By Peter Magai de Bul Ayual*
CHICAGO, Illinois – For South Sudanese and our supporters around the world, the independence of Africa’s youngest nation, The Republic of South Sudan, came on July 9, 2011 with some huge expectations about a chance for freedom, liberty, human rights, and change for a better life for the people who have been in war for nearly 40 years. Unfortunately, less than two years later, these expectations are now being overshadowed by the increasing insecurity, widespread corruption, food insecurity, unemployment, intimidation, harassment, and organized killing of journalists, activists, and human rights defenders, among others. While I just returned from South Sudan and have witnessed the challenges facing our beloved nation, I thought about writing this article to remind our Diaspora South Sudanese population about a call made to us by South Sudan’s founding father, the late Dr. John Garang de Mabior, when he last visited us in the United States of America 9 years ago.
On August 29, 2004 in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, late Dr. Garang de Mabior made his final visit and spoke to us at our 1st National Lost Boys & Girls Conference and Reunion, a historic gathering of more than 1,200 South Sudanese Lost Boys and Girls together with their American friends. When he was with us, he congratulated and honored our successes and accomplishments, and he also informed, educated, encouraged, and warned us about the unfinished jobs that I’m now reminding you all in this article. From that historic gathering and in his own words, Dr. John Garang told us:
“I appreciate and applaud your tenacity and courage throughout the difficult years of our struggle as a group and I applaud your personal struggle as individuals. I salute your great spirit of survival and steadfastness. And I commend you for the firm commitment to the cause of our people despite all the hardships and suffering you have gone through. I congratulate your leadership and for having been good ambassadors for Southern Sudan, for the New Sudan and for the SPLM/A. Your Movement had always wanted to prepare you to be the future leaders of our nation. This is still the purpose; you are the generation that shall develop the New Sudan. Even though the difficulties and events of our struggle have separated many of you from the Movement and some have scattered all over the world yet the aim is not lost.”
For the South Sudanese who remembered, understood, digested, and perhaps, even after his death, continued to reflect on these words, our failure to honor him by not doing what he told us to do, would be a betrayal to his life and the lives of over 2 million South Sudanese who perished for our land and freedom. There must have been a compelling condition that forced him to come to us in America and strongly appeal to us before his untimely death. It is now our choice to ignore either his words or take a deep breath and think of what his call means to us individually and collectively.
To our legacy, especially the Red Army/Jesh Hamar also known as “Lost Boys & Girls” of South Sudan in exile, our efforts, in fact, contributed to the historic independence of the Republic of South Sudan that we all voted for on July 9, 2011. Not only did we succeed in educating the world about the suffering of our people, but we have also been contributing to the development of our new nation in areas such as education, health, agriculture, clean water, and peace-building missions. Individually, we treated and educated thousands of our relatives who are residing as refugees from various African countries of which Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia are the leading hosts. These are unforgettable achievements, which compelled Dr. John Garang to travel to America and congratulate us and our American friends, who supported us for the years that we have been in the Diaspora, especially those of us who had the opportunity of meeting Dr. John Garang in Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
From my own experience as someone among you in the Diaspora, I am aware of your challenges and growing sense of hopelessness, whether they are job-related, academic, financial, social adjustment, family responsibilities, and the problems you heard or have witnessed from home (for those who returned home). As a survivor who has been with you throughout our journey, nothing will erase the unspeakable memories of our suffering and the unforgettable souls and lives of thousands of comrades we lost through killing, hunger, thirst, wild animals, and disease, among many other factors. Dr. Garang’s message was meant for us who, he believed, are being prepared to be the future leaders and skilled workers of the independent South Sudan. I, like many of you, have a reason to be concerned and angry with what is not being done well at home, but I also believe these unfinished jobs were among the tasks Dr. Garang wanted us to take over when he told us, as I quote him, saying;
“I have come to wake you up and remind you that your day has come, tomorrow is already here and so take over leadership of your Movement, take over leadership of the SPLM/A; you have very little time left to prepare yourselves to take over that leadership in whatever fields: in agriculture, carpentry, architecture, medicine, politics, economics, in raising a family…all these require leadership and all contribute to building the New Sudan for which we have fought and sacrificed for over the last twenty one years.”
Fellow country men and women, I understand the fact that many of our women and men in uniforms, who took up arms to fight for liberation and/or those of us in the Diaspora who made a commitment to share stories of suffering, abuse, and loss with an aim to educate the world about the endless suffering of our people, today feel betrayed by our leaders who seem to have forgotten the ideals and vision of which our selfless martyrs (including our very own Dr. John Garang). But it’s also my belief that our unfinished jobs cannot be championed without reminding ourselves about our life-threatening experience of the past, reflecting on our present challenges, and doing whatever it takes to lay a better foundation for the next generation, and strengthening Dr. John Garang’s vision by digesting his words. Let’s wake up and rise to the challenge before it’s too late.
