Salva Kiir may be best known for his cowboy hat and for his landslide victory in April 2010 as president of Southern Sudan. He may soon celebrate his country’s independence from the North. As the referendum process reaches its completion, Kiir’s confidence has hugely increased, say observers. A vote for secession by the Southern Sudanese from the North is said to be expected.
Kiir, born in 1951, has said in the past that “the upcoming referendum is a choice between being a second class in your own country, or a free person in your independent state.” The south’s population mostly follow Christianity or traditional religions, while the north has a Muslim majority. Kiir, 60, is a Catholic.
“President Salva Kiir Mayardit is popular but he has no personality cult, unlike his late predecessor, Colonel John Garang de Mabior,” says Gill Lusk, associate editor at Africa Confidential
Africa confidential magazine. “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 Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army by people from the Dinka ethnic group.The result of the referendum is widely expected to be a vote for secession, and the creation of a new African nation that could be born as early as July and Juba is the probable capital of a nation with fertile soil and oil, and potentially a bright future.
A graduate of the Sudan Military College, Kiir has led the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) as Commander-in-Chief that in 1983 he helped found. After Garang’s death in July 2005 in a helicopter crash, Kiir became the President of Southern Sudan and, by default, First Vice-President of Sudan and formed a government that incorporated many of the movement’s former opponents and rival factions. He was then elected, with 93% of the vote, President of Southern Sudan in April 2010.
“He has long had a reputation as a conciliator, both within the SPLM/A and among Southern ethnic groups, particularly for quarrels between Nuer and Dinka clans,” Lusk said.
He was a boy when he joined Anya Nya, the rebel movement of the post-Independence North-South war (1955-72). He was absorbed into the Sudan Armed Forces following the Addis Ababa accord which ended that conflict, and rose to lieutenant colonel that was uncommonly senior for an ex-rebel, and led military intelligence in Upper Nile, according to an article in Africa Confidential.
He worked and fought in different regions of the country, hence learning “the South’s ethnic and regional complexities,” said the article. By 1988, he was Garang’s de facto number two.
London-based research and educational NGORift Valley Institute Executive Director John Ryle says “if anyone can unite the south, it is Salva Kiir.” He had to respond by e-mail from Juba after phone lines kept breaking. In describing Kiir he writes, “he is genial and quiet-spoken, but can be eloquent as a public speaker, and in more than one language.”
euronews correspondent in London