Founding President

The late Dr. John Garang De Mabior Atem is a founder of the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Sudan Liberation Army (SPLA) and eventually became the President of the Government of the Southern Sudan after he signed one of Africa longest war with Khartoum based government. John Garang lost his life of the plane crush as he was coming from Uganda to his base in Southern Sudan; barely after two weeks in the office.


Dr. Garang was born John Garang to Mabior Atem and his wife Gak Malwal Kuol on June 23, 1945 at Buk village, Nyuak Payam (Twich East County), Bor area in Jonglei State. He was the sixth of the family's ten children comprising seven boys and three girls. Dr. John was a disciplined but inquisitive child who grew respecting his parents and the community. His parents were strict Christians hence the discipline with which they brought up their children.


Young John began his education at Tonj and Buseri primary and intermediate schools. Upon completing primary education, he joined Rumbek Secondary School. However, his stay there was short-lived. He was expelled after taking part in a strike. He went to Tanzania where he joined Magamba Secondary School from where he completed his studies having passed with flying colours. Thereafter, he joined the University of Dar es Salaam where he was a classmate to President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. John also received a scholarship to Grinnel College in the USA where he was awarded BA in Economics. Due to his quest for knowledge, he pursued further studies in the USA and was awarded a PhD in Economics by Iowa State University in 1981. His love for his country and the dream of its development was epitomed in his doctoral thesis was entitled: Aspects for Development in Southern Sudan.


Dr. John was first recruited into the liberation army when he was 17 during the Anyanya I revolt but he dropped out after a short stint to go back to school. It is reported that the commanders saw his intellectual prowess and urged him to complete his education first. No wonder he rejoined Anyanya I army soon after he came back to Sudan in 1971. His military organization skills was recognized fast and he was soon dispatched for a company commanders' course in the American Military Academy where he graduated in the top three positions. He remained in the army until he left the country for his doctoral studies. He returned in 1982 and rose to the level of Colonel and was based at Khartoum as a military planner. On May 16, 1983, a group of army officers based at Bor mutinied. Dr. Garang was sent by the Nimeiri's government to quell the mutiny. Converse to the government's expectations, Dr. Garang joined that mutiny than fight his own people. Due to his leadership qualities he became the leader of this group and set up a command base on the Sudan-Ethiopia border. This is how SPLM/A was born.


Dr John Garang's grave in Juba.


Dr. Garang married Rebecca Nyandeng on December 19, 1976. They were blessed with seven children of whom one died in infancy. The surviving children are Mabior, Chuol, Gak, Akwal, Nyankuir and Atong.


Dr. John was a well travelled person and a Pan-African for that matter. For instance, he lived in Kibera in Kenya's capital in the early 1960s. He even taught at Gatung'ang'a secondary school in Nyeri between 1965 and 1966; just before he flew to Iowa on a scholarship.


A towering statue of Dr John Garang at the SPLA Headquarters [Photo by Joseph Garang Deng]


This article was updated on Jul 13, 2011

Further Resources on Dr John Garang



Shimanyula, J.B. (2005). John Garang and the SPLA. Nairobi: Jomo Kenyatta Foundation



This article was updated on Sep 4, 2009