: SPLM
Spouse: Rebecca Nyandeng Chol
Alma mater:
Grinnell College
University of Dar es Salaam
Iowa State University

John Garang de Mabior (June 23, 1945 – July 30, 2005) was a Sudanese politician and leader. From 1983 to 2005, he led the Sudan People's Liberation Army during the Second Sudanese Civil War, and following a peace agreement he briefly served as First Vice President of Sudan from July 9, 2005 until his death in a helicopter crash on July 30, 2005.

Early years

A member of the Dinka ethnic group, Garang was born into a poor family in Wangulei village in Twic East County/Eastern Twi Dinka of Jonglei State, the Greater Upper Nile region of South Sudan. An orphan by the age of ten, he 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 Bachelor of Arts degree in economics in 1969 from Grinnell College in Iowa, USA. He was known there for his bookishness. He was offered another scholarship to pursue graduate studies at the University of California, 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 (UDSM). At UDSM, he was a member of the University Students' African Revolutionary Front. However, Garang soon decided to return to Sudan and join the rebels.[citation needed]. There is much erroneous reporting that Garang met and befriended Yoweri Museveni, future president of Uganda, at this time; while both Garang and Museveni were students at UDSM in the 1960s, they did not attend at the same time.[1] In 1970, Garang was among one of the batches of Gordon Muortat Mayen's soldiers, the then leader of the Anyanya liberation movement, sent to Israel for military training.

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, USA. During this period he took four years academic leave and received a master's degree in agricultural economics and a PhD from Iowa State University after writing a thesis on the agricultural development of Southern Sudan. By 1983, Col. Garang was serving as senior instructor in the military academy in Wadi Sayedna 21 km from the centre of Omdurman where he instructed the cadets for more than four years. Later he was nominated to serve in the military research department at Army HQ in Khartoum.

Rebel leader

In 1983, Garang went to Mading [currently Bortown], ostensibly to pacify 500 southern government soldiers in battalion 105 who were resisting being rotated to posts in the north. However, Garang was already part of a conspiracy among some officers in the Southern Command arranging for the defection of battalion 105 to the anti-government rebels. When the government attacked Mading in May and the battalion pulled out, Garang rode by an alternate route to join them in the rebel stronghold in Ethiopia. By the end of July, Garang had brought over 3000 rebel soldiers under his control through the newly created Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), 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.[2] This action marked the commonly agreed upon 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.

Garang had been fighting for a "New Sudan" since 1983. He was a strong advocate for national unity: minorities together formed a majority and therefore should rule. Together, Garang believed, they could replace President Omar al-Bashir with a government made up of representatives from “all tribes and religions in Sudan." His first real effort for the cause, under his command, occurred in July 1985 with the SPLA’s incursion into Kordofan.[3]
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 came 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.[3]

In the spring of 1991, Mengistu Haile Mariam's regime (in Ethiopia) was overthrown by the Khartoum backed Ethiopian rebels (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front). Upon the rebels’ seizure of the government they closed all SPLA training camps in Ethiopia and cut off the SPLA's arms supply, forcing the SPLA to return hundreds of thousands of Sudanese back to South Sudan. This disrupted military operations and leadership within the SPLA. However, this caused the West to reconsider relations with the SPLA – justifying their providing the SPLA with "non-lethal help."[4]
Shortly after, there was an attempted coup to oust Garang by senior SPLA commanders, Riek Machar and Lam Akol, in August 1991. The coup turned out to be premature – however, it did expose the deep ethnic divides within the SPLA. The Southern Sudanese communities became more divided than ever before in their history. These organic divides among the Southern Sudanese communities were exacerbated by the deliberate "divide and rule" policies instituted by the regimes in Khartoum, in order to maintain their power over the Southern Sudanese peoples.

Garang in a crowd of supporters

Garang refused to participate in the 1985 interim government or the 1986 elections, remaining a rebel leader. However, the SPLA and government signed a peace agreement on January 9, 2005 in Nairobi, in Kenya. On July 9, 2005, he was sworn in as the First-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. Simultaneously, he became the premier in the southern Sudan. This administration had limited autonomy for six years, at the end of which there would be a scheduled referendum regarding secession. No Christian or southerner had ever held such a high government post. Commenting after this 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."

