Revealed: What Aguil prophesied on South Sudan
At more than 1.8 metres tall and always clad in something striking, Aguil Chut Deng stood out in a crowd. The ethnic Dinka were ever proud of who she was. During the civil war in South Sudan, Aguil spent time in the bush before seeking shelter in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. She was taken in the early 1990s for medical treatment in Kenya, where she was accepted for resettlement in Australia in 1996. But now she is dead.
So, what could one be up to as a 20-year-old girl? They are probably in school, most probably, with big ambitions of what they intend to be in the future.
But for Aguil Chut Deng, that was the time she slammed the brakes on education and joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in 1984. This was a rebel movement that fought for independence against successive governments in Khartoum from 1983 to 2005.
“I am a rebel by title, I am an advocate by profession,” an overjoyed Aguil would tell CNN’s Farai Sevenzo in 2011 on the eve of independence celebrations.
She was an active fighter in the Katiba Banat or Ladies’ Battalion, which fought alongside their male counterparts during the 21-year war, leading to the independence of South Sudan in 2011.
In a condolence message to her family, President Salva Kiir described the late fighter as “a bigger-than-life personality and a woman of immense courage in her generation”.
“In her death, our country has lost a patriot who has worked tirelessly for the cause of our freedom,” President Kiir said.
Many South Sudanese on social media paid tribute to Ms Aguil whose body was found on Saturday, April 30, in some woods in Brisbane, Australia.
The ex-female fighter, Aguil Chut-Deng died recently at the age of 58. The circumstances of her death remain mysterious.
Following her death last week believed to have occurred on Wednesday 27 April, thousands of South Sudanese nationals have taken to social media to convey their condolences to Aguil’s family.
In the words of Kiir, Comrade Aguil was a larger than life personality. A woman of immense courage in her generation.
“This courage prompted her to leave the comfort of her family and promises of education in 1984 to join the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). In the SPLA, she worked relentlessly in support of liberation objectives until the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA),” President Kiir said in a condolence message.
What stands out in her freedom struggle, and even after the historic 2011 independence was prophecy about a bumpy ride for the Africa’s youngest nation. A caution to critics not to be too hard on South Sudan as it makes baby steps.
“I know that there is a very high expectation because people are thinking that you can have a child and they walk immediately. That is possible if we are talking about animal babies. For God’s sake, children will take some time before they can walk nicely,” she told CNN’s Farai Sevenzo in 2011.
In December 2013, two years after independence, South Sudan descended into yet another civil war which claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions of others. Humanitarian crisis thus became inevitable.
As the situation continued moving from bad to worse, the former and longest-serving President of Sudan, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir said South Sudan and the people could not rule themselves, thus, the main reason he reluctantly consented to South’s autonomy.
In July 2016, more than 300 people were reported to have been killed, including many civilians and a Chinese peacekeeper, in renewed fighting in the capital Juba, raising fears the country was returning to civil war.
The new clashes were between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir, and soldiers allied to the vice-president, Riek Machar.
This was despite a peace deal that was concluded between the two main functions in August 2015.
In this fragile peace, the people of South Sudan can chose how to honor her. In her words, attaining peace and stability was never going to be a walk in the park.
“So if we do not walk nicely as fast as people expect, then don’t say that we did not know what to do,” she said in 2011.
Aguil was born in Malakal, Upper Nile state. But in 1996 she left for Australia with her extended family of 11 members as a refugee under the government’s humanitarian program. She became a refugee because she opposed what the government [in Khartoum] was doing. Particularly how the government was treating her (South Sudanese) people.
“My father was a doctor. He worked in the north. We had a very wonderful life, an easy life, in the north, but we had a difficult life in the south…. My father was well informed about what was happening. He used to talk about war breaking out and people getting killed, which at the time I could not imagine happening.
“When the war started in 1983 my father was immediately killed and I decided to do whatever I could to make a change…. I joined the SPLM/A, which is the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army, back in 1984. I was given various [medical, nursing and hospitality] tasks,” she told UNHCR Web Editors Haude Morel and Leo Dobbs in a 2007 interview in Geneva.
Her account of what happened when the fighting escalated is chilling.
“Me and my [female] friends had to train ourselves on how to defend ourselves in case of attack. When all this was happening, I was also taking care of my extended family. The children tended to learn very quickly to adapt to the situation. If you hear a gun, first thing is to stop, don’t go anywhere, listen carefully what direction the fire is coming from. You have to learn to know when it is an accident or an attack…. You have to know when the enemy is around…. To move from one place to another is very difficult. You have to be dynamic and adapt to the situation,” said Aguil in the interview that has since been made available online.