South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit has faced much international attention after assuming the position of his country’s first leader. With continuing hostilities with the North, Kiir faces the difficult task of building South Sudan into a stable, independent nation, while maintaining national security and unification. Here are twelve things you may not have known about President Kiir.
Sources: Independent.co.uk, AlJazeera.com, AfricanHistory.About.com, Paanluelwel.com, EuroNews.com, WashingtonTimes.com, SudanTribune.com, BBC.com
Despite his prominent position, little is known about Kiir’s early life. By most accounts, he was born in 1951, and grew up in a Dinka community – the largest tribe in South Sudan – that lived along the Nile in the Bahr-el-Ghazal region of then-southern Sudan.
In the late 1960s, Kiir joined the Anyanya battalion during the First Sudanese Civil War. By the time the war ended in 1972 with the Addis Ababa Agreement, he had reached the rank of a low-ranking officer.
Following an army mutiny in 1983, Kiir, along with other southern leaders, joined the SPLM during the second civil war. Kiir served as the deputy for Dr. Garang De Mabior, who was sworn in as the Vice President of the Republic of Sudan in January 2005, following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and end of the war.
Following Garang’s death in a helicopter crash in July 2005, Kiir was chosen to succeed him in his post as the First Vice President of Sudan and President of South Sudan. He was popular within in his party for his commitment to the liberation struggle and loyalty tot eh SPLM.
In 2010, Kiir was elected with 93% of the vote, and was reappointed by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir as the First VP of Sudan. Kiir made it clear that he had no interest in running for the presidential position, and instead was focused on South Sudanese independence – he made this point clear with public comments that urged people to view the independence referendum as the choice between being “a second class citizen in your own country” or “a free person in your independent state.”
At the time of Garang’s death, many questioned Kiir’s credentials to navigate the complicated process of a peace agreement with the North. But less than a year after Garang signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, Kiir was faced with the task of its implementation, and has led the country since.
Taking on the role of a reformer and urging forgiveness for his new state, Kiir announced in his inaugural address that there would be amnesty for former warring factions in South Sudan that opposed the SPLM. He spoke to military and police members specifically, warning them that violence against any South Sudanese citzens would be considered criminal acts and would be aggressively prosecuted.
Kiir has garnered much controversy with his comments with regard to homosexuality – he has denied that homosexuality exists in South Sudan, stating, “It is not even something that anybody can talk about here in southern Sudan in particular. It is not there and if anybody wants to import or to export it to Sudan, it will not get support and it will always be condemned by everybody.” He has also referred to homosexuality as a “mental disease” and “bastion of Western immorality.”
Source: African Activist News
Kiir is a devout Christian, and has been known to speak frequently at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. He is not considered to be a natural public speaker, but is able to work the crowds and his speeches and sermons are often met with cheers and popular affection.
Though he has not publicly commented on the marriage, it has been claimed that Kiir wed the daughter of William Nyuon Bany, Aluel William Nyuon Bany. Bany is from the Nuer ethnic group, while Kiir is of the Dinka group, and it is thought that the ceremony was carried out by Kiir’s brothers according to Dinka culture. The controversy has also led to alleged strife between Kiir’s eldest daughter and Aluel Bany.
On South Sudan’s official government website, Kiir is compared to, “the Biblical Joshua who took the mantle of leadership from Moses just as the Israelites were on the verge of entering Canaan and capably established the then fugitives in the Promised Land.”
Though he enjoys very wide popular support in his country, Kiir is not considered to have developed a personality cult, outside of his trademark cowboy hat. As the associate editor at Africa Confidential, Gill Lusk, said, “President Salva Kiir Mayardit is popular but he has no personality cult, unlike his late predecessor, Colonel John Garang de Mabior.Dr. Garang was exceptionally charismatic and brooked no opposition. Salva Kiir is seen as modest and self-effacing, which appeals to many Southerners, especially those who resent the domination of the SPLM/A by people from the Dinka ethnic group.”
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