War veteran could not preach the cause of peace

South Sudanese political commentator and former army officer Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awuol was shot on his doorstep in December 2012. © Reuters

Killing condemned by UNESCO DG, 21 December 2012

Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awuol - South Sudan - Killed, 5 December 2012

Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awuol, a former major in the Sudan People's Liberation Army, had survived the civil war leading to South Sudan’s independence from Sudan, but becoming a columnist and contributor to online news sites probably cost him his life.   

The civil war had ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, and South Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence in January 2011. Even so, a complete removal of tension is beyond anyone’s wildest hopes: both states argue over border zones and oil resources. Internal political disputes are sometimes settled by resort to arms.  

Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awuol, 50, had a colourful career. Before his military exploits he followed his mother’s example and was ordained as a pastor in Sudan’s Episcopal Church. He also held a master’s degree in business administration from Nairobi University, and in the 1990s was a staff member of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). By the time the civil war came to an end, Isaiah had seen quite enough death: three of his brothers were among those killed in the fighting. 

The former war hero was found a good job behind a desk in the new South Sudanese government. At the same time he continued writing op-ed pieces and political commentaries, under the biblical “Isaiah Abraham” pen-name, in such online publications as the Sudan Tribune and the Gurtong and SudaneseOnline websites.  

In his popular columns, Isaiah came across as a champion of democracy, tribal equality, and wartime ideals. He was not slow to criticise the new local government officials over oil revenue corruption and permitting unrest on the streets. The veteran also had no qualms about writing of the need for peace and reconciliation.

The online column in the Sudan Tribune of 27.11.2012 was his last published piece. He asked what benefits there were for the government or people of South Sudan from continued support for rebels operating on the northern border with the former enemy Sudan, particularly when clashes in the border provinces only lead to a flood of refugees streaming south. Abraham’s conviction was that the administration in Juba “must choose between peace and war and not both. Peace is what our people want, not war.”

Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awuol had received numerous threats for his commentaries. They took physical form in the early hours of December 5th, 2012. A group of unidentified
gunmen appeared on the former soldier’s doorstep in the suburb of Gudele, west of Juba. They dragged him outside and shot him dead.  

The killers were not apprehended. Meanwhile, the weekend of Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awuol’s funeral, the South Sudanese security forces shot and killed 11 demonstrators at a protest against local administrators in the town of Wau. The UN has warned that the continued instability in the border zone between South Sudan and Sudan threatens to result in serious famine conditions this spring. 

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This article was originally printed in the Finnish newspaper Ilta Sanomat. The content of the article may have been modified and/or updated as information became available following the date of publication.
UNESCO encourages all media outlets to inform the public of violations of press freedom; to raise awareness of issues impacting the safety of journalists around the world; and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
The original article in Finnish can be found here.

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