In Sudan, Deputy Rises To Tend a Fragile Peace

Sudanese women mourn the loss of John Garang in Juba, Sudan. Garang was sworn in as vice president on July 9 as part of a peace deal he helped negotiate to end 21 years of conflict between the Arab-led Islamic government and the mainly animist and Christian south.
Sudanese women mourn the loss of John Garang in Juba, Sudan. Garang was sworn in as vice president on July 9 as part of a peace deal he helped negotiate to end 21 years of conflict between the Arab-led Islamic government and the mainly animist and Christian south. (Michel Ducille -- The Post)

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By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 14, 2005

KHARTOUM, Sudan -- Salva Kiir Mayardit stared down at the grave of his longtime mentor and comrade in arms, the Sudanese guerrilla leader John Garang, who was killed in a helicopter crash. Long after the singing and prayers ended, even after rain began to fall, Kiir remained, silent and motionless, his eyes fixed on Garang's coffin.

"I told him, 'It's okay, we can go,' " Michael Lugar, an Episcopal bishop, recalled shortly after the funeral Aug. 6 in the southern town of Juba. "But he was so deep in thought. He said he was thinking about everything that was in front of him now that south Sudan's leader was really gone."

On Thursday, at a ceremony here in the capital, Kiir, 54, was sworn in as first vice president of Sudan, a post Garang had been given just weeks before his death as part of a peace agreement he helped negotiate to end 21 years of conflict between Sudan's Arab-led Islamic government and the mostly animist and Christian south.

What lies ahead for Kiir, known as an astute military commander but an inexperienced politician, is shouldering the heavy and complex burden of national leadership in a vast, long-suffering country with a decimated post-conflict south, an ongoing war in the western region of Darfur and uprisings in the east.

As Garang's successor, Kiir must both unite his own fractured rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, and begin to work with the Arab ruling establishment in Khartoum, against which he and Garang fought for two decades.

"He's the busiest man in Africa," said Cmdr. Daniel Awet, who fought alongside Kiir in the rebel movement. "He's not Garang, because no man is really his brother. Then again, when Moses died, Joshua had to take over."

Eager to allay fears that Garang's death would derail Sudan's fragile peace and leave a power vacuum, Khartoum leaders rushed to swear in the man whom southerners now call their Joshua and northerners say they want to get to know better.

At his swearing-in ceremony in Khartoum, under a beige tent on the lawn of the Republican Palace, Kiir placed his hand on a red Bible to take the oath of office. His erstwhile enemies, President Omar Hassan Bashir and Second Vice President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, clasped and raised Kiir's hands as photos were snapped. On the outside of the tent hung a similar portrait of Bashir, Taha and Garang, clutching hands after signing the Jan. 9 peace deal.

Diplomats, rebel commanders and government officials clapped politely. In the streets outside, there was little of the chaotic jubilance that greeted Garang's triumphant return to Khartoum just over a month ago.

This time, security was tight. Garang's death late last month, when his helicopter crashed while returning from Uganda, was apparently an accident, but it sparked riots in Khartoum and Juba that left 130 dead and millions of dollars of property in charred ruins.

"This is one of our saddest days, because it means our leader and brother has left us," said Kiir, a tall man with a regal manner, who wore a black pin-striped suit and a neatly trimmed beard for the swearing-in ceremony.

But there was also a sense of optimism among Kiir's associates, officials and observers, who said he was well-prepared for the task.


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