R.I.P Lt. Gen. Chagai Atem Biar: The Illustrious Life of the Most Respected Veteran of the War of Liberation

Posted: June 20, 2019 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Founding Fathers, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers, People

R.I.P Lieutenant General Chagai Atem Biar: The Inspirational and Illustrious Biography of the Most Respected Veteran of the Anyanya One and the SPLM/SPLA Armed Liberation Struggle for the Independence of of the Republic of South Sudan

“Garang, the son of my mother, have you come? Take over the command from here now. Chagai, my work is finished: give me something to drink and celebrate the start of the revolution. Chagai Atem, I said my work is finished here. Let the wise man, Garang of my mother, assumes the responsibility. Chagai, where is your Ak47? Garang will show us how to shoot the enemy.” – Major Kerubino Kuanyin Bol in Bor, May 17, 1983, upon seeing Dr. John Garang joining the mutiny.

By Atem Ayuen Biar (Ayuen Matok), Melbourne, Australia

Gen Chagai Atem Biar.png
Lt. Gen. Chagai Atem Biar, one of the founders of the SPLM/SPLA

Thursday, June 20, 2019 (PW) —- Well Done Lt-Gen Chagai Atem Biar! No one could love South Sudan more than you. Patriotism is all about loving one’s own country and its people above anything else, and you certainly did that. Rather than gold medals, your reward is our country of South Sudan. You are a hero because you dedicated your life to something greater than yourself. With much gratitude to the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, Lt Gen Chagai Atem still survives because of the President’s huge support in terms of money to pay for Chagai’s medication and medical expenses. Mr. President Mayardit you have shown real friendship to Lt Gen Chagai Atem and his family. May God Almighty reward you for the work you have done!

Comrade Chagai Atem, Comrade William Nyuon, Comrade John Garang, Comrade Kerubino Kuanyin and Comrade Salva Kiir, respectively, at the founding of the SPLM/SPLA in 1983 - photo by Comrade Atem Yaak Atem
Comrade Chagai Atem, Comrade William Nyuon, Comrade John Garang, Comrade Kerubino Kuanyin and Comrade Salva Kiir, respectively, at the founding of the SPLM/SPLA in 1983 – photo by Comrade Atem Yaak Atem

Lt-Gen Chagai Atem Biar is the one of the founders of the Sudan People Liberation Moment and the Sudan Liberation Army (SPLM/A) and eventually became facilitator, mediator, peace negotiator among his colleagues for the SPLM/A party to survive up-to-date. During the Civil war between SPLM/A and Sudan government there were many issues among senior commanders and Mr. Chagai Atem was nominated as the chief negotiator between the deputy chairperson Salva Kiir Mayardit and the chairperson of SPLM/A, Dr. Garang de Mabior Atem in 1994 and he settled that matter peacefully between the two senior leaders. Both men trusted Chagai Atem and that is why he was chosen to handle these factional issues over anyone else. Following the conflict of 2004 between Comrade Salva Kiir Mayardit and Dr. Garang de Mabior, Mr. Chagai Atem was also involved together with Dr. Riek Machar, who was a head of mediation.

Comrade Salva Kiir, Comrade Kerubino Kuanyin and Comrade Chagai Atem Biar at the founding of the SPLM/SPLA in 1983 - photo by Comrade Atem Yaak Atem
Comrade Salva Kiir, Comrade Kerubino Kuanyin and Comrade Chagai Atem Biar at the founding of the SPLM/SPLA in 1983 – photo by Comrade Atem Yaak Atem

Lt General Chagai was born to his father Atem Biar Achuoth and his mother Riak Aguer Diing at Akoy Village in Awulian Clan, Ayuak Payam in Twic East area, Jonglei State in South Sudan. He was the third child of the family and was raised along with his four brothers surrounded by many cousins. Chagai Atem Biar was an energetic, well-organized, carer and problem solver who grew up with respect for his relatives and the community at large. His parents had strict traditional beliefs regarding Atem-Yaath (traditional god) but when he moved to Malakal he was baptized as a Christian. As his parents were farmers, he would wake up very early in the mornings to clean up the cattle dung and then graze the cattle during the day. From a young age, he gained the respect of many community elders who often described him as “smart” and “energetic”.

Chagai Atem did not attend a proper school in his village due to a lack of awareness about the benefits of a formal education. However, he learned to read, write and speak in English after gaining an education from a private teacher during the Second Sudan Civil War (1983 to 2005). Only very few families were able to send their children to school and most Dinka people from South Sudan believed that there was no benefit in educating their children. They feared that they would get spoiled by the city lifestyle.

