John Garang de Mabior (June 23, 1945 – July 30, 2005) was a Sudanese politician and rebel 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 January 2005 until he died in a July 2005 helicopter crash.
A member of the Dinka ethnic group, Garang was born into a poor family in Wangulei village in Twic East County. He is from Dinka or Jieng Twic or Tuic [East]) (Reference sources for additional Dinka or Jieng sub-tribes: ), Sudan, in the upper Nile region of Sudan (currently Jonglei State). 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 B.A. 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 studyEast 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. 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.
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 atFort Benning, Georgia. During this period he took four years academic leave and received a master’s degree in agricultural economics and aPh.D. 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 4 years and later he nominated to serve in the military researchs department in the Army HQ in khartoum.
In 1983, Garang went to Bor, ostensibly to mediate with about 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 Bor in May and the battalion pulled out, Garang went 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. 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.
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 on 9 January 2005 in Nairobi, Kenya. On 9 July 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.”
As a leader, John Garangs’ 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”.. Under his leadership, the SPLA was accused of human rights abuses.
The ideological profile of SPLA was as shadowy as Mr Garang himself. He varied from Marxism to drawing support from Christian fundamentalists in the US.
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”.
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 PresidentYoweri 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. To this day nobody knows with whom Garang had met. 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. Actually, it was Yasir Arman, the SPLA/M spokesman who told the government that Garang plane had landed safely. His intention was to save time for internal arrangements in SPLA before Garang’s death was known. Garang’s plane crashed on a Friday and so remained missing for the following Saturday. During this time the government believed he was in Southern Sudan. 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.”  His body was flown to New Site, 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. 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.”
Questions about death
Both the Sudanese government and the head of the SPLA blamed the weather for the accident. There are, however, doubts as to the truth of this, especially amongst the rank-and-file of the SPLA. Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan president, claims that the possibility of “external factors” having played a role could not be eliminated.
Effect on peace
Because Garang was 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 youths from southern Sudan attacked northern Sudanese and clashed with security forces. After three days of violence, the death toll had risen to 84 . 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.