Profile: Southern Sudan leader Salva Kiir
Salva Kiir Mayardit looks set to become the first president of Africa's newest country in 2011 - no doubt still wearing his trademark cowboy hat.
The former rebel commander has guided his homeland of Southern Sudan through multiple challenges since a 2005 peace deal ended two decades of war with the north.
Since becoming the south's leader later that year, much of his focus has been on ensuring the south's referendum on full independence - the climax of that peace agreement - does take place.
As such, he has had to tread an often difficult line in negotiations with former enemies in the north.
Mr Kiir is also vice-president of all Sudan, but he has long supported full independence for the south.
In 2009, he made his feelings clear, saying: "The upcoming referendum is a choice between being a second-class in your own country, or a free person in your independent state."Garang's shadow
His decision not to stand for national president in the April 2010 elections laid to rest any lingering doubts about whether he would back separation.
- 1960s: First joined southern rebellion
- 1983: Founder member of SPLM
- 1990s: SPLM military leader
- 2005: Southern leader and national vice-president
- 2010: Elected president of Southern Sudan
Instead, he chose to seek a democratic mandate as leader of Southern Sudan - a position he had already held since the sudden death of his charismatic predecessor, John Garang.
He won an overwhelming majority, with many south Sudanese saying there are few others able to take his place.
"President Kiir can hold us together - there is no-one else who can do that today," trader Agnes Monoja told the BBC.
Mr Kiir took over as southern leader and national deputy leader after Garang died in a helicopter crash in August 2005 - just three weeks after he had been sworn in as vice-president.
This sparked rioting by southerners in Khartoum, who thought Garang had been killed by his long-time enemies in the north.
However, an official investigation showed the death was an accident and Mr Kiir has been able to ride out the storm, while steering the south towards the independence he has long cherished - far more so than Garang, who had advocated unity.
But the shadow of Garang still looms over his successor.
Mr Kiir was an important member of his inner circle and was military commander of the southern rebels, the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM).
He was involved in the early stages of negotiating the 2005 peace deal, which ended 21 years of civil war, and was already well-known to the government in Khartoum before becoming national vice-president.
Unlike his predecessor, Mr Kiir is not an intellectual.
But while he is not a natural public speaker, he does know how to work the crowds, and is greeted with cheers and popular affection when he speaks at rallies.
A committed Christian, Mr Kiir regularly speaks at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Juba, the southern capital.Shrewd
Mr Kiir is believed to be 59 but even the SPLM could not confirm his age.
End Quote Agnes Monoja Trader
If, God forbid, he [Kiir] went, it would open old wounds between people, and there would be too many fierce arguments over who would replace him”
He first joined the southern rebellion in the late 1960s.
By the time President Jaafar Numeiri made peace with the rebels in 1972, Mr Kiir had become a low-ranking officer. With the accord in place, he joined the Sudanese army.
In 1983 the southern rebellion was renewed and Garang was sent to quell a mutiny by troops in the south - but instead of putting down the mutineers, he joined them.
Mr Kiir was, with Garang, one of the founders of the SPLM, and rose to lead its military wing.
Like Garang, he comes from the Dinka community - the largest ethnic group in the south - although the two are from different clans.
He is also shrewd - he has to be.
It is an unenviable task to balance the rival and heavily armed ethnic groups in the vast and grossly underdeveloped swamps, jungles and grasslands of the south.
Some members of other groups, especially the Nuer, the second most numerous in the south, resent the perceived Dinka dominance.
The two groups sometimes battled each other during the civil war, as well as fighting together against northerners.
Ms Monoja fears that Mr Kiir is one of the few able to keep the south united.
"If, God forbid, he went, it would open old wounds between people, and there would be too many fierce arguments over who would replace him," she said.
And despite the oil riches of the south, development since the war ended has appeared slow to many people on the streets.
"Things have improved greatly since the war," said Francis Jacob, an unemployed man. "But the government drives big cars and we still have not got jobs."
For now, however, old civil war enemies in Khartoum provide a useful rallying point for southerners to unite behind Mr Kiir.
He is very popular among the SPLM's military wing, says Gill Lusk, editor of Africa Confidential magazine.
Most of their successes in the field during the war were attributed directly to Mr Kiir, who controlled the movement's army.
An attempt to remove Mr Kiir as the movement's army chief of staff almost caused a split in the SPLM in 2004. The trouble was averted only when Garang dropped the idea.
As a former rebel movement, Mr Kiir's SPLM is still to show that it is ready to accept dissent.
The elections in the south were marred by widespread allegations of intimidation of those challenging official SPLM candidates.
This raises fears that "New Sudan", as it is sometimes called, under Mr Kiir may not be any more democratic than the old version.