An Open Letter to my Dear Friends and Mentors, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar

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My first encounter with Uncle Salva was in Itang, during 1989, when he told me and other members of the Red Army that we should go to Pinyudo and get an education. At Pinyudo I saw him again. It was there that I first met Comrade Riek. At that time the SPLA had to evacuate from Ethiopia, and I listened to you both discuss the decision that had to be made. 

Uncle Salva, I followed you to the Gilo River, where, in 1991, I fought for the survival of our SPLA troops and of yourself. I watched your plane finally leave the ground to evacuate you from Pochalla and I only escaped days before the second attack on that town. In Kapenguira, Kenya, during 1994 and 95, I was honored to live with your children in their short stayed in Kapenguira at Agoth Wek Agoth’s residence where I happened to met and talk with you during your frequently visited. 

Comrade Riek, while I did not have the opportunity to meet you again in person in Africa, I have had two wonderful meetings with you in the United States. I remember our great conversation in 2003 when I brought roasted chicken for you, Madam Angela and your son to your hotel in Phoenix. 

I consider you co-founders of our county and for that reason hold you in the highest regard. Without you, South Sudan would not have found her independence. I know that you both love our country as much as I. That is why I must ask this question: Why?

Why have you not brought our nation to peace? As leaders and members of the two largest tribes in South Sudan, why have you not worked out a compromise that allows the Dinka and the Nuer to feel that they are being fairly treated? Surely, there is enough wealth to provide for those two tribes even if other smaller tribes have to do with less—and I hope that they would not. Surely, the money that is going to buy endless supplies of weapons for both sides could be used for better purposes such as building schools, digging wells, providing electricity, and developing health care for all of our country. Instead, the fighting drags on. There may be short periods of peace, but it seems that the battle is ready to flare at any moment. Worse, it is not just a battle but a barbaric fratricide. Again, I ask why!

Does great wealth not lie within our country? Using the waters of the Nile for irrigation, we have the possibility of agriculture that could feed much of Africa. Under the ground we know there is petroleum, gold, diamonds, and uranium. There may also be rare earths and elements that will in the long run be of even greater value. Would we not be better served if our top government officials spent less energy on squabbling and more on providing the geological studies that could make our country wealthy enough that every citizen could have the best that life has to offer? 
What stops you as the founding fathers of South Sudan from joining in such common effort? I remember proudly voting for independence in 2010 and celebrating our first independence day July 9, 2011. I was not voting so that a few young men whose fathers had served in the SPLA could live the good life in Juba. I was not voting so that friends and followers could be rewarded with Land Cruisers and other gifts. I was voting for the good of every South Sudanese. I was voting because I believed that the two of you, along with James Wani Igga, whom I have also met personally, would guide our country towards a shared future. 

So, my dear friends and mentors, I ask you again, “Why have you not created peace? Why have you not taken our country forward? Why have you allowed your supporters to continue gathering weapons and tormenting our land? 

Given the love I know you have for our country, I wonder if there are others who are pushing you towards battle. Are there outside influences and forces that are trying to keep our country from progress in order to plunder our riches and to control our way of life? It is hard for me to believe that you, my dear comrades-in-arms, are not also saddened by the anger that flares among our people today. Why is it there? Has it been ignited by outside sources? Who is so keen to keep those weapons flowing on both sides? Who will benefit if we kill one another?

I look forward to seeing you both once again when I next return to Juba. I hope that by then you will have led our country out of its current turmoil and into a new beginning in which we can move forward as one nation.


Your Comrade in the SPLA and the SPLM, Deng Mayik Atem (a.k.a Columbus), is one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” is currently Secretary General of the South Sudanese Community Association in Arizona. A graduate of Arizona State University, Mr. Atem has dual citizenship in the US and South Sudan, and He is currently writing a memoir, “A Different Warrior”.


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