9 Mar 2021


South Sudan First Pilot

In 1936, the South Sudanese first Pilot Mading Riak was born in Eastern Lakes State, in a village called Aher. He is number four (4) of seven (7) siblings from Apaak clan of Yirol West. Mading Riak and his youngest brother Yuot Riak were the only siblings sent to school by their father Riak Amojpei.

South Sudan First Pilot
Pilot Mading Riak in a Police Uniform, in Wau 1992.

By Ater Yuot Riak (Ph.D.)

He started his Primary School in Aher and Akot villages respectively where he was baptized by name Mathew, but he rarely used this name. He finished his Intermediate School in Loka by1953and in 1954 he joined Rumbek Secondary School. In 1959 he left forEthiopia through Nasir town in Upper Nile State now Latjur State. In Ethiopia he was trained as anairplane and ajet fighter pilot by Ethiopian Air Force where Americans were his tutors. This course made him not onlythe first South Sudanese to fly an airplane but the first South Sudanese to fly ajet fighter too.

In 1964 Pilot Mading Riak returned to Khartoum on the invitation of Hassan Abbas, the Sudanese minister of defense.Instead to fly a jet fighter, Mading Riakwas given a job at el Gazera scheme in the middle of Sudan to fly agricultural aircraft used for crop duster spray. However, he leftthe job and immediatelyreturned to Ethiopia buthe continued his journey to Congo.

In 1963,South Sudan Liberation Movement known as Anya-nay was formed under Commandership of Joseph Lagu. However, the movement wasin lackof weapons that they decided to join the Congolese army as mercenaries in their fight against the Simba (lion) rebels. In order to acquire weapons for the Anya-nyarebels, Mathew Mading

Riak and some other young Southern Sudanese men decided to join the Belgium Congo army as mercenaries. Prime Minister MoiseTshombe of Congo appointed Mathew Mading Riak as a Captain in the Congolese army.  

In 1965, Mading Riak met with other young South Sudanese men who also came through Congo, Kenya and Uganda seeking refuge in Tanzania. They were living in a refugee camp called Mungulani a few kilometers away from Dar es Salaam the Capital Cityof Tanzanian. Mading was a person when you first meet him you immediately like him. Mading Riak was popular, lovely and funny among South Sudanese who were living in the camp.He used to say to his South Sudanese friends that he is going to America to fly jets. 

During their staying in the camp and in one day, they were asked to see a man who was responsible of refugees ‘affairs inTanzanian. Fifteen (15) of South Sudanese young men were asked to meet this man. Mading Riakwas the representative and their ring leader. Mading was suspicious and said, you know whatthe Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs was here two days last week. May be he has made a deal with the government of Tanzania to have us returned to Khartoum. Other Southern Sudanese in schools in this country have been brought back to Dar es Salaam. 

Mading Riak and the rest of South Sudanese young men were standing before the man. The man asked “Why are you in Tanzania? What is wrong with Sudan?”Mading Riak stepped forward and answered, Sir, you know there is war going on in Sudan and that the Christians and Africans from Southern Sudan are being persecuted by the Muslims and Arabs from Northern Sudan. The defending case for fifteen (15) South Sudanese asylum seekers did not went well. The case was rejected by the man whowas responsible for refugees’ affairs. He refutedthat Muslims are peace-loving people and they are here in this country and they never fight with anyone how come they are different in Sudan? 

After the meetingwith man responsible of refugee’s affairs, Mading and other South Sudanese were ordered to leave Tanzania immediately without delay. The South Sudanese young men left Tanzania for Uganda, Kenya and Congo. Some of them were lucky to find their way to Europe through Christian missionaries and Mathew Mading Riak went to USA through Zambia.  

In USA, after completing a preparatory course at Lincoln University (1965-66), Mathew Mading Riak was offered a place to study history at the Ohio State University in 1967. He worked as a flight instructor for a private aviation company in California until 1973. It was reported that during Vietnam War (1955-1975) in which America didinvolve in 1965, Pilot Mathew Mading Riak participated in this war as a jet fighter pilot. His plane was shut down and he wentmissing for 14 days but he was found alivewith minor wounds on his leg and returned to America. However, this information need further investigation and confirmation.  

In 1973, Pilot Mading Riak returned to the Sudan hoping to join Sudan Airways, but instead he took up instructor assignment with East African Airways in Soroti, Uganda. He finally returned to Sudan in 1974 and joined the High Executive Council (HEC)’s general secretariat as a pilot for the HEC until the dawn of the kokora in June 1983. One upon a time, the HEC Pilot Mading Riak did a very funny thing, without knowledge of the HEC’ general secretariat and Juba airport authority.

He informed his village people to clear a running way for landing and indeed he landed and made a history for the first time a plane landed in Aluk luak. It was widely assumed that he was missing and that his plane crashed somewhere in the Southern Sudan bushes.

Pilot Mading Riak was a cattle reputed man, he used to enjoy stay at cattle camp in Juba and that he was the cattle camp-leaderfor one of the cattle camps around Juba. He used to move with his cattle campthroughout the year from season to season from Nyaieng (Juba Na’ Bari) northern Bari to Jebel Dinka South West of Juba. He was as well one of the founders of Thongpiny area, unfortunately his land disappeared in mess.

