opinionBy Martin Garang Aher
On December 5th, 2012, a day that has become one of the drabbest days in South Sudan, and particularly bloodcurdling within the circles of the intellectual community and the media, Isaiah Abraham was killed in the coldest of night by thus far, unknown assailants.
The brutal killing of Isaiah Abraham - a real person whose real name had been wrongly understood to be a cognomen for Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awol - a political commentator and a government critic from within, shook the nation that Wednesday morning. Many thought Isaiah Abraham, a name familiar to many readers of South Sudanese sociopolitical and economic commentaries, was that of a coward guy hiding behind a pseudonym. But he wasn't. As an ordained Christian pastor and born of a Christian family that follows baptismal renaming cult, Isaiah had nothing hidden in whom he was. In actual fact, he was just he, Isaiah Abraham.
It is believed that Isaiah was confronted in his house in the wee hours of the morning and was physically assaulted and eventually silenced by the barrel of a gun. Family, friends and his readers were crumbled by the news of his death. Dark clouds hang over freedom of expression as well, for Isaiah could only die through what he writes. Those who were greatly affected were members of South Sudanese blogosphere who intuitively felt the urge by the country's sheer lack of development in its wholesomeness (physical infrastructure, change in attitudes, psychological development, ideological development, social development, etc.), and who wished to save the country by offering advice from a politically non-allied perspective. They had initially thought that the gunmen might now need the intellectuals to push the nation to its credible viability. But on this day they were wrong. The brutal death of Isaiah Abraham left many querying where in the world would an enduring stability and development of a nation not require the two polarities to cooperate and coexist? Following the news of death of Isaiah Abraham, there appeared to be no room for intellectual comments in South Sudan. Never had it crossed anyone's mind that the penman, usually located within the capitals: Juba, Torit, Malakal, Aweil, Bor, Yambio, Bentiu, Abyei, Rumbek, Kuacjok and in the diaspora would inadvertently enter into war with the gunmen. Such seems to be the unfolding state of affairs. It is hinted that Isaiah Abraham had received threatening phone calls before he was eventually hunted down and killed. The queerness of it all is that threats have continued to be issued to others after him.
There are people who say they have received anonymous phone calls ordering them to cease making critical comments on the Internet about the death of Isaiah Abraham. Those receiving these death calls from hell are told to shut up or face the consequences. But Isaiah Abraham was a major in the SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army) and bore the brunt of war so that those who do not speak for themselves would have the prospect of living the dream of freedom. He is not a man whose name should be whispered with fear, not when he is dead. There are courageous statements in the media from many South Sudanese citizens who do not want to comply. Some of his readers say that if Isaiah Abraham wasn't quiet, then why remain quiet about his death when what killed him may still be out there.
What really killed Isaiah Abraham? My assumption is that many South Sudanese writers, bloggers, columnists, commentators and their readers are in full knowledge that what they write or read about is often not about themselves but what they ought the society to be for everyone. A commentator like Isaiah, who wrote till death, did so because he wanted to see an equitable, just and fair society flourishing in South Sudan. It would conversely be of no much an interest to focus on the human face of who took the life of Isaiah Abraham. At this point, speculations are that his death, if methodically investigated, may not criminalize one individual but a system of some category. Believing this may be the case, then, logically, there is no prison structurally capable of hosting culprits of a crime of such enormity. South Sudanese too, are aware that investigations have been ordered in the past and unto present, no culprits have been incarcerated. The kidnapping and near-death torture of Deng Athuai, the Chairperson of South Sudan's Civil Society Alliance, is a case in point. Deng's attempts to let the government disclose the names of seventy five officials meekly implored in the letters sent to each one of them to return the money to the national treasury landed him in a sack, thoroughly beaten and left for dead just a few kilometers from the outskirts of Juba. Other tortures and disappearances have been reported.
These tortures and now the death of Isaiah Abraham makes one believes that whoever kills and tortures cannot be found. Only what makes the killer so ferocious could be unwrapped.
The events leading to Isaiah's demise are clear. Many think the country's leadership is perching on shame for failing to restart oil flow and correspondingly, reeling in fear of an unforeseen seat-swapping civil unrest if things stand the way they are. It is important to note here that South Sudan government remains the major employing sector in the country, and with ninety-eight percent of its budget coming from oil, stakes of discord can never be any higher. Private sector is yet to emerge. The quintessential truth rests on what citizens see; impending suffering might be looming. There is no economy that anyone would say is free falling, rather, there is no real economic move from ground zero. On the political economic front, neighboring Sudan holds the nation by the throat. No future date is set for oil flow in sight, borderlands are being invaded, and prices of anything but everything are skyrocketing in the local markets. Frustration is comprehensible on the faces of the people. These and others are what Isaiah Abraham was commenting on.
The second last article he wrote mentioned his participation in the demonstrations. He was among the demonstrating crowd of the people of Northern Bahr el Ghazal and other areas who dissent Mile 14 and other borderlands in the security arrangement between Sudan and South Sudan. He also wrote strongly about South Sudan's intransigence in dealing with Sudanese rebels. The facts that Isaiah wrote about are strong enough. In fact someone who is ill-trained in matters of national security would think he had trespassed too close. But he was miles away. Sometimes his controversial commentaries leave some with doubts as to what he was unto. In the writers' blogosphere, some thought Isaiah was the government, or at least, its agent. Until now, some people are yet to be convinced of who Isaiah Abraham really was. Even some of us who might have seen Isaiah physically would not be able to clear this mystique. However, in the face of this anonymity in the person of Isaiah, just as much as the anonymity of his killers would keep clouding our vision of the reality, one thing would be clear, with or without investigation into his death - the question of what killed him. Could Isaiah Abraham be a victim of ordinary crime - of which Juba is said to be notorious due to lack of effective crime stopping mechanisms, or comments on Mile 14 Sudanese rebellions, leadership stagnation, fear of uprising, lack of basic services in the country or syphoning corruption? What is it?
Ordinary citizens who love South Sudan as a country and the shrewd Isaiah Abraham would be gratified in the ultimate justice if what killed him is systemically addressed. What killed Isaiah, when found, might probably be what is killing the nation. If Isaiah Abraham, a man without an opposition briefcase and following could die for his views, then South Sudanese opposition leaders in the like of Dr. Lam Akol are justified to oppose via a remote control.