4 Aug 2020

 

Remembering Edward Mustafa Dut Lino Wor Abyei

"One remarkable thing about Edward Lino was that he was never down cast by any hardship...I rarely remember seeing Edward Lino without his distinctive laughter or his sprightly smile."

By Dr. Francis Mading Deng

I have given the full name of Edward Mustafa Dut Lino Wor Abyei, as I know it, because in our traditional system, names are important as they are a metaphoric core of one’s background and identity. Edward’s full name reflects the elements of Sudanese diversity and is therefore a microcosm of the country for which he struggled so much to liberate, and for which in varying ways he sacrificed his life.

The names were presumably given by his father, Ustaz Lino Wor Abyei, a giant educationalist, who was educated in both the North and the South of Sudan, and who introduced modern education to the Ngok Dinka and taught throughout Southern Sudan. Ustaz Lino Wor’s students remember him with the reverence and affection of children for their father. I used to call him Ustaz-na al-Azeem, ‘Our Great Master’, to which he always reacted with characteristic dignified humility, ‘What Great!?

Toward the end of his life, Ustaz Lino Wor Abyei wrote me a letter reflecting on his innovative educational work in Abyei in close partnership with our father, Deng Majok, whom he referred to as ‘my brother’, and more generally on his life as an educator. In that letter, he expressed great satisfaction and pride in seeing his students rise to important positions at home and abroad.

Edward’s identity also links the country across ethnic divides, his mother, Angelina Kongbuo, being from the Ndogo of Wau; theirs was one of the earliest mixed marriages among our people, now increasingly becoming accepted in Southern Sudan. Angelina’s father, Norberto Kongbuo, whom Edward said was nick-named an-Nur, was one of the carpenters who constructed the ferry boat structure across Kiir River at Akecnhial. As they say, a fruit does not fall far from the tree that produced it; Edward’s service to his people and his country was the fruit of his family background.

As I followed with great appreciation the enormous outpouring of messages in mourning the tragic loss to our people and our nation and indeed to humanity caused by the death of Edward Lino, I was once more reminded of the words of William Shakespeare in the speech of Mark Anthony to the Romans, eulogizing Emperor Julius Caesar, who had just been assassinated, words with which I have always disagreed.

As I recall, Mark Anthony said, “The evil that men do lives after them, and the good is often interned with their bones.” Quite the contrary, our humanistic instinct always seems to glorify our dead by recalling their good deeds with greater exaltation than was the case during their lifetime.

Although Edward Lino enjoyed much recognition and respect in his lifetime, I wish he was able to follow all the wonderful things being said about him after his death, of course all well deserved, but not revealed to him in his lifetime. Knowing Edward’s dignified humility, like his father, I believe he would not have wanted the order reversed.

Also knowing his self confidence with due modesty, he probably knew all the good things now being said about him. He might even have said, “I thought you did not know.” And considering the lonely world of his suffering over the last few years of his fight against the terminal illness that slowly consumed his life, it would not have been easy for him to know how much his people and country held him in such high regard.

When I last visited Edward Lino in Nairobi and found him sitting in a wheel chair, I saw how much the illness had consumed his physical body, but how much alive his jovial spirit and sparkling interaction with life were still glowing on his face.

Ironically, the very day of his death, my wife Dorothy and I were talking on the phone; she was in the United States and I in Nairobi. My family knew Edward well because he stayed in our house when he was representing the SPLM/A in Washington and both my wife and our four sons had become very fond of him. My wife asked whether I had visited Edward. I said I had not because of the social distancing rules of Coronavirus, but that I would visit him as soon as that was permissible. I was not aware that just before I arrived in Nairobi, he had been taken to India for treatment.

Almost immediately after my wife and I hang up, I got a phone call from Mustafa Biong to give me the tragic news. Of course, knowing how long Edward had been ill, the eventual end was not unexpected, but that did not make the news any less shocking. It is always difficult to think of such a powerful life as no longer with us. But that is the inevitable destiny for all.

Much of what was special about Edward Lino has been said in the messages that have been pouring in, and will undoubtedly continue to pour in, mourning his death. Edward is widely acknowledged as a brave fighter, both physically and verbally, for equality and dignity for all Sudanese, indeed all human beings. This was a principle that underlay his ideological commitment which has been given a variety of labels: communism, socialism, liberalism, ‘leftism’ and other possible ‘isms’, and for which he was often in and out of detention.

