The 35th Anniversary of May 16th: Comrade Salva Kiir and the Founding of the SPLM/A

Posted: May 16, 2018 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Books, History, Junub Sudan, May 16th, PaanLuel Wël, Simon Yel

This is an excerpt from the introduction to the speeches, before and after independence, of President Salva Kiir, “Salva Kiir Mayardit: The Joshua of South Sudan,” edited and published by Simon Yel Yel and PaanLuel Wel in February 2016

By PaanLuel Wel (Juba) and Simon Yel Yel (Kampala)

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018 (PW) — May 26, 1983, marked the day President Kiir revolted against Khartoum’s repressive regime and joined his comrades in the bush. By then, Captain Salva Kiir was a mid-level military intelligence officer in the Sudanese army stationed in Malakal, Southern Sudan. His rebellion came in the wake of the May 16th Bor and May 20th Ayod Uprisings led by Major Kerubino Kuanyin Bol and Major William Nyuon Bany respectively.

Why did it take that long—from May 16th up to May 26th —before Salva Kiir rebelled against Khartoum? This was mainly because he was the one coordinating the security and intelligence of the Underground group. For example, when Khartoum decided to launch a dawn attack on Bor, it was Salva Kiir who passed that message to John Garang in Bor informing them that Khartoum had finally decided to attack Bor. Using that insider information which only an officer in the Sudanese military intelligence could have access to, John Garang and Kerubino Kuanyin were able to strategize and repulse the dawn attack with minimal casualties on their sides.

Secondly, when Khartoum dispatched a battalion from Malakal to take reinforcement to Bor, Salva Kiir passed that crucial message to John Garang and William Nyuon. After the troops arrived in Ayod on their way to Bor, Nyuon lured their officers into a bogus meeting during which they were arrested and killed. Their soldiers were then attacked and scattered, never to reach Bor.

Had this battalion reached Bor, those retreating soldiers of 104 and 105 might have been trapped and finished off. The history of liberationary struggle in South Sudan as currently known might have been a different one without Salva Kiir in Malakal.

It was only after John Garang and Kerubino Kuanyin—with their ragtag army—had retreated from Bor and William Nyuon had left Ayod for Ethiopia that Salva Kiir finally revolted from Malakal. With him were members of his family, and his maternal uncle Lt. Col. Francis Ngor, Sergeant Deng Garang Bany, and Atem Garang DeKuek, among numerous others.

Unlike Kerubino Kuanyin in Bor and William Nyuon in Ayod, Salva Kiir and Francis Ngor-Makiech did not have enough troops ready to join them in their rebellion. Consequently, their revolt barely made any impact on the town of Malakal. This point was later used by Kerubino Kuanyin to undermine the promotion of Francis Ngor, accusing him of having failed to capture Malakal and of having not brought any substantial number of soldiers to the Movement.

On 13 June 1983, Salva Kiir arrived at Kur-Mayom, a town at the Ethiopian border, where he caught up with Garang. By that time, Kerubino Kuanyin was still recuperating from his wound in a makeshift hospital outside Maar town in Ajuong village, Major Arok Thon had been arrested in Juba for aiding the escape of John Garang and was serving a prison term in Kober Maximum Prison in Khartoum, and William Nyuon was still making his way to the Ethiopian border.

By the time Salva Kiir arrived at the Ethiopian border in June 1983, there were already about five different, competing camps of the embryonic rebel movement.

The first group was the Bilpam camp composed of Anyanya Two elements from Bentiu Nuer under the leadership of Gordon Koang Chol and Vincent Kuany. Anyanya Two came about as a result of the 1975 Mutiny in Akobo in which Col. Abel Chol was killed.

The second group was the Pakedi camp, a student-led revolutionary movement of the South Sudan Patriotic Front (SSPF) formed by progressive Southern Sudanese students from various universities across the Sudan. Among the prominent student leaders of this revolutionary front, who launched their guerilla warfare in 1982 around Boma Post, were Nyachigak Ngachiluk, Pagan Amum Okiech, and Oyai Deng Ajak.

The third group was the Itang camp, which was made up of Anyanya Two elements from the Lou Nuer community under the leadership of Garjiek Wich Ganyjui. The fourth group was the Bukteng camp of the National Action Movement (NAM) under the leadership of Akuot Atem de Mayen, Samuel Ghai Tut and William Abdallah Chuol Deng.

The fifth group was the Adura camp, composed of elements from 104 & 105 under the leadership of John Garang, Kerubino Kuanyin, William Nyuon and Salva Kiir. The sixth group was the Abyei Liberation Front (ALF) led by Mayen Deng Majok, Chol Deng Alaak and Deng Aloor Kuol.

The seventh group was the Anyanya Two Bahr el Ghazal group under the leadership of Paul Malong Awan and Anthony Bol Madut. The eighth and last group to arrive at the Ethiopian border was the group of veteran Southern politicians under the leadership of Joseph Haworu Oduho and Martin Majier Ghai Ayuel.

When the question of leadership for the inchoate revolutionary movement arose, these eight different groups coalesced and crystallized into four main, competing, political and military camps: Adura, Bukteng, Itang and Bilpam.

Some of the groups such as the Abyei front and Anyanya Two Bahr el Ghazal group, the Pakedi and the leadership of seasoned Southern politicians, all decided to join up with the Adura camp.

However, when push came to shove in the battle of supremacy for the leadership of the budding rebel movement, the Bilpam and Itang camps decided to be neutral; only the Adura and the Bukteng camps were left to square it out in the battle royal. This is how the Adura camp under the leadership of John Garang, Kerubino Kuanyin, William Nyuon and Salva Kiir defeated the Bukteng camp and won the leadership contest.

Salva Kiir was instrumental in the victory of Adura camp over the Bukteng, not only because he was a leading member of the Underground Movement but more so because of the vital role he played in winning over the trust and support of the Abyei front, Anyanya Two Bahr el Ghazal group, the Pakedi and the leadership of seasoned Southern politicians to support the leadership of John Garang.

Without him, Garang would have never been the leader of the revolutionary movement, and possibly, there would have been no SPLM/A and no war for independence—no independent South Sudan today.

PaanLuel Wël, the managing editor of PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd (PW), graduated with a double major in Economics and Philosophy from The George Washington University, Washington D.C, USA, and currently works as a Project Coordinator for one of the international NGOs in South Sudan. He is the author of Pioocku Thuongjang: The Elementary Modern Standard Dinka (May, 2011), The A.B.C.D.: An Introductory Book into the English Alphabet (July, 2011) and  Who Killed Dr. John Garang (July, 2015). He is also the Editor of The Genius of Dr. John Garang, vol. 1-3 (November, 2013), including Dr. John Garang’s Speeches on the War of Liberation (November, 2015) and Speeches on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (November, 2015), Salva Kiir Mayaardit: The Joshua of South Sudan (with Simon Yel Yel, February, 2011), as well as The Customary Laws of the Greater Bor Dinka Community: Legal and Basic Rules for Self-Administration (July, 2017). You can reach him through his email:; Facebook (PaanLuel Wël); or Twitter (PaanLuelWel2011).


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