In the 1960s, Chagai Atem moved to Malakal and stayed with his uncle, Thuch Ajang (father of Cardinal Mark Atem). From there he commenced in business as an agriculturalist. He married his first wife Nyayiik Ayok and then 6 further wives: Nyakuany de Keer, Nyabouth Galuak, Nyabil Kon, Nyamaal Koryom, Nyadang (deceased) and Lith Aret (deceased). He and his wives have over 33 children, more than 60 grandchildren and at least 10 great-grandchildren. I will list some but not all children: –

  • Sons: Atemdit (deceased), Abuoi, Atem-fidel, Biar-machok, Biar-Marial, Atem-Madiing, Dhieu-Thonajah, Gill (Tut), Koryom, Lual, Ngor and Mabior;
  • Daughters: Malangdit, Choldit, Adhieudit, Nyadengdit (deceased), Riakdit, Yom, Riakthi, Acholthi, Ajah, Adhieuthi (deceased), Akuol, Achol-Mimi, Nyadeng-dodoya, Nyaroor, Achol-Moli, Wutlei (deceased), Atong, Achol- achan, Malangthi, Riak-chileng (nyayikitoch) and Riak-nyanekeny.

Chagai Atem was a successful and talented businessman. He bought a car and built up a business to deliver medicines to Anyanya One in the bush. He donated money and materials to Anyanya apart from medicines. He was very organised, and was a mesmerizingly charismatic person to run a business. Unfortunately, his business collapsed due to the Civil war in Sudan when he had leave the business behind and flee from Malakal with his wives and kids to the bush to take up the fight against their foes.

Lt Gen Chagai Atem was baptised with the name Isaiah Chagai (the name Isaiah in Hebrew is God’s Helper or to save). Mr. Chagai Atem Biar is a “God Helper”. He helped a lot in Anyanya One and SPLM/A for his people to achieve their goal, which we called a country: South Sudan.

President Kiir visiting his friend, Comrade Chagai Atem, at his home in Juba on 13 June 2019, after Chagai-dit was brought back from Kenya, following a lengthy treatment period, since he fell ill on the eve of South Sudan's independence in 2011
President Kiir visiting his friend, Comrade Chagai Atem, at his home in Juba on 13 June 2019, after Chagai-dit was brought back from Kenya, following a lengthy treatment period, since he fell ill on the eve of South Sudan’s independence in 2011

In 2002, Lt General Chagai Atem Biar told the Christian congregation in Kakuma, Zone 4 that he dropped his baptized name during the First Sudan War, Anyanya 1 (1956-1972). He had assisted Anyanya to deliver medicines to Anyanya forces, but the Sudan government was informed by an unknown person that ‘there is a guy who supported rebel by the name ‘Isaiah Chagai’ and that name was given to the security department in Khartoum, Sudan. While the security agents were trying to find and arrest him he got information about this from those who were the supporters of Anyanya One.  He dropped his Christian name and used his full name. “Chagai Atem Biar”. He informed the Christians that he dropped his baptized name during Anyanya one but he will proudly take it back when the South Sudanese people got independence.

Lt GenChagai Atem Biar had three nicknames: Chagai nicknames: 99, Mzee Korop and Jook-alith.

  1. 99: it was a comparison of his cleverness to the chairperson of SPLM/A, Dr.  Garang de Mabior, his colleagues gave Dr. Garang de Mabior 100 and gave Lt Gen Biar 99 for level of shrewdness.
  2. Mzee Korop: I was among the guys who nicknamed him “Mzee Korop’ in Kakuma Refugees Camp. We combined two terms and christened him as a Mzee in Swahilli and Korop in Arabic.  I believed that he had chosen a valuable name Isaiah. Seer Isaiah prophesized the coming of the Messiah Jesus Christ and I believed that Isaiah Chagai was also prognosticated our education future at Hilla-Tarawa in Kakuma Refugee Camp that all of us will go to Universities, but there were no universities in the camp. He gave an example –all of us will get admissions to Jamya Juba ‘Korop’ or University of Juba. Those children from Panwich within Payaath, Awulian clan were encouraging in Kakuma by Lt Gen Chagai Atem to focus on their studied and they had completed their university degrees.  
  3. Jook-alith (childhood name): his cattle camp people borrowed this name Jook-alith (an enthusiastic guy) he was from Pathuyieth in Baidit payam, Bor County. When Chagai was a lad. He was nicknamed as a Jook-alith in the cattle camp known as Pawuoi, people called him ‘’Jook-alith’’ throughout. He was an active boy like Jook-alith.

