Tribute to Isaiah Abraham: A Personal Reflection
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me. By Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor who opposed the Nazi regime. He spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps, Germany, 1937.
By PaanLuel Wël, Juba City, South Sudan.
By 9AM, the morning of Wednesday, December 5th, 2012, I was already at the Ministries, Juba City, on an official visit to the ministry of Finance and Economics Planning as part of my job. By 10 AM, I was in Juba Town, still going about my official duties. That was when I received a call from my cousin from home, informing me that “wende Chan Awuol has been murdered last night” and that all Kongor Community members are descending on Juba Teaching Hospital where the body was being taken to. As a member of Kongor Community myself, I knew all the sons of Chan Awuol. Kongor Community has three major sections: Apioloch, Padol and Biordit. Chan Awuol was the great chief of Padol section of Kongor Community. Thus, the death of his son, whoever he was, tantamount to a great devastation for the Kongor Community in general and to Pande Chief Chan Awuol in particular.
My mind, in the midst of the darkest confusion, started racing, wondering, who among the sons of Chandit could have been slain and for what reasons. My cousin, sensing the thick tension developing over the phone, told me that it was Abuna Diing who has been killed. That unknown gunmen burst into his compound, into his house, shot him dead with a single bullet in the head and left with everything intact in his house. Only his computer has been taken. That Abuna Diing was all by himself in his Gudele Estate House that night. No one witnessed the shooting, no one saw the killers, and no one knows them. The gunmen did their dirty job and, apparently, have gotten away with it. Though some neighbors talked of having heard gunshots, no one was really sure of the exact time the murderers struck: it was estimated to be between midnight and 4 AM. So much unknown and yet, the victim was so prominent, a situation definitely bound to generate much speculations and open a floodgate of conspiracy theories.
Not that I was not shocked by the news already but the fact that the dead son of Chan Awuol was none other than Abuna Diing triggered and sent more shock waves into my already enfeebled body and battered mind. Who would shed the blood of a pastor, I wondered in front of the Equity Bank Headquarters building in Juba Town. Diing Chan Awuol was a well-known figure not only within his Kongor Community but also among the people of Greater Bor Region and beyond. He was a son of a great chief, Chan Awuol Chan of Kongor-Padol, one whose names and records are well chronicled in that historical book of colonial era—The Upper Nile Province Handbook: A Report on Peoples and Government in the Southern Sudan, 1931, that was compiled by C. A. Willis and edited by Douglas Johnson. His mother, Abuna Luethdit Wel, is from another prominent clan of Bor South—the Palek Community, the same clan that Judge Martin Majier Ghai of SPLM/A hailed from. Within Kongor Community, Diing Chan Awuol was only comparable with Bior Ajang Duot (Bior-athuot of the SPLM/A), who is the son of Chief Ajang Duot of kongor-Apioloch section before he (Ajang) was elevated to the seat of a paramount chief of Greater Bor Community.
But Diing Chan Awuol’s eminence was not only based on his inheritance of his father’s and mother’s greatness: he was a man of his own making. Born in 1962 in Kongor District of Upper Nile Region, Southern Sudan, Abuna Diing did his primary, intermediate and junior schooling at the famed Juba Day Primary School in Juba City, Southern Sudan, from 1970 when he joined primary school till 1977 when he successfully completed his junior year. For his senior year, he returned to Malek Secondary School in Bor where he graduated in 1982, just one year before May 16th, 1983. Fresh from school, Abuna Diing was among the first SPLM/A recruits that joined the Movement in its infancy. He joined the SPLM/A in November 1983. He was trained in Bongo, Ethiopia, and graduated with a rank of a sergeant in the Tiger Battalion that was commandered by Salva Kiir Mayaardit, the longtime SPLM/A second in command and the current president of South Sudan under whose leadership Abuna Diing lost his precious life. How ironic it is!
