Profile: South Sudan’s new army boss James Ajonga

General James Ajonga Mawut Unguec Ajonga is the current South Sudanese chief of defence forces. He was appointed by presidential order in May 2017, replacing General Paul Malong Awan, who left Juba after the announcement of his removal.

Malong later returned to Juba after being blocked from continuing with the journey to his home region of Aweil. After Malong failed to hand over the office, President Salva Kiir told his new general to assume his duties, and Ajonga took over the office without any briefing from his predecessor.

A few days after his appointment, Ajonga acquired a new job title as part of an army restructuring decreed by Kiir. Whilst his predecessor Malong had been SPLA Chief of General Staff, Ajonga was restyled ‘Chief of Defence Forces’.

In this capacity, Ajonga reports to the commander-in-chief, Kiir, with administrative supervision by the minister of defence.

James Ajonga’s military career dates to 1984, when he was among a group of South Sudanese students who abandoned their studies at Rumbek Senior Secondary School and took to the bush to join the recently founded Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). Prior to that he had attained a primary education at Bugo village, before going to Aweil Intermediate.

Ajonga was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the SPLA in 1984, after passing out of the military training known as shield one, equivalent to a military command course in a conventional army. He was deployed after the training as part of Jamus Battalion, where he rose through the ranks and held various command assignments in different places in Equatoria and Bahr el Ghazal.

General Ajonga holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Busoga University in Uganda. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree course in humanitarian law at the University of Great Lakes region in Kisumu, Kenya.

Prior to his appointment as Chief of Defence Staff, General James Ajonga was the deputy chief of general staff for finance and administration. He moved into the position from the directorate of military operations, where he was deputy chief of general staff and served as the operational commanding officer at the rank of major-general before being promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general.

The new army chief comes Bar Mayen village in Northern Bahr al Ghazal, and is a son of paramount chief Mawut Unguec Ajonga. General Ajonga comes from the Luo tribe, also known as Jurchol, one of the minority tribes in South Sudan. He is married and has children.


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