His father Atem Biar Achuoth predicted to his other four sons (Malual, Kon, Abuoi and Aguer) that Chagai would be a source of income for the family. He compared Mr. Chagai as a sister to them where they could get cows/cattle. According to Jieng/Dinka culture, girl is a source income or to acquire cows.

All three nicknames given to him have significant meanings.

President Kiir visiting his friend, Comrade Chagai Atem, at his home in Juba on 13 June 2019, after Chagai-dit was brought back from Kenya, following a lengthy treatment period, since he fell ill on the eve of South Sudan's independence in 2011
President Kiir visiting his friend, Comrade Chagai Atem, at his home in Juba on 13 June 2019, after Chagai-dit was brought back from Kenya, following a lengthy treatment period, since he fell ill on the eve of South Sudan’s independence in 2011

He is one of the seniors of the Anyaya who is still surviving. Their importance in the struggle for South Sudanese independence was established around 1955 through demonstrations against the colonial masters, Britain and Egypt at period of negotiations for Sudan independence, and Chagai was there. Lt General Chagai was there during the Addis Ababa agreement negotiations in 1972 when President Gaffar Muhammad Numeiry signed an agreement and to grant conditional autonomy to South Sudan. This agreement was repetitively contravened and then after they revolted against Khartoum regime he moved with Dr. John Garang to Ethiopia. Thus began the longest Civil war in Africa and they went back to bush to fight and struggle for South Sudanese and their own freedom.

He was there when the Addis Ababa agreement was repeatedly flouted as mentioned above, and he was at Dr John Garang de Mabior’s side when they told their village people that the time had come to go back to the bush to make one last stand for freedom. He was with John Garang de Mabior when Major Kerubino Kuanyin Bol said “Chagai Atem my work is finished here let the wise man, ‘Garang, the son of my mother, take over the command from here and let’s celebrate the start of the revolution.

Dr. Garang de Mabior was interviewed by Arop Madut in 1987 and said his opinion was that his comrade, Chagai Atem Biar, was a major source of information on underground recruitment, and he was an agent to circulate messages between Dr. Mabior and the intelligence officer, Salva Kiir Mayardit. Dr. Mabior unveiled in the interview that Chagai Atem came to Khartoum in February 1983 for consultations concerning the underground recruitment plans. When Mr. Chagai Atem returned to Khartoum from Malakal armed with the facts that the situation was deteriorating he informed Dr. Mabior that an assault on Juba planned for 18 August was not possible.  This was a vital message for the underground movement to get much better prepared and equipped for their campaign against the Khartoum regime.

Dr. Garang de Mabior master-minded the underground recruitment. But Mr. Chagai Atem Biar was the one who coordinated SPLM/A plans within Sudan before Civil war broke out in May 1983. Dr. Mabior constantly got concerning messages, security information and political development from Salva Kiir Mayardit through Chagai. The Underground Recruitment Movement was facilitated by Chagai Atem Biar, who was based in Malakal. Dr. Garang de Mabior and Salva Kiir Mayardit relied on Chagai to circulate security reports concerning the military situation in South Sudanese towns to inform all underground officers.

The current president of South Sudan, Mayardit, was also working there as a military intelligence officer of Sudanese national security. I read in the one of the reports that Salva Kiir was employed as an officer since 1978 until the South Sudanese people revolted on 16 May 1983, when civil war was started by Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, followed by his colleagues William Nyoun Bany and Francis Ngor and other officers. Lt General Chagai had assisted a lot in the planning and co-ordination of the underground movement that was critical in the revolt’s success.

Lt-General Chagai Atem is veteran who has spent most of his life in a Military and political role in old Sudan, New Sudan and South Sudan. He was the go-between shuttling between Bortown, Juba, Malakal and Khartoum (because there were no mobile phones). He was highly trusted among his colleagues, which was why he was chosen to delivery very secretive messages between intelligent officer Salva Kiir Mayardit and Dr. Garang de Mabior.

SPLM/A used a clever campaign to mobilize community members, especially to recruit the youths. I was very young when Chagai was campaigning to recruit Koroyom. Mr. Chagai Atem campaigned on behalf of SPLA across Jongeli (Bor District) and he swayed people to give their young males (over 18 years old) that were later be recruited as Koryom (Koryom in Dinka dialect means Locust) to acquire guns for self-defence or protection from those who are cattle rustlers (Murle) or were abducting their children.