In the Hillcrest Hotel in Nairobi on New Year's Day 2003 there was a meeting between the SPLA and the Fur people. Garang asked two associates of Abdul Wahid al Nur (who later formed the Sudan Liberation Movement) to declare that the Fur people were with the SPLA – they refused.[4]
Over 15 months, starting in September 2003, Ali Osman and Garang met in private in Naivasha. Their secret meetings and negotiations lasted up until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was initialled on New Year's Eve 2004.[4]
The CPA appeared to embody the vision of the "New Sudan" that Garang wanted. Within the CPA, power was split between the National Congress Party and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement for six years, until 2010, with Garang as the first vice-president.[4]

As a leader, John Garang's democratic credentials were often questioned. For example, according to Gill Lusk, "John Garang did not tolerate dissent and anyone who disagreed with him was either imprisoned or killed".[5] Under his leadership, the SPLA was accused of human rights abuses.[5]
The ideological profile of SPLA was as shadowy as Garang himself. He varied from Marxism to drawing support from Christian fundamentalists in the US.[5]
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".[6]


In late July 2005, Garang died after the Ugandan presidential Mi-172 helicopter he was flying in crashed. He had been returning from a meeting in Rwakitura with long-time ally President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. He did not tell the Sudanese government that he was going to this meeting and so did not take the presidential plane. In fact Garang had said he was going to spend the weekend in New Cush, a small village near the Kenyan borders founded by Garang himself. To this day neither the identity of any other participants at the meeting, nor its purpose, are known.

After being missing for more than 24 hours, the Ugandan president notified the Sudanese government, which in turn contacted the SPLM for information. The SPLM responded that the helicopter Garang was taking had landed safely on an old SPLA training camp. The Sudanese state television duly reported this. A few hours later, Abdel Basset Sabdarat, Sudan's Information Minister, then appeared on TV to refute the earlier report that Garang's helicopter landed safely. It was in fact Yasir Arman, the SPLA/M spokesperson, who had told the government that Garang's plane had landed safely and his intention, in doing so, was to buy time for internal succession arrangements within the SPLA, before Garang's death was to be declared. Garang's plane crashed on the Friday and he remained 'missing' throughout Saturday. During this time, the government believed he was still resolving his affairs in Southern Sudan. Finally, a statement released by the office of the Sudanese President, Omar el-Bashir, confirmed that the Ugandan presidential helicopter had 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".[7]

Grave of John Garang in Juba, South Sudan - guarded by SPLA-soldiers

His body was flown to New Cush, a southern Sudanese settlement near the scene of the crash, where former rebel fighters and civilian supporters gathered to pay their respects to Garang. Garang's funeral took place on August 3 in Juba.[8] His widow Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior promised to continue his work stating: In our culture we say "if you kill the lion, you see what the lioness will do".[9]


Both the Sudanese government and the head of the SPLA blamed the weather for the accident. There are, however, doubts as to whether this was the true cause, especially among the rank and file of the SPLA. Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan President, stated that the possibility of "external factors" having played a role could not be eliminated.[citation needed]
The SPLM/SPLA Rumbek crisis, which took place in Rumbek from November 29 to December 1, 2004; one month before the signing of the CPA is also believed to have been a factor relevant to Dr. John Garang's death.
While the Sudanese people followed the Naivasha peace talks closely, with high hopes of freedom and democratic transformation, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) was rife with rumors and accusations of conspiracy relating to the removal of SPLM deputy Chairman, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and his replacement with the young Nhial Deng Nhial. Nhial Deng Nhial was the son of the famous leader of the southern Sudanese, William Deng Nhial, who had been assassinated by the Sudanese army in 1968. William Deng Nhial had led the Sudan African National Union (SANU) in exile, but had returned to Sudan to take part in the 1968 elections, shortly before he was killed.

Credit: Wikipedia and other sources