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 Global Perspective

August 3, 2005
Vol. 3, No. 14

Joseph Adero Ngala
Joseph Adero Ngala is an African journalist based in Kenya. In 1995 he won the German Shalom Prize for reporting in Rwanda and Sudan.



Garang's death a big blow to peace in Sudan

By Joseph Adero Ngala

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NAIROBI, Kenya -- The death of Sudanese Vice President John Garang Di Mabior is a major setback to the country's fledgling peace after more than two decades of civil war.

Garang - leader of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement - had hoped that the peace he helped bring to southern Sudan could be spread to conflicts in Sudan's Darfur and Eastern regions.

Garang and 13 others died July 30 when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed into a southern Sudan mountain range in bad weather.

Just three weeks earlier, Garang had been sworn in as Sudan's vice president as part of a power-sharing arrangement forged through years of protracted peace negotiations between Khartoum's Islamic government and the Christian and animist rebel forces in southern Sudan.

As a rebel leader, Garang had pursued the liberation of his southern Sudanese people with great passion. But after years of armed struggle, in which both sides suffered major casualties, Garang changed his strategy and embraced diplomacy. With the help of Kenya, he engaged the Khartoum government in structured negotiations. He earned great international admiration by demonstrating remarkable negotiating skills and patience throughout the peace process.

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The comprehensive peace agreement, which gives the oil-rich southern regions of the country autonomy, was signed in Kenya's capital Nairobi in January and had just begun to be implemented. His death comes at a precarious time. He was nurturing the peace deal and had begun to implement the concessions made by both sides.

Garang had said that the power-sharing agreement and a new constitution had opened a new chapter of peace for Sudan and was a chance to resolve other bloody conflicts, especially the humanitarian crisis in the western region of Darfur, where marauding militia, allegedly with support from the Khartoum government, has massacred hapless residents.

John Garang was born in a village in the region of Bor in southern Sudan June 23, 1943. He was of the Dinka ethnic group. He attended Grinnell College in Iowa in the United States, and earned a doctorate in economics. He returned to Sudan in 1970, joined the Sudanese army and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a colonel.

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In 1983, he was sent to quash a rebellion in Bor but instead established the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army and turned against the government. Over the next two decades, some 2 million people would die in the conflict.

Garang was a sober and pragmatic leader who avoided populism, at times advocating positions not favored by his people who had lost hope of reconciling with the northerners. He would eventually move from outright secession by the South to backing the proposal for autonomy and power-sharing.

South African President Thabo Mbeki praised Garang for his role in ending violence in Sudan's South. "South Africa would like to encourage the parties in Sudan to exercise restraint and remain committed to the implementation of the comprehensive Peace Agreement, including the establishment of the Government of National Unity in Khartoum on Aug. 9 as a legacy to the work and commitment of Dr. Garang to a peaceful Sudan," Mbeki said in a statement.

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