Abuna Diing fought—together with his six brothers, two of which lost their lives in the course of the war—in the long war of liberation, rising to the rank of Major in Shell Seven of the SPLM/A. His bravery in the war and steadfastness to the cause for which he left for the bush were recognized when, in 1991, he was recalled from the frontline and seconded to join the SPLM/A Political School in Isoke, Eastern Equatoria, where the Movement was training its best minds for administrative and political purposes. The year 1991 was a harrowing one for the SPLM/A and a personal calamity for Abuna Diing: one of his elder brothers was among the senior SPLM/A Dinka officers lynched to death by the Nasir group. In spite of all that, he left the frontline, joined the SPLM/A Political School and superbly graduated to 2nd lieutenant. Upon graduation, he was deployed to Kapoeta, Eastern Equatoria, as a Political Commissar and Security Officer. In his new position, he worked diligently and faithfully, winning the hearts and minds of the local population and making lots of friends. The Toposa people anointed him Opiyo and even named their children after his name: Diing. He developed a close and long-lasting friendship with Louis Lobong, the current state Governor of Eastern Equatoria state, who sorrowfully eulogized him during the public viewing of the body in the ECS Emmanuel Jieng Parish in Juba. He was a man of the people, to quote the Nigerian Writer, Chinua Achebe.
Abuna Diing, still eager to further his education that he had deferred when he joined the war of liberation in November 1983, requested for official leave from the SPLM/A’s leadership. He left his official duties in 1998 and travel to Nairobi, Kenya where he matriculated in Daystar University. He enrolled in Bachelors Degrees in Commerce, majoring in Accounting wherein he graduated in 2002 with Honors. One year later, 2003, he returned to Southern Sudan and got a job with Pact Sudan as a team leader in Upper Nile Region. He worked for Pact Sudan till 2005 when the war ended. After the inception of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), following the signing and implementation of the CPA, Abuna Diing returned to where he belonged—within the government, and got employed in 2006 by the Chamber of Employees Justice. He worked as the Director for Finance and Administration from 2006 to 2008. As the former longtime SPLM/A administrator, that position was natural and befitting to him.
2010, just one year before South Sudan’s independence, Abuna Diing again, just like in 1998 when he left his political commissar and security officer post, decided to leave his lucrative job with Chamber of Employees Justice and headed to Nairobi Kenya, for the second time, for further studies. He enrolled at the University of Nairobi for his Masters Degree, graduating with honors in 2011—just a year before he met his tragic death in 2012 at the hands of his fellow South Sudanese compatriots. The trend, just like that of Dr. John Garang, is striking: he completed his senior school a year before the war broke out; he left Pact Sudan a year into the formation of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS); he left for his Master Degree studies a year before the independence of South Sudan and he died a year after finishing his Masters Studies. After Masters Degree graduation in 2011, Abuna Diing immediately went back to South Sudan and assumed his old position of a Director of Finance and Administration at the Chamber of Employees Justice, a position he held till he was mercilessly killed by unknown gunmen on Wednesday, December 5th, 2012, at his Gudele House, Juba city, South Sudan.
Besides his military accomplishments, administrative prowess and academic feats, Abuna Diing was also a man of God. Just like his mother, he was an ordained priest of the Episcopal Church of the (South) Sudan (ECS). He once wanted to contest for the position of a Bishop for the then newly created Dioceses of Twic East. But the Kongor Community prevailed upon him to give chance to his seniors among the ranks and files of the ECS pastors. After much soul-searching, he humbly acquiesced and accepted the verdict of the community. He was also a loving husband to his two wives and a great father to his five children—three boys and two daughters—Chan, Ajah, Arok, Ajok and Aluel.
When I received the news that Diing Chan Awuol has been killed by unknown gunmen, I was mourning a dear close brother, a fellow South Sudanese, an SPLM/A war veteran, an academic giant, a great SPLM/A administrator, an experienced SPLM/A security officer and a promising ECS priest whose untimely death was both inexplicable and undeservedly. Little did I know the other famous but secured side of Abuna Diing Chan Awuol. That was to be revealed in the most shocking and dramatic sequence of events as Wednesday morning unfolded. As I have previously described, I already knew by 10 AM that someone from my Kongor community has been killed and that person was Diing Chan Awuol. That was it, period. Few minutes before 11AM, I received a call from Atok Dan Baguoot. Atok Baguoot, Tearz Ayuen, Heskey Deng and I, among others, are bloggers on the PaanLuel Wel: South Sudanese Bloggers. Since I arrived in Juba, South Sudan, on August 18, 2012, three months ago to be exact, we have always been in close contact, monitoring and discussing and writing about events in South Sudan as they happen.