The recruitment of Koryom was particularly successful because of Chagai Atem and Kuol Ngong-kun and his others colleagues were sent to their villages to do the same recruitment, and SPLA ended up with the majority of Koryom who came from Bor District or current Jonglei State and second recruitment of Muor-muor in Dinka dialect with majority came from Bahr el Ghazal and a list goes on. Many communities in South/North people responded by giving their adult children lives to free them from Arab regime.

SPLM/A used both soft power and force to gain recruits. Chiefs were ordered by the SPLA leadership to provide three persons in every section of Bor County, Twi East County, Duk County and possibly in other villages across South Sudan. This was “soft power” to recruit soldiers and encouraged volunteers with the promise of having guns to protect themselves from their common enemy. These ideas conferred earlier Mr Chagai Atem was involved. There was another mechanism known as Kasha – an Arabic word. Where SPLA leadership recruited people by force. SPLA soldiers came to the villages and took away young males, and trained them to be soldiers.

Lt General Chagai has spent 75% of his life immersed in Anyanya and SPLM/A to free his people from the oppressive, Khartoum government. He fought in many battles against Khartoum regime because he didn’t like Sharia law and servitude of his people. During those periods of struggling to liberate his land and its people, he lost many relatives including his two brothers: Abuoi Atem and Aguer Atem and countless friends.  Even though, Chagai Atem had been living in towns or cities he never thought about leaving the fighting or the struggle for freedom and joint education like other colleagues. His aim was to free Southern people from the slavery of the Arab regime in Khartoum.

In 2011, Lt General Chagai was admitted to Nairobi Hospital and he was advised by President Salva Kiir and his doctors in July 2011 not to attend South Sudan independence Ceremony in Juba due to his sickness. But he told them, including President, Salva Mayardit, that he had to witness the South Sudan flag going up and he declared that if he died while watching the independence ceremony and flag raising he would be excited and a satisfied person to leave the earth. Lt Gen Chagai Atem said that “I will be very enjoyable, even if I die, I have seen our victory”. Lt General Chagai Atem is a man who is really loved his country so much.

On 9th July 2011, in the interview Mr. Chagai Atem said that “we must stand together the way we did during the referendum. We do not want any more disturbances. Even with our friends in the North Sudan we are saying we do not want more conflict. We want peace”. Unfortunately, no one was paying attention to his speech that why there is a conflict in South Sudan.

Throughout the SPLM/A struggle he held senior leadership positions and his status is described as famous in many writings and interviews. Before of his health issues deteriorated, he was employed as a head of Veterans. He suggested that Veterans department should promote rehabilitation of veterans of the conflict to its employees. He recommended that he would not appoint his directors from his tribe. He chose people according to their professionalism and experiences to his office. He showed a good example to his colleagues.

Lt Gen Chagai Atem is well known to all his colleagues, SPLM/A members and everyone involved in Sudan Civil war. Lt General Biar is a man who is supporting a peaceful environment, transparency, integrity, compassion, social justice, non-discrimination and community engagement to empower marginalized people.

Finally, I would like to thank South Sudanese communities for the sacrifices their sons and daughters made to free our land of the Black Africans. Our South Sudanese veterans have taught us that no matter what conditions we are facing we will still come out from it if our cause is strong and just. I hope the nauseating war of 2013 will come to end. I know many Veterans are homeless, and they are struggling to meet their basic needs. But one day success and a better life will come to them.

I will conclude this biography of the very admirable veteran, Lt General Chagai Atem Biar with the quote from Michelle Obama: “Our love, our gratitude, our admiration for our men and women in uniform, our veterans and their families – all of that is bigger than any one party or any one election”.

The Author, Atem Ayuen Biar, recently attained a Master of policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism from Macquarie University, a Master degree of International Relations from the University of Melbourne & a Master degree of Project Management from Victoria University. He wrote other articles: Nothing is most disgraceful than looting from your own citizens and Briefing paper: The Stigma of Mental illness. He is currently working as a counsellor in community Sector, Melbourne. He can be reached by email: remrilayuen@yahoo.com

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website. If you want to submit an opinion article, commentary or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website do reserve the right to edit or reject material before publication. Please include your full name, a short biography, email address, city and the country you are writing from.

  1. Tut Gil says:

    He is humble, generous and not tribal in his dealings


  2. Deng says:

    I am not from his subtribe but I know most of his children are caring citizens.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s