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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell Alum Featured on New South Sudanese Pound

By Chris Lee

Many liberal arts students worry that they’ll never get their hands on money. John Garang ’69 did one better – his face is now featured on the newly unveiled South Sudanese pound.

Garang led the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in their rebellion against Sudan beginning in 1996. He went on to serve as the Vice President of a divided national Sudanese government and President of the south Sudan state as a result of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). He also helped craft the agreement that prompted the recent referendum that granted South Sudan autonomy by an overwhelmingly popular vote. Garang died in a helicopter crash on July 30, 2005, three weeks after taking office (see S&B January 28, 2011).

A South Sudanese man smiles while displaying the country’s currency, which debuted this summer and features John Garang ’69. Photograph from Reuters.

“John’s work … helped to end a civil war that killed thousands and affected the lives of hundreds of thousands,” said Daniel McCue, Grinnell’s Assistant Director of Alumni Relations. “The people of South Sudan have hope for a peaceful future. John helped make that hope real.”

According to Garang’s advisor at Grinnell, Professor Emeritus Jack Dawson, Economics, this fame comes as no surprise.

“He was a star student,” Dawson said. “I think somehow people realized then that he was going to count for something in the Sudan … and he did.”

Garang’s political involvement with southern Sudan began in the early ‘70s. He became the second Grinnellian to be awarded a Watson Fellowship and traveled to Uganda. During his time there, Garang made frequent visits to his homeland of Sudan and soon joined a group of southern rebels in a revolt against the northern-dominated government of the time.

When the civil war ended in 1972, Garang continued his service in Sudan’s now-unified military. He returned to the United States on academic leave to earn a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics. Not long afterwards, the initial peace treaty went to pieces and Garang found himself in the middle of another revolution in Sudan.

“There was a rumor that [Sudan’s soldiers] were going to be sent to Iran…and the troops in the south mutinied. They would not go,” Dawson said. “John went down to the south, supposedly to settle that business, but instead he joined up with [the rebels] and began a second revolution against the north.”

That second revolution would last nearly twenty years, ending in 2005 – the same year Garang was killed in a helicopter accident. Last January, as part of the deal Garang negotiated to end the war, the people of South Sudan voted to be independent almost unanimously—98.8% voting for autonomy.

Now, ethnic violence has broken out between some of the groups Garang worked so hard to balance and reconcile. But the outlook is still hopeful, as the government works to reconcile the warring parties and heal the scars of war.

The new South Sudanese pounds started circulating on July 18. If you happen to get one, take a good, long look at what a Grinnellian can do.

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