The essence of Atok Baguoot’s call was to know whether or not the political commentator by the name of Isaiah Abraham was someone from the same Kongor community as I am. Of course, the writer Isaiah Abraham was a ubiquitous name on the net and in newspapers all over South Sudan. He was known by all who read or interested in the socio-political aspects of our new Republic of South Sudan. He had written on all topical issues that have ever occurred in South Sudan prior to and after independence. In short, his name was as common as that of President Salva Kiir, his main bone of contention, among the intellectual circles of South Sudanese. Naturally, I told Atok Baguoot that I would try to find out and would get back to him in time. That, of course, was not the first time that someone had associated the writer Isaiah Abraham with Kongor community. In 2010, after having been intrigued by the writings and continuous arguments of Isaiah Abraham, I set out to find out who he was and, if possible, meet him for a friendly discussion.
In the course of my investigation, some people told me that he was a Nuer because he supported Dr. Riek Machar against Salva Kiir; that he was an SPLM/A Dinka General from Warrap who is just but a mole planted by Kiir himself to distract people from criticizing the SPLM/A-led government because he supported the SPLM/A and is too critical and dismissive of the opposition parties; that he was an Equatorian sycophant of Dr. Riek Machar; that he was a white man from the UK, given his email address and the nature of sophistication displayed in his writings, pretending to be a South Sudan. Most interestingly, someone suggested that he was a Bor Dinka from Kongor Community and one of the sons of Chan Awuol. I dismissed that last suggestion downrightly because, to me, none of the sons of Chan Awuol would dare to advance such kind of arguments as sustained by Isaiah Abraham. My assumption, much to my dismay later, was rather based on stereotype: it is very rare to find a Bor Dinka coming out openly and wholeheartedly denouncing President Kiir while, at the same time, campaigning for Dr. Riek Machar’s presidency. That line of thinking among the people of Greater Bor Community is informed and reinforced by the tragic legacy of the Bor-Kongor massacre in the aftermath of the 1991 Nasir Coup engineered by Dr. Lam Akol and leadered by Dr. Riek Machar.
My search for the identity of Writer Isaiah Abraham reached a dead-end and I sulkily resigned myself to reading his articles and reasoning out his arguments. When Atok Baguoot called and repeated the same claim, I dismissed it without much thought but determined to find out once and for all if he is from Kongor. By then, Atok had not yet informed me that Isaiah Abraham has been gunned down that night. Thus, there was hardly any way my mind could have made the mental connection between Abuna Diing shot dead my unknown gunmen and the writer that was purported to be from Kongor community. Instead of calling someone from Kongor community, I called Deng Heskey. Deng Heskey, besides blogging with us, is a contributor to the Pioneer Magazine founded by Atem Yaak Atem, the current deputy minister of Information and a member of Kongor community. Sometime back, I had read an article by Isaiah Abraham on Gurtong.net in which he was explaining that he had had a public quarrel with Atem Yaak but they were then reconciled following the intervention of the elders. Therefore, I had reasoned, if there was one person in South Sudan who had met Isaiah Abraham, who would know his true identity, who would dispute or confirm whether or not he is from Kongor community, then that person must be Atem Yaak—the Man Far Away from War.
And Deng Heskey was my link to Atem Yaak. Unfortunately, when I called Deng Heskey and explained myself to him, he informed me that he had lost Atem Yaak’s contact but he would get back to me as soon as he got it, perhaps in the evening. I turned to Kaunda, my longtime friend dating back to our high school days under the JRS scholarship in Kenya. Kaunda has plenty of connections in the government and I regularly relied on him for information. Upon calling him and inquired about the identity of Isaiah Abraham, his tone changed abruptly after ceremonious greetings and he demanded to know why I wanted the identity of the said person and who was that person asking for his identity. Bewildered by his tone and the seriousness of his voice, I explained to him that one of my fellow bloggers had just asked me about him claiming that the guy is from Kongor community. Since I am from the Kongor community, he wanted to confirm if I knew the guy and if indeed he was from there. Seemingly convinced, Kaunda, with heavy voice, told me that Isaiah Abraham was indeed from Kongor community, that unknown people had assassinated him that night at his house and that his real name was Diing Chan Awuol from Kongor-Padol. He told me that Deputy Minister, Dr. Majak D’Agot had informed him that morning about the tragic occurrence.
