Salva Kiir Mayardit (born 13 September 1951) is a South Sudanese politician who has been President of South Sudan since its independence in 2011. Prior to independence, he was President of the Government of Southern Sudan, as well as First Vice President of Sudan, from 2005 to 2011.
In 1983, when Dr John Garang joined an army mutiny he had been sent to put down, Kiir and other Southern leaders joined the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the second civil war. Dr. Garang De Mabior had advanced military knowledge and experience from both the United States and the Sudan. President Kiir was his Deputy.
Kiir eventually rose to head the SPLA, the SPLM’s military wing when Dr. John Garang was killed in a helicopter crash. Rumours to remove Kiir from his post as SPLA Chief of Staff in 2004 nearly caused the organization to split.
Following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement formally ending the war in January 2005, Dr. John Garang was sworn in as the Vice President of the Republic of Sudan. After the death of Dr. John Garang in a helicopter crash on 30 July 2005, Kiir was chosen to succeed to the post of First Vice President of Sudan and President of Southern Sudan.
Before independence, Kiir was popular among the military wing of the SPLA/M for his loyalty to the vision of the SPLA/M throughout the liberation struggle and among those who do not trust the successive governments that have come and gone in the Sudan.
Comments by Kiir in October 2009 that the forthcoming independence referendum was a choice between being “a second class in your own country” or “a free person in your independent state” were expected to further strain political tensions.
Reports in January 2010 that Kiir would not contest April elections for Sudanese president, but would focus on re-election as president of Southern Sudan were interpreted to mean that the SPLM priority was independence.
Kiir was re-elected with 93% of the vote in the 2010 Sudanese election. Although the vote on both the national and sub-national level was criticized by democratic activists and international observers, the overwhelming margin of Kiir’s re-election was noted by some media as being “Step One” in the process of secession. Following his re-election, Omar al-Bashir reappointed Kiir as the First Vice President of Sudan in accordance with the interim constitution.
South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence from Sudan in January 2011, with 98.83% of voters reportedly preferring to split from the North.
On 9 July 2011, South Sudan became an independent state, with Kiir as its first president. Kiir positioned himself as a reformer, using his inaugural address to call for the South Sudanese people “to forgive, though we shall not forget” perceived injustices at the hands of the northern Sudanese over the preceding decades and announce a general amnesty for South Sudanese groups that had warred against the SPLM in the past.
A few weeks later, he publicly addressed members of the military and police to warn them that rape, torture, and other human rights violations carried out by armed personnel would be considered criminal acts and prosecuted aggressively by the Ministry of Justice.
His presidency was characterized as a period of reconstruction, with internal and foreign crises, as Heglig Crisis, which caused a border war with Sudan and an internal political crisis, which tried to overthrow him from the presidency.