Analysis - Peace should survive death of south Sudan leader

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Jonathan Wright
CAIRO, Aug 1 (Reuters) - A peace agreement between the north and south of Sudan, signed in January and now coming into effect after 22 years of war, will probably survive the sudden death of veteran southern leader John Garang, analysts said on Monday.

Garang's Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) will endorse a new leader relatively quickly and will continue to work with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and the other northerners against whom they fought so long, they said.

But the departure of Garang could strengthen separatist tendencies in the southern rebel movement or embolden other southern politicians who have previously held back because Garang was such a giant, the analysts added.

Garang was the SPLM leader most committed to the unity of Africa's largest country, which is culturally divided between an Arabised and Muslim north and a south populated by a mix of African ethnicities, including animists, Christians and Muslims.

His deputy and natural successor, Salva Kiir, may not have Garang's international stature but he is less divisive at home and could even help bring southerners together.

Garang died in a helicopter accident in southern Sudan after leaving the Ugandan capital Kampala on Saturday.

After fighting from the swamps of southern Sudan since 1983, he finally took office in Khartoum on July 9 as first vice president in a north-south government led by Bashir.

While many southerners have called for secession from the north, Garang never strayed from his commitment to a united Sudan in which all groups would have equal rights.


The transition from Garang to a new southern leader is bound to be disruptive but the peace agreement as a whole, which is backed by the United States, Britain and the entire international community, is not in danger, the analysts said.

Bashir and the SPLM both quickly renewed their commitment to the peace, which gives the southerners a chance to determine their own future after a transitional period of six years.

"I think it will survive but it would be a mistake to say that the untimely death of Dr Garang, a man of this stature, will not cause any disruption," said Sayed al-Khatib, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies, a Khartoum think tank.

"It's going to be a very big blow in a number of ways because Garang was the only person who had national and international standing in the SPLM," added Douglas Johnson, a writer on Sudanese war and politics based in Oxford, England.

The analysts said that although Garang was vital to the peace agreement signed in January his lieutenants in the SPLM played a full part in negotiating the details.

"Garang came in at the very end to move the negotiations but the groundwork had been done before with the large negotiating teams. It's not likely to unwind overnight," said Johnson.


Silva Kiir, chief of staff of the rebel guerrilla army after 1999 and vice president in the southern government since last month, is the institutional successor, said John Ryle, chairman of the Rift Valley Institute, which researches Sudan.

Kiir, who like Garang comes from the Dinka people, has a more collegial style of leadership than Garang and has the advantage of coming from Bahr el-Ghazal state, which has more Dinka than Garang's Bor district, he added.

Khatib said that with the demise of Garang the SPLM was likely to be less committed to national unity, which was never a popular policy among the rank and file of the movement.

"We had every hope that as Garang's unionist tendencies grew, the outcome (of the transitional period) was more likely to be unionist. Now you can't say that with the same assurance. But pragmatism will be the dominant factor," he added.

Ryle, who has long experience of southern Sudan and especially of Garang's Dinka group, said the separatists in the SPLM would not declare their hand until a referendum on the future of the south in six years. That would give unionist groups in Sudan plenty of time to win the south over.

The analysts said Garang's departure would have little effect on Sudan's other conflicts -- in the western region of Darfur and in the Red Sea area in the east.

When he joined the government, commentators speculated that he might be able to mediate solutions because of his own experience as a rebel who made peace with Khartoum.

But in the months since the peace agreement, Garang showed little inclination to play that role, they said.

"There was no sign that he was solving other conflicts. So I don't see much difference there," said Ryle.

"He was just too busy and I don't think he had enough energy," said Khatib. "So that will remain an unknown."

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry and Suleiman al-Khalidi)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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