Salva Kiir Mayardit (1951- )

Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of South Sudan (Public Domain)

Salva Kiir Mayardit is the first and current President of South Sudan. Salva Kiir Mayardit (often referred to as Salva Kiir) was born on September 13th,1951 in Akon, Bahr El Ghazal province, Sudan. His father, Kuethpiny Thiik Atem was a cattle herder. His mother, Awei Rou Wol tong was a farmer. He was born in the Awan clan of the largest southern Sudanese ethnic group the Dinka. He attended the Kojok Primary School in what is today South Sudan.

The large nation of Sudan was diverse with a Muslim, Arab north and a Black African, animist, and Christian south. The southern regions felt underserved by the national government comprised predominantly of northerners. As a young man, he joined the Anyanya, a southern separatist movement, fighting the northern government. This sporadic civil war lasted from 1955-to 1972. As a result of a peace agreement in 1972 many of the southern fighters were absorbed into the Sudanese national army. Mayardit joined the national army and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

In 1983 fighting again broke out between the north and south. Mayardit and several other high-ranking officers with southern origins defected and formed the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (a political party) and its military to win the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. John Garang headed both organizations and Mayardit was one of his closest deputies. He became deputy and commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and held portfolios for domestic and foreign intelligence and affairs.

Mayardit was also important in peace negotiations with the government of Sudan that resulted in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement initialed in 2005. Under this agreement, the southern region of Sudan became semi-autonomous with Sylva Mayardit holding the position of vice-president. Shortly afterward on July 30, 2005, the President, John Garang, was killed in a helicopter crash and Mayardit became President.

As part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, South Sudan was allowed to hold a referendum on independence. The referendum was held in January 2011. An overwhelming 98% of South Sudanese voted for secession from Sudan. On July 9, 2011, the new nation of South Sudan became independent. Salva Kiir Mayardit became the first President of South Sudan.

The new nation has incredible potential but faces major problems: little infrastructure, food insecurity, border issues with Sudan, and, most worrying, ethnic violence. In 2014-15 violence broke out between the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups. Eventually, a fragile peace was brokered in 2015, but occasional violence has flared up in the past few years.

Salva Kiir Mayardit is married to Mary Ayen Mayardit. They have two children, a son Munuti Salva Kiir and a daughter, Adut Mayardit.

In 2006, Mayardit visited the White House in Washington, D.C. There he met President George Bush who presented Mayardit with a ten-gallon black Stetson cowboy hat. Since then, he is always seen in public with a cowboy hat that has become his trademark.