SPLA General Paul Malong has played a key role in South Sudan’s civil war since its outbreak in December 2013 until May 2017 when he was ousted by President Salva Kiir. Malong’s rise to power in the SPLA came after a rocky start earlier in life – his father was murdered, he never completed secondary school, and he was jailed in the early years of the South Sudanese liberation struggle by SPLA founder John Garang. How did this troubled young man eventually end up at the helm of the SPLA? The Messenger details his path to power:
From village to capital
Paul Malong Awan Anei was born around 1962 at Awuchier village near Warawar, a village near Darfur in the Bahr el Ghazal region of South Sudan. Malong father Awan Anei was a paramount chief in the Wun-Anei section of Abiem, situated in the current Aweil East State. He was killed by another member of his community in the village when Malong was only eight years old, leaving Malong to be raised by his mother.
After his father was killed in around in 1965, Malong left for Muglad in the Arab-inhabited region of South Kordofan. There he completed his primary school in 1969 before going to Khartoum to study at St. James intermediate school. Malong says that he heard about the clandestine formation of the Anya-Nya 2 rebel movement while he was in Khartoum.
Troubled early years in the SPLA
He returned back to the Bahr el Ghazal region and joined the Anya-Nya 2. However, another rebel movement was forming during this time – the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). Malong left Bahr el Ghazal for Ethiopia, where the movement was forming under the patronage of Ethiopia, arriving in July 1984.
He was trained and given the rank of captain the same year before being sent to northern Upper Nile around the Maban area. Later, after a return visit to Ethiopia, he was posted to southern Blue Nile, where he spent three years at the front. In 1988, Paul Malong was arrested while on leave in Itang in Ethiopia on charges of insubordination and over an apparent disagreement with Dr. John Garang. He spent more than two years in SPLA detention.
Malong’s fortunes changed with the collapse of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia in 1991, soon after which all charges against him were dismissed. In about 1992 he was promoted to the rank of alternate commander. He was posted in Eastern Equatoria and was there involved in efforts to contain the defection of SPLA General William Nyuon Bany, during which he was wounded in the leg.
In August 1993, Malong was appointed commander of the Gogrial Area Independent Command Zone. Salva Kiir Mayardit was made commander of the entire Bahr el Ghazal front in 2000. Malong was made his deputy as head of administration and logistics. The headquarters were in Yinh-kuel in present-day Tonj state.
Malong served under Kiir and later Gen. Pieng Deng Majok, maintaining his position as the deputy front commander until the Naivaisha Peace Agreement of January 2005.
Interlude between wars
During the CPA period of 2005-2011, Malong held military, security and civil positions. Initially, he helped to set up the South Sudan Presidential Guards but subsequently was appointed in 2006 within Sudan’s National Security Service as one of the deputy chiefs. (At this time the SPLA and the Khartoum-based Sudanese security services attempted a merger that lasted until independence in 2011). Malong played a role in building the premises that house the current National Security Service offices in Juba, known as the ‘Blue House’.
In December 2007, Malong was transferred to Northern Bahr el Gazal as the state governor. He won the first general elections in April 2010 for the same position and remained as governor until February 2014.
Role in the current war
The African Union Commission of Inquiry Report implicates Malong in the organizing of the Mathiang Anyoor militia that massacred Nuer civilians in Juba in December 2013, sparking the current civil war. By some accounts, Malong was the ‘lead coordinator’ of the militia recruitment and dealt with President Kiir directly in organizing the militia, bypassing army headquarters, even though he was only a civilian governor at the time.
Malong’s efforts were rewarded with an appointment to the post of SPLA Chief of General staff soon after the outbreak of the war. In that capacity he oversaw army operations in key theatres from 2014 until his removal in May 2017, including Unity State, Upper Nile and the Equatorias.
During his tenure as chief of staff of the SPLA, Malong attempted to continue controlling the SPLM secretariat in his home state. Although this was not strictly legal under the terms of the SPLA Act, Malong was able to maintain chairmanship of the party through the support of President Kiir and a network of political allies and local strongmen in the state. In early 2015 he overcame a challenge by Kuel Aguer, his successor as governor, who was removed at Malong’s instigation and replaced by one of Malong’s associates.
After his removal from the post of SPLA Chief of Staff in early May 2017, Malong left Juba with some of his bodyguards heading toward his political power base of Northern Bahr al Ghazal but he was halted en route by security forces in Lakes state. After negotiations he agreed to return to Juba, where he has remained ever since.
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This article is the second in a series of profiles of South Sudanese military commanders. The first article in this series details the background of Gen. James Ajonga, Paul Malong’s successor as army chief of staff.