News Analysis

Meaningful progress toward ending the decades-long civil war between northern Sudan and southern Sudan was thrown into doubt with the death of Dr. John Garang de Mabior, July 30.

Garang, 60, the leader of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), was a key force in a newly negotiated peace agreement. He represented the peoples and organizations of southern Sudan unified in opposition to the northern Islamic-oriented government based in Khartoum. He had been given the title of first vice-president of Sudan following the Jan. 9 signing of a power-sharing arrangement between the government of Sudan and SPLM/A representatives.

Garang’s life came to an end in a helicopter crash while he was returning from a meeting with President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. All 14 persons on board were killed. The helicopter was part of the Ugandan president’s fleet. President Museveni launched a formal investigation and invited international experts to review the evidence. “The helicopter was very well equipped,” he told reporters. “This was my helicopter, the one I am flying all the time. I am not ruling anything out.”

Bad weather has been suggested as an important factor.

News of Garang’s death sparked unrest and sporadic violence in Khartoum. The casualties there and in neighboring towns included 130 deaths, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Additional unrest occurred in the southern towns of Juba and Malakai.

Garang’s widow Rebecca de Mabior appealed to “all the Sudanese people to remain calm under this difficult and trying moment, so that the enemies of peace do not exploit the situation. … He has died but his vision is still alive.”

The vision, his supporters say, was the peace agreement. The vision was a more equitable, all-inclusive society characterized by power sharing and wealth sharing, and equal respect for all religious faiths and ethnic groups. In contrast to the remnants of old Sudan, Garang supporters say his vision included bold initiatives with respect to the rights of women and other progressive measures.

The question now is how Garang’s death will affect the implementation of the new peace accord. The new first vice-president, Salva Kiir, is a former deputy of Garang’s and has pledged to uphold the agreement.

Sudan has faced 30 years of internal conflict over its nearly 50 years of independence. A longstanding conflict in its western region of Darfur continues to rage, and is not part of the recently negotiated agreement.