Biography of John Garang de Mabior

Leader and Founder of the Sudan People's Liberation Army

John Garang memorial with the vice president

Utenriksdepartementet UD / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0 

Colonel John Garang de Mabior was a Sudanese rebel leader, founder of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) which fought a 22-year civil war against the northern-dominated, Islamist Sudanese Government. He was made vice president of Sudan on the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, shortly before his death.

Date of Birth: June 23, 1945, Wangkulei, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan
Date of Death: July 30, 2005, Southern Sudan

Early Life

John Garang was born into the Dinka ethnic group, educated in Tanzania and graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa in 1969. He returned to The Sudan and joined the Sudanese army, but left the following year for the south and joined the Anya Nya, a rebel group fighting for the rights of the Christian and animist south, in a country which was dominated by the Islamist north. The rebellion, which was sparked by the decision made by the colonial British to join the two parts of Sudan when independence was granted in 1956, became a full-blown civil war in the early 1960s.

1972 Addis Ababa Agreement

In 1972 the Sudanese president, Jaafar Muhammad an-Numeiry, and Joseph Lagu, leader of the Anya Nya, signed the Addis Ababa Agreement which gave autonomy to the south. Rebel fighters, including John Garang, were absorbed into the Sudanese army.

Garang was promoted to Colonel and sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, USA, for training. He also received a doctorate in agricultural economics from Iowa State University in 1981. On his return to the Sudan, he was made deputy director of military research and an infantry battalion commander.

Second Sudanese Civil War

By the early 1980s, the Sudanese government was becoming increasingly Islamist. These measures included the introduction of Sharia law throughout Sudan, an imposition of black slavery by northern Arabs, and Arabic being made the official language of instruction. When Garang was sent south to quell a new uprising by the Anya Nya, he instead swapped sides and formed the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and their military wing the SPLA.

2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement

In 2002 Garang began peace talks with Sudanese president Omar al-Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir, which culminated in the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on January 9, 2005. As part of the agreement, Garang was made vice president of Sudan. The peace agreement was supported by establishing a United Nations Mission in Sudan. U.S. President George W. Bush expressed hope that Garang would be a promising leader as the U.S. supported South Sudanese independence. While Garang often expressed Marxist principles, he was also a Christian.


Only a few months after the peace agreement, on July 30, 2005, a helicopter carrying Garang back from talks with the president of Uganda crashed in the mountains near the border. Although both Al-Bashir's government and Salva Kiir Mayardit, the new leader of the SPLM, blamed the crash on poor visibility, doubts remain about the crash. His legacy is that he is considered to be a very influential figure in the history of South Sudan.