Reuters: New SPLM Leader, Commander Salva Kiir, Can Unify South – Experts

Posted: May 5, 2015 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in History
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By William Maclean

NAIROBI, Aug 2 (Reuters) The new leader of former southern Sudanese rebels is a natural consensus-builder more skilled at solving political disputes in the oil-exporting south than his often autocratic predecessor John Garang, experts say.

Political cohesion is a critical issue in rebuilding the politically-fractious south following a north-south war in Africa’s largest country, where southern rebels have long demanded the right of self-determination for the south.

The speed with which the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) named Salva Kiir as Garang’s successor confirms his status as a unifying figure in a group composed of tribes prone to commercial rivalries and harassed by pro-Khartoum militias.

“He’s a pragmatic military man, a commander on the ground, who has the personality to bring people together,” said Kenyan diplomat Bethuel Kiplagat.

“He’s a stabilising influence,” said veteran Sudan watcher and aid worker Dan Eiffe. “It’s going to be a different style of leadership. It will be more of a group.”

Kiir, a military man in his 50s, was appointed on Monday after former rebel leader Garang died when a Ugandan helicopter he was travelling in went down in bad weather.

Analysts say Kiir may bring a more collegial style to the SPLM leadership which Garang had long dominated with a widely-resented, centralised style of decision-making much in evidence during his negotiation of a January peace accord.

“The SPLM is likely to be more unified under Salva and the speed with which he was appointed reflects that,” said Horn of Africa expert Alex de Waal.

“Garang was a controversial and not particularly liked figure. Salva is a much more unifying figure.”

“He is the right man for the job. (President Omar Hassan al-) Bashir would be a fool to do anything other than welcome him.”

The SPLM fought a civil war for more autonomy for the largely animist and Christian south for 21 years. Two million people were killed and four million uprooted in the conflict.

NATIONAL POWER

The accords give the SPLM a slice of national power, with Garang becoming Sudan’s First Vice President in a new power-sharing government, a job Kiir is now expected to take up.

In November 2004 an open rift emerged between the two men amid allegations in the higher ranks of the SPLM that Garang was failing to consult his colleagues on key decisions he made in peace talks held in Kenya with officials from Khartoum.

Kiir reportedly surrounded himself with loyal troops and refused to leave his compound in Yei town to meet Garang. The situation was partly defused by visits to Yei by emissaries from Garang, the International Crisis Group think tank reported.

Garang himself denied there was ever problem with Kiir, and Kiir has declined to comment on the reports of a rift.

Kiir, like Garang a Dinka, the largest single ethnic group in the south, supported Garang during a period of internal splits and rebellions in the early 1990s.

Along with many in the SPLM, Kiir privately takes a tougher line than Garang took on southern self-determination, experts say, although publicly he has supported Garang’s opinion that it would be preferable for Sudan to remain one country.

Under the peace accords, southerners have the right to vote for secession at the end of a six-year interim period, a concession granted by the Islamist government in response to the rebels’ core demand for the right of self-determination.

Experts say anecdotal evidence shows that southerners would vote en masse for secession if the vote were taken today.

“Garang was the best hope for the unity option, so with his death a unity vote is now perhaps less likely,” said de Waal.

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By TANALEE SMITH

KHARTOUM, Sudan, Aug 10, 2005 (AP) — He battled the northern government through 21 years of civil war, founded the southern rebel movement at the side of the beloved John Garang and strategized many military successes in the long fight for autonomy.

Now, after Garang’s death in a helicopter crash, Lt. Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit is stepping into his shoes. On Thursday, the commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army will be inaugurated as Sudan’s first vice president and president of the new, autonomous southern government, part of a peace deal power-sharing arrangement between north and south.

The job comes with a particular twist: Kiir must make unity with the north attractive to southerners – even though he himself has called for secession.

While Kiir has no political experience, analysts and diplomats say he’s up to the challenge. And his popularity in southern Sudan could prove to be the glue that holds the country together.

“I know him as somebody who thinks before he takes a decision, but when he takes a decision, he sticks with it,” said Jan Pronk, the United Nations representative in Sudan. “I know him as somebody who has the respect of all the commanders (in the SPLA) and who has respect also from the people in Khartoum because he is a strong military commander.”

Kiir also is known for having a cool head and being able to resolve disputes.

“The man is no slouch intellectually, and he is a leader,” said Roger Winter, the U.S. special representative to Sudan. “He’s his own man, a successful man, a well-liked man in the movement, he’s got a broad following, he’s got a different set of experiences . . . In spite of the fact that he’s a military man, he’s also got a reputation for being collegial in the way he does business. We all know that wasn’t always Dr. John’s (Garang’s) trait.”

In the rebel movement that was known for various splits since it was organized in 1983, Kiir stands out as one who never challenged Garang – declaring himself a fighter, not a politician.

A member of the Dinka tribe, southern Sudan’s largest, Kiir joined the separatist Anyanya movement as a teenager in the 1960s. When that rebellion ended with a peace deal in 1972, he joined the Sudanese army and rose to the rank of captain.

But in 1983, he joined with Garang in deserting from the army and forming the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, a group that fought for autonomy for the mainly animist and Christian south from the Islamic-dominated northern government.

Kiir – who had more military experience than Garang – was relied on heavily in fighting. Many of the SPLA’s biggest successes in battle were attributed to his leadership, and in 1999 he was made the rebel army’s chief of staff.

He also was a key player in early peace negotiations, leading the southern team to Machakos, Kenya, in 2002 and signing a protocol under which the south was granted the right to hold a referendum on self-determination six years after the signing of a peace agreement – an event finally happened in January.

Kiir was absent from later stages of the negotiations under which the south was granted rights to its natural wealth – oil – and power-sharing in the central government, including giving the post of vice president to the SPLM leader.

Shortly after Garang took office, he named Kiir, his longtime deputy, as vice president of the government of southern Sudan.

In the days since Garang’s death July 30, Kiir has promised to continue the late leader’s vision for Sudan through implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement. Garang had always said he wanted a unified Sudan, with more autonomy for the south.

Kiir, however, was known to favour a separate state in southern Sudan, an ideology that makes him popular in the south. A recent USAID survey said about 96 per cent of southerners want to secede.

The peace agreement, with its power-sharing measures, is supposed to help make unity more attractive to southerners before they hold their referendum on secession in 2011.

Kiir has always been popular in the south. As recently as December, there was a near split within the SPLM when it was rumoured Garang might remove Kiir as chief of staff.

Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani, a former presidential adviser in the peace talks and now head of a think tank, said Kiir’s calm temperament would help him.

“Those dealing with him are always at ease, more than they used to be in the presence of Garang,” Atabani told Al-Wan newspaper. “Therefore, he is more capable of handling a political action with wisdom and would be able to unify the southerners.”

But Atabani said that Kiir would also have to devote time to northern issues and cultivating international contacts – to becoming a politician – lest he face difficulties in the national unity government, which includes President Omar al-Bashir and Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha.

“It takes three to tango in this government, and you can’t do it very well with one of them limping,” Atabani told The Associated Press.

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