Silva Kiir serves as both Vice President of the intact country of Sudan and as Semi-Autonomous President of Southern Sudan. He was born in 1951 in the state of Bahr el Ghazal in the south, of the Dinka tribe, is a Roman Catholic, and a member of the political party, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
As a teen he became part of the Anya Nya rebel group and participated in Sudan’s first civil war that broke out in the late 1960s. Israel trained the Anya Nya recruits and shipped weapons through Ethiopia and Uganda to the rebels. The group also purchased weapons from the Congolese rebels. After a half million people had died, the Addis Ababa Accords were signed in 1972, guaranteeing autonomy for the southern region. Kiir was a low-ranking officer at this time.
The civil war resumed in 1983 when President Nimeiri imposed Shari’a law on the South. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), as well as the SPLM, was formed by Dr. John Garang at this time. Lieutenant Colonel Garang of Sudan’s army had been sent to put down a mutiny in Bor—his home region—where 500 southern troops were resisting orders to be rotated to the North. Instead of ending the mutiny, he encouraged them, as well as other garrisons, and set himself up as their head against the Khartoum government.
With little military experience himself, Garang depended on the experienced Anya Nya veterans, including Kiir, to actually carry out the ground war. Kiir eventually became Garang’s Chief of Staff and later rose to head the SPLA’s military wing. Throughout his career, Garang favored unity with the north, but Kiir believed independence of the South was the only solution. The North supplied arms and support to break-off factions of the SPLA (especially Riek Machar’s South Sudan Independence Movement) with a “divide and conquer” strategy. Two million people died and four million were displaced before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in January 2005.
John Garang was sworn in as First Vice President of Sudan, to serve under his arch-enemy President Al-Bashir, on July 9, 2005, becoming the first southerner and Christian to hold such a high office in Sudan. Three weeks later his helicopter crashed—under suspicious circumstances—as he was returning from a brief trip to Uganda. Salva Kiir then became First Vice President in his place—the second southerner and Christian to hold the office.
Kiir is popular among the military wing of the SPLM for his battlefield victories and among the populace for his unambiguous pro-secession stance. In advance of the recent Referendum—in which 98% percent voted for independence—Kiir referred to the choice as between “being second class in your own country or a free person in your independent state.”
In the 2010 elections, Kiir was re-elected with 93% of the vote as semi-autonomous President of the South. This is a five-year term, which he plans to hold beyond the July 9 date for the South to assume total autonomy.
Watch for the next post, telling of Kiir’s ideas in forming the new Republic of South Sudan.