Shocked and dumbfounded by the connection between Abuna Diing Chan Awuol and the prolific South Sudanese writer Isaiah Abraham, and furious with Atok Baguoot for not disclosing to me the reported assassination of Isaiah Abraham, I cut the phone conversation with Kaunda and called Atok, demanding to know why he didn’t give me the full details about the circumstances surrounding his request to know the identity of Isaiah Abraham. He apologized and told me that it is Dinka custom not to announce the death of a person randomly. Besides, he thought that I had already heard about it since I was from that community. Indeed, as it turned out, I had heard about the death of Abuna Diing Chan but not that of Isaiah Abraham, the writer. The jigsaw of the puzzle was in: Diing Chan Awuol whom I had known within my community is the very same person, Isaiah Abraham, that I had been asking about for all these years. Isaiah Abraham was Diing Chan Awuol and Diing Chan Awuol was Isaiah Abraham. Isaiah was his baptismal name; Abraham was his father’s Christian. In full, he was Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awuol.
The realization was mind shattering and too excruciating to bear. Already, I had been mourning him as a self-sacrificing SPLM/A war veteran, an academic giant, a great family man and a promising pastor. That he was also Isaiah Abraham, my fellow political commentator, writer and a blogger, apparently assassinated for his political writings by his own people, his own government, under the leadership of his own Tiger commander, appalled and traumatized me, draining the last strength I was left with. Grievingly, I rang up Tearz Ayuen from his office. While all of us—Atok Baguoot, Tearz Ayuen, Deng Heskey and I are all professionals working in our respective official duties—it is Tearz who has the most demanding job which occasionally offered him little time to be on the phone as oft-time as we would desire. Tearz informed me that he was aware about the reported death of Isaiah Abraham. He further told me that he had received many calls and emails, from friends and relatives worried about his safety, advising him to cease from writing.
But he was firm and determined, just as I was, that the killing of Isaiah Abraham was a politically motivated one, meant to silence the media. It was nothing short of a broad daylight attack on the media and freedom of expression in the infant Republic of South Sudan. We vowed to continue steadfastly in our constructive criticisms of the government, come what may, all in the name of and as a solemn tribute to our fallen writer, friend, brother, blogger, countryman, colleague and comrade, Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awuol, alias Isaiah Abraham.
What is my opinion on the death of Isaiah Abraham? Well, intellectualism and the rule of law demand that the accused is presumed innocent till proven guilty. However, in the rarest of the cases such as this murder, the government of the republic of South Sudan, particularly the secret services around the President, must be presumed guilty till proven innocent. To think otherwise would tantamount to abating justice. Isaiah Abraham was politically assassinated, period! His murderers are known, period. None of them would ever be brought before the court of law to account for his/her crimes, period. Short of apprehending the ‘real murderers,’ there is absolutely nothing that the government can, could, would do to dispel this line of thinking among the South Sudanese people, period. Though the government under President Kiir is telling the world that they would leave no stone unturned in the course of the investigation of his murdering, it is just but a white lie, a mere window dressing, meant to buy time with the hope that the anger generated by his assassination would subside and then everything return to normalcy as usual. That is the thinking, the very rationale that underpinned the authorization of his killing by the government secret services that had earlier summoned him to show him an article he wrote, critical of president Kiir and his government. It is the same secret services that arrested Dengdit Ayok and kidnapped Deng Athuai. They know no tribe, clan, creed or party, for their loyalty is to an individual, not the country nor its people.
Isaiah Abraham was killed for his writings and that killing was discussed, ordered and executed by the very government that is supposedly investigating his murdering. Biel Boutros, a South Sudanese lawyer, captured the situation vividly: ‘Did [the government] publish how Deng Athuai was kidnapped? How can the state kill and at the same time order for investigations? A judge accused of malpractices in his or her court cannot be the same judge to order for a team to investigate his crimes, that is legally a laughing matter. That is how the Sri Lankan president kills his opponents and critics and be the first person to order for investigations and offer soon after the murder lying condolences.” Most leaders in Africa are known for murdering their opponents and then officiate during their funerals. It would be surprising if the murderers of Isaiah Abraham wouldn’t be the one flocking to his funeral. Would there be more insults than that?
As reported by the Sudan Tribune, Isaiah Abraham “was avid, admired and experienced writer whose articles were widely read in The Citizen Newspaper, Sudan Tribune, South Sudan Nation and many others. The last article was on 28 November 2012 and it was titled: ‘Khartoum Though Has a Case Must Give Peace a Chance’.” May his soul rest in eternal peace!! May the cause that he fought for under the SPLM/A and the vision of the country he died for persevere and be realized in their fullest grander, for this and the forthcoming generations of South Sudanese and the African people!!
PaanLuel Wël (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Managing Editor of PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers: He can be reached through his Facebook page, Twitter Account or on the blog: https://paanluelwel2011.wordpress.com/