The story of South Sudan cannot be told without the mention of the name Salva Kiir. Even before it became an independent nation of its own, he has been a crucial figure in the country’s struggle from the Muslim dominated north. After many years of a brutal war and the loss of lives, Salva Kiir is still in the middle of a crisis in South Sudan.
To understand Kiir, it would be nice to discuss his context of Sudan, South Sudan, and the civil war that has engulfed both countries for the better part of the last century.
Salva Kiir Was A Major Actor In The Sudanese Civil Wars
Born Salva Kiir Mayardit in the Dinka community in Gogrial County, South Sudan, Kiir was born into a nation in perennial conflict and a region up in arms against its northern brothers who had assumed control of a lopsided government in which the south felt alienated. The central government was controlled by the predominantly Muslim Arab north, while the south where Kiir was from was languishing in a political union in which they felt disadvantaged and marginalized. The South was rich in Oil and felt they needed more control of their resources, the north was bent on consolidating their grip on the power that had been passed on to them after the British left after colonization.
As a young man born into the Dinka tribe, the largest in South Sudan, joining the struggle was not a matter of choice, it was practically the only option available in a war-ravaged society.
Kiir first joined the southern rebellion, the Anyanya battalion as a boy during the First Sudanese Civil War in the late 1960’s and reached the rank of an officer by the time Sudan’s President, Jaafar Numeiri made peace with the rebels in the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement.
Kiir Rose Through The Ranks In The Second Sudanese War To Become John Garang’s Trusted Lieutenant
Salva joined the Sudanese army after the treaty, but in 1983, when Dr. John Garang joined an army mutiny he had been sent to put down, Kiir and other Southern leaders (including Dr. Garang), defected from the Sudanese army and joined the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the second civil war. He then helped Mr. Garang to form the SPLM and rose to lead its military wing, which now forms the army of the new state. He as well became the deputy to Dr. Garang who was appointed the Vice President of the Republic of Sudan in January 2005.
Following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Juba and the Khartoum government, which formally ended the war in January 2005, Dr. John Garang was sworn in as the Vice President of the Republic of Sudan. Unfortunately, about three months later, Dr. Garang died in a helicopter crash. Salva Kiir was chosen to succeed him as the First Vice president of Sudan and President of South Sudan.
He fought for independence mainly through the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its armed wing, the SPLA. An independent South Sudan was Kiir’s long-cherished dream – far more so than Garang, who favored greater rights for southerners in a united Sudan.
He Became South Sudan’s First President But Hasn’t Stopped It From Plunging Into Its Own Civil War
Salva Kiir’s statement in October 2009 that the forthcoming independence referendum was a choice between being “a second-class citizen in your own country” or “a free person in your independent state” won for him the hearts of millions of South Sudanese.
South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence from Sudan in January 2011, with 98.83% of voters reportedly preferring to split from the North. On 9 July 2011, South Sudan became an independent state, with Kiir as its first president.
After one of the longest civil wars in the world, the birth of South Sudan brought hopes that the once volatile region would finally experience some stability and perhaps maximize its enormous oil and gas reserves to better the lives of its impoverished populace. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
Under Salva Kiir’s leadership, South Sudan has plunged into an internal civil war of its own. In December 2013, a mutiny within the Army along tribal lines snowballed into the President Salva Kiir accusing his Vice Riek Machar of coup plotting. Soldiers from the Dinka ethnic group aligned with Kiir and those from the Nuer ethnic group supported Machar. Machar was removal as vice president, and violence erupted splitting the young country along tribal lines.
The South Sudan Civil War which has raged on since 2013 is showing no signs of abating. Despite the presence of UN and AU peacekeeping forces and some talk of an arms embargo, the country is still locked in violence.
There’s Little Focus On His Family Life
It is no surprise that a man who has been in battle all his life has little-discussed his family life. Kiir is notoriously private and evasive. The main thrust of his engagement with the press and foreign media is centered around his political struggles.
Kiir was born to a father who was a cattle herder. His father has three wives and he was the eighth of nine children (six boys and three girls)
Kirr is married to Mary Ayen Mayardi who is highly respected in the country. Mary is the founder of Concern for Women and Children, better known as the CWC. The two have children among whom are Munuti Salva Kiir and Adut Mayardit. There have been allegations that he has used his office to enrich members of his immediate family while the country wallows in famine and war. There have been reports in the media that his family members live in high brow residences in Kenya, far removed from the conflict brewing in South Sudan.
The actual number of his wives and children are not known as most things about him are away from the public. He is said to have secretly married Aluel William Nyuon Bany, the daughter of a former comrade, the late William Nyuon Bany, who is from the rival Nuer tribe.