Londoner continues epic trans-Africa run after release from South Sudan jail

Estimated read time 4 min read

A Ugandan-born Londoner on a 9,000-mile run from South Africa to London has been released from jail in South Sudan, his partner has told the Guardian.

Deo Kato had already run more than the length of Africa – the equivalent of more than 200 marathons – when he was arrested near Juba, the capital of South Sudan, on 2 June. His partner and project manager, Alice Light, had no idea where he was, only discovering he was in prison on 17 June.

Light said Kato had now left the country after his release on Sunday, but details of his current location are being kept private.

Kato was arrested with the Ugandan driver of his crew car, Mulondo William. Light said he had left Juba the night before he went missing. “He’d messaged me to say they’d slept in a car that night. I think he’d started his run that day and then they got pulled over and got asked for a letter from the ministry of sport, which they didn’t have.”

A man runs on a dusty empty road through dry savannaView image in fullscreen

She reported him missing 12 days later. “I waited because I knew he was at that point running against the clock for his visa. He was running 60-70km a day and I knew that they had very bad signal in South Sudan and few places had enough electricity to charge their devices. It’s just a very different situation and I felt that it warranted waiting and trusting.”

On 17 June, Light received a message from a stranger on Instagram – an inmate who had spent time with Kato, and found out that he had been held at the Riverside jail, notorious for its poor conditions, and then transferred to the headquarters of the country’s National Security Service in Juba, known as the Blue House.

A ‘selfie’ portrait of an African man and a white woman beside a road, both smilingView image in fullscreen

“I didn’t know he was going to be released,” Light said. “I was given the strong impression from the FCDO [British Foreign Office] that he could be in for possibly months.”

William’s wife called Light on Sunday to say that they had been released, and Kato also spoke to her a few moments later.

“He was in shock. He heard my voice and said he didn’t know I knew. He didn’t know any of his family knew. For 21 days, they were held but nothing was communicated with them.”

They said they were denied access to a lawyer while in detention.

Kato has faced multiple logistic and bureaucratic hiccups on what was intended to be a two-continent, 15-country journey. In March, he reached the Kenyan side of Moyale, a town on the border with Ethiopia, but entering Ethiopia, a country reeling from a two-year civil war, proved impossible. Instead, he decided to travel through South Sudan.

Rather than run through Sudan, which is facing one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, he wants Sudanese refugees in the UK to each run a set distance to make up for his absence from the country. He then plans to fly to Egypt before continuing his journey to London.

A man runs along an empty road in the rainView image in fullscreen

Despite his ordeal in South Sudan, Light said Kato still wanted to finish his epic run.

He set off from the Long March to Freedom monument in Cape Town, which commemorates Nelson Mandela and other heroes and heroines of the anti-apartheid struggle, on 24 July 2023. He intended to run for 381 days, the same number of days that African Americans in Alabama staged the Montgomery bus boycott that started in 1955.

Kato runs 25 miles a day on average. In an interview with the Guardian in March, he said he wanted to challenge the racist notion that people should “go back to where they come from”.

A man running in the London marathon holds up a placard reading Black Lives Still MatterView image in fullscreen

Kato was 10 when he moved to London to join his mother in the UK. After college he became a personal trainer and running coach. He completed 12 ultramarathons in preparation for the challenge.


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