In the distribution of the regional government’s assets, the plane was allotted to Upper Nile State, but as a citizen of Yirol, Pilot Mading Riak went to Bahr el Ghazal. In 1986, on the request of Mathew Obur, the president of the Southern Council in Khartoum, Pilot Mading Riak was appointed as a police officer. He had a police officer’s training course and was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel to the council.  

Mathew Obur had planned to procure a plane for his administration, but Mading Riak continued and progressed in the police force to the rank of brigadier in 1992. When he was purged by the National Islamic Front (NIF)’s regime, Mading decided to join the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, SPLA in 1997. In the movement he volunteered as a teacher at Mapuordit School.  

Mading Riak married to seven (7) wives, he married his first wife in 1973 and the last one was in 1991. He was blessed with children and grandchildren. He died and laid in rest in his village Aluakluak, YirolWest in July 2001.  


  1. Akuemchol A. Jebel Dinka’ in Juba is not a new name, available at southsudan.wordpress.com, accessed March 6, 2019
  2. Kuyuk A, (2015). South Sudan the Notable Firsts, pp. (367-368). Author House, UK   
  3. Jacob A, (2005). The Story of a Lost Sudanese Boys of Sixties, Paulins Publication, Kenya

You can reach Dr. Ater Yuot Riak through:

E-mail: ater.amogpai@gmail.com

Mob: +211928999690

Posted in: Featured Stories
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08/06/2019, 10:54 PM
 - Posted by Jacob Akol
Mathew Mading Riak, the first South Sudanese Pilot, cont.

By Prof Peter Tingwa
I read an interesting story about Mathew Mading Riak, the first South Sudanese pilot, in your Featured Stories by his nephew Dr. Ater Yuot Riak in the Gurtong on 31 March 2019. Since I hold fond memories of Mathew, I very much wanted to add a few little tidbits to Ater’s story about him. I remember Mathew as a physically strong person, full of life, love, energy and compassion. He was our protector in a school full of bigger boys and bullies.

When I joined first year in the Nugent School at Loka (Loka Intermediate School) in 1952, Mathew was in the third year. With the eyes of a small boy, I saw him as a big and a well-built person bursting with physical power and energy. His daily companion was one called Henry Rin Bol. Both of them possessed slim and short ebony sticks with ivory at both ends, which when it suited them, they would place them in their armpits and would strut in the dormitory compounds, I think emulating the young men back at home in the cattle camps. At some nights he would not shy from taking off his clothes and walk about proudly. But what I and many of my young age mates remember about Mathew that he was our protector and defender from older boys. Mathew would not stand by and see a bigger boy beating up a small boy. His presence around was always a very reassuring sign for us. He wanted and we called him ‘Uncle’; and often, while strutting and carrying his stick in the armpit, he would utter the words “Uncle is a bad wolf”, though there was nothing wolfish about him. As Dr. Ater said, he left Loka at the end of 1953.

When I joined Rumbek Secondary School in 1957, Mathew was again in the third year. By this year the Rumbek students had been politically sensitized and radicalized by the 1955 Uprising as well as the mistreatment that the government in Khartoum had meted to suspects in the uprising. At the time, Southern nationalism was growing and the Rumbek students saw themselves as the elites to lead the struggle against Northern domination. Though he was not in the front, Mathew’s class was full of politicized student radicals. Those student leaders, as it came to pass, later played important roles in the Southern struggle against Northern domination as well as in the politics of South (ern) Sudan. Those who were prominent were: Pacifico Lolik, Philip Pedak, George Akumbek (Kwanai), Angelo Voga, Lawrence Wol Wol, Philip Obang, Justin Yac, Francis Adyang, George Muras, Enock Mading de Garang and many others. It was such that, whenever, you see one of those students coming to your class at prep time, you know that there is an issue for which you are soon going to go on strike or someting. On the whole, however, the secondary school students of those days were more mature, united and nationalistic than their contemporaries of today, lamentably, even of the universities of today do not measure to them.

The next time I met Mathew was in Southern California when I was doing my doctoral degree in the University of California in Riverside. At that time, Mathew was training pilots in Orange County, about one hour drive from Riverside. Also at that time, Ambrose Ahang Beny, his wife Mary and children were living in Pasadena, north of Los Angeles. Every weekend we would gather in Ambrose’s house to share views on current issues, the Anyanya war as well as reminisce on the good old days at Loka and Rumbek. One thing about Mathew was that, though he had a car, he did not like to drive in the freeways and traffic of Los Angeles. He used to say that in piloting an aircraft, you would not meet so many other aircraft, as you would of cars on the freeways. So, whenever we were to go to Ambrose, I would have to drive to Orange County to pick him up and drive through Los Angeles to Pasadena. I would also drive him back.

At some time during this period, Mathew got married to a Japanese woman by name of Nako. They were happy together and she was regularly with us in Ambrose’s house. Then Mathew started to toy with the idea of coming back to Southern Sudan. So, after he made up his mind, they agreed for Nako to go to Japan. We made a party for her and saw her off at the Los Angeles Airport. The understanding was that, she would join Mathew when he had settled in the South Sudan. But I think they never did meet again.

The writer can be reached at ptingwa@yahoo.com
+254 726 570 292
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