He focussed this in his unwavering commitment to the struggle for the New Sudan, which he and his liberal colleagues in the University of Khartoum and other institutions in the capital started before the outbreak of the liberation movement, the SPLM/A.

Although the intransigence of the dominant Arab-IsLamic Establishment and the stalemate in the war made partitioning the country imperative, Edward Lino was a devout believer in the vision of the New Sudan and the liberation of all Sudanese from marginalization, oppression and domination, irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion, culture or gender. His connection with John Garang and other founding leaders of the Liberation Movement predates the outbreak of the rebellion.

Although his activism interfered with his legal education, as he was dismissed for political reasons in his last year in the Faculty of Law, his yearning for knowledge and his activist application of knowledge never ceased. He continued to learn and transmit his knowledge both as a teacher and a political activist. He reflected this in his poetic, analytical and literary works, books, articles, essays and journalistic contributions. His three books, Long Live the Monkeys, John Garang: A Man to Know, and the most recent, Ngok Dinka Versus Missiriya, reflect a combination of poetic, literary and intellectual excellence.

I acquired a great deal of insight from Edward Lino’s book on John Garang from which I quoted heavily in my recently published fictionalized memoirs about my relations with John Garang, Visitations: Conversations with the Ghost of the Chairman.

Edward Lino’s book provides remarkable insights into the origins and depth of his involvement in the struggle that eventually became the SPLM/A. I later followed the prominent role he played in the Movement.

Although I was not a member of the SPLM/A, I was a strong supporter of the Movement and the Vision of the New Sudan. As I had established and was directing the African Studies Program at the Brookings Institution and was closely associated with several other think tanks in Washington, among them the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Center for International and Strategic Studies, and the United States Institute of Peace, I played an active role in promoting the Movement and collaborated very closely with the leadership, specifically with Dr. John Garang. I was therefore intimately familiar with the ideals, strategies and operations of the Movement.

John Garang and Salva Kiir always spoke to me in raving praise for the valorous role played by the Ngok Dinka freedom fighters in the struggle. And of course Edward Lino was among the Ngok Dinka leaders in the struggle whose names were most prominent.

One remarkable thing about Edward Lino was that he was never down cast by any hardship. No matter how grave the challenges, how heavy the burdens, or how immanent the danger facing him, Edward Lino always smiled under all difficulties. Even when he was angry, and there was always much to be angry about, he quickly alternated between a fiery fuming face and a beaming vivacious smile. In fact, I rarely remember seeing Edward Lino without his distinctive laughter or his sprightly smile.

It was our intention with my co-editors, Dr. Luka Biong and Daniel Jok, to include Edward Lino among several of the Ngok Dinka leaders in the struggle who have contributed chapters to our soon to be published book, Abyei Between the Two Sudans, which has documented through personal experiences the role played by the freedom fighters from Abyei in the political and military struggle of South Sudan in the two wars. Unfortunately, despite his strong manifest desire to contribute to the book, Edward Lino’s deteriorating health condition made that implausible.

I do, however, believe that those who knew Edward Lino well and have reflected on his life in their eulogies, have given him the great honor which he so much deserves by highlighting the heroic contribution he made to the liberation struggle. In particular, his comrade in the struggle, Atem Yaak Atem, in his powerful and deeply moving eulogy, has began an in-depth account of Edward Lino’s role in the struggle which he thoughtfully pledged to elaborate into a publishable work.

I also hope that the messages that have poured in since the announcement of his death will be collected into a volume that will be published as a tribute to his noble and memorable service to his people and his country.

Our people used to say that absence is like death. I now reverse this to say that death is like absence. This is particularly true these days when a combination of devastating crises have shattered our people and scattered them around the globe to the point where many relatives and friends hardly ever meet face to face. Absence and death have become closely twinned. And so, Edward Lino continues to be absent as he has been for many among us, but he will also remain forever present among us in our memory.

His heroic deeds and his unwavering commitment to the struggle for human dignity for all will continue to be a source of inspiration for generations to come. Our people do not cry over the death of heroes for they live on in the remembered glory of their immortal deeds. So it is with Edward Lino; he is dead, but he lives on in our memory.

May the Almighty God rest his soul in peace among our ancestors and all our departed, whose heads remain standing upright, to paraphrase the principles of kooc e nhom in our people’s spiritual belief system.
 

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