To our credit as ambassadors, the late Dr. John Garang was not the only leader who envisioned what is expected from us, but the American Mayor of the City of Phoenix, Arizona, who was present at our 2004 National Lost Boys & Girls gathering, made a similar call to us. At the very same 1st National Conference & Reunion, Phil Gordon, Mayor for the City of Phoenix, generously welcomed thousands of the Sudanese Lost Boys and Girls, including Sudanese officials led by the late Dr. John Garang, and shared with us this statement:
“….Even before you have completed the task of organizing yourselves nationally, you have the eyes of the world upon you at this very gathering. I am confident in your ability to come together in a spirit of unity towards a greater good – bringing the world’s awareness to the plight of the desperate people in South Sudan. I have great faith that you will conduct your business as responsible leaders, rising above factional and political differences. As you speak, Phoenix will hear and learn about the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, the children of Sudan’s war-torn countryside. Millions of your people, including children, have lost their lives. Millions of your people have no voice, except through you. Millions of your people have no future, except through you. The despair and tragedy spans every tribe, every religion, every language, and every culture found in your vast land. But they still hold out hope for a day where they will again know the security and comfort of their family’s love, the prosperity of a country no longer at war, and peace in their homeland. Such cherished dreams will require all of the love, work, faith, trust and compassion we can assemble as allies and friends across the world. If you master this spirit of unity at your first national conference over these next three days, you will truly be maturing into the leaders deeply needed by your country. Each one of you has my respect and admiration for enduring a life that no child should ever face, for recognizing that the road ahead is still long, filled with both hardship and unexpected joy, self-discipline and the barest glimpse of cherished dreams”
As Mayor Phil Gordon summarized it, we have no reason to forget our roots; who we are, where we came from, and what is expected from us. Yes, Mayor Phil Gordon’s words did unite our seriously divided community of Lost Boys & Girls on that day. To the credit of Mayor Phil Gordon, people within the USA and beyond were closely watching us that day and were expecting us to rise beyond our ethnic and regional disputes, which dominated our discussion then and continue to be our challenge even today. Unfortunately, nine years later, such a historic national gathering of Lost Boys and Girls has never been repeated. Our national leadership that was democratically elected by the Lost Boys and Girls, and honorably sworn in by our late Dr. John Garang, no longer exists. Nationalism is no longer a dream to many of us as it used to be, despite the efforts by a few Lost Boys and Girls who are still committed to staying the course. These individuals have, from their various Western countries, served tirelessly through public speaking, raising awareness and generating millions of dollars in funds for rebuilding our homeland. We have opened many schools, constructed health clinics, and drilled several water wells across South Sudan, as well as established peace building groups that travel annually to South Sudan for speaking tours meant to encourage and motivate citizens to embrace unity and peace.
Sadly, South Sudan is too young, too large, too devastated, and too poor for these small groups of Lost Boys and Girls to be able to make a meaningful difference. There are always many questions in my mind as to what is happening to our visionary comrades. Why are the majority of us giving up on the role that compelled Dr. John Garang and Mayor Phil Gordon to speak the above words to us? Are our ethnic differences and the challenges we complain about every day, greater than the lives and souls of millions of South Sudanese who didn’t make it to freedom?
Silence, frustration, giving up, and abandoning what we have been successful doing will never be the answer. Without underestimating the trauma of our past struggle in Africa and frustrating life in exile, which is almost uprooting our loyalty to our beloved nation, there is nothing during our lifetime that can diminish our hope, strength, and courage to stay the cause of championing the freedom of South Sudanese citizens. The time has come for us, South Sudan’s Red Army/Jesh Hamar, also known as The Lost Boys & Girls of Sudan, to reflect more deeply on our historic contributions to the struggle and words of Dr. Garang. We cannot psychologically, emotionally, socially, and culturally, as a consequence of long marginalization and oppression, allow ourselves to be reduced to the point of abandoning our patriotism and nationalism, forgetting the fact that the road to freedom is thorny, harder, and longer than each of our entire lives. God didn’t create us and place us in Africa, particularly South Sudan, to be slaves to others and to ourselves. We must now and everyday be willing to do whatever it takes to free ourselves from any man-made problem. Man-made problems require man-made solutions. It is by this human belief and obligation that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated:
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Rising to the challenges
Now that I have reminded you about the call that the late Dr. John Garang de Mabior made nine years ago, refreshed your minds about our past achievements, and reflected on the current challenges facing South Sudan, here are some ways we can together rise and take over the leadership of our movement.
Empowerment and Mobilization of South Sudanese Population
There are several ways we as individuals and collectively as a group can empower and mobilize our grass roots population in South Sudan and in exile. Some of the things we can do to make a huge difference in the lives of our people include: (1) Empowerment through dialogue and interaction; (2) Empowerment through action; and (3) Empowerment through education and development. Nation building requires citizen participation and I call upon the Diasporas, especially members of South Sudan’s Jesh Hamar, to begin organizing yourselves and be willing to return home to teach our people about the importance of peaceful protests and letter writing. Educational dialogue through actions such as public speaking engagement, workshop, and forum on social, political, and economic issues can be another empowerment tool of action. Most importantly, education of our youth must be our long term goal and solution because it is only through education that we can compete regionally and globally, resulting in economic viability and sustainability. Delegation of powers to the grass roots population, especially now that we have a democratic election coming up in 2015, will be a crucial tool of empowerment.
Peace-Building & Reconciliation
John Dau’s (Dhieu Deng Leek) led the Ambassador Group, a peace-making membership group composed of residents and citizens of the USA, who are members of various South Sudanese tribes that travel annually to Jonglei State to teach peace and reconciliation skills. These peace-loving citizens of Jonglei State are an excellent example of Diaspora Peace-building groups that must be expanded to all 10 states of South Sudan, and there are no excuses not to join these groups now. In response to the need for peace, food security, and education in Jonglei State, members of the US-based Jonglei Peace of Neighbors and Jonglei Peace Initiative have already held rallies in all 11 counties of Jonglei State. Topics of their concerns included unity, peace, child abduction, cattle raiding, human rights violations, and obstruction of justice. You can read more about their recent peace tour on the link below: http://blog.lirs.org/our-urgent-mission-is-to-stop-the-killing-peace-of-neighbors-unveils-report-on-south-sudans-jonglei-state/
Nation-Building through development
For the last 12 years we have been in America, our work through various South Sudanese-led, US-based nonprofit organizations prove outstanding records of success. Through individual and community-based non-profit organizations, we have raised and invested millions of dollars in funds to South Sudan through developmental projects such as education, health care, agriculture, and safe drinking water. Since these projects were funded with money raised through public speaking engagements and donations from American individuals and foundations, this support is now in serious decline due to the fact that Lost Boys and Girls, who had been tremendously sacrificing their time, are no longer in action. Charitable giving is what makes countries such as America so great, and I challenge the South Sudanese to imitate this generous way of giving back to one’s own country. There is no reason why such a fundraising cannot be organized in various cities across South Sudan, especially now that we have a country that needs our collective efforts.
Preparing ourselves for 2015 South Sudan Elections
Besides Governor Kuol Manyang Juuk’s frequent call for us to return home to fulfill his vision for which he sent us in exile during the 80s, every South Sudan’s government ministers, generals, chiefs, and seniors citizens I met during my recent trip home have asked me to convey their message to our South Sudanese Diaspora. There are threats and challenges there in South Sudan, but our leaders and people believe it is now time to go back home and help our country in whatever way possible. There will be no objection if some of you choose to campaign for office during the upcoming democratic election in South Sudan. You are already known to your people through your knowledge, skills, experiences, and services I mentioned earlier, and the fact that you were there during the struggle make you even more viable leaders. It’s now time to go back home my brothers and sisters!
To conclude, my beloved citizens of our youngest African nation, if the above words from our country’s founding father, the late Dr. John Garang de Mabior, make sense to us, then let’s wake up and rise to the challenges of our time. We now have a choice: either to betray our fallen comrades by refusing to do the unfinished job that they left for us, or honor their soul and bloodshed for our freedom by accepting Dr. John Garang’s words and translating them into action now. We can’t wait to act when our country is in such a serious crises after just over a year we celebrated its historic independence. Our steadfast commitment, persistence, and determination, guided by our painful memories of the past; our strength to withstand the present challenges; and our unshaken vision and hope to work for a better South Sudan, must be a dream of every Lost Boy and Girl (Red Army) who survived and acquired the needed skills and knowledge in exile to complete the unfinished job left to us by the late Dr. John Garang and martyrs who perished along with him for our freedom. Let’s keep the promise and continue to dream big, and you will always have my support for as long as I’m with you!
*Source New Sudan Vision.Peter Magai de Bul Ayual is a US/Chicago-based South Sudanese Community leader, passionate activist, and a proud member of South Sudan’s Red Army (Jesh Hamar) also internationally known as The Lost Boys & Girls of South Sudan. For questions and comments, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org