A former Sudanese child soldier who now lives in Red Deer wants to educate Central Albertans about his native country in the days leading up to a historic vote that may result in Sudan spiraling again into violence as it splits in two.
Southern Sudan is holding a referendum on Jan. 9 to determine whether or not it will separate from the country and become an independent state.
The vote is a result of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended more than two decades of civil war that killed some two million people and left millions of others displaced.
“The people of the south, they are really at that point that they can’t stand to be living with the north anymore,” said Deng Wil Luol Deng, 29.
Like many others, Deng believes the southern Sudanese will vote to separate and that this move may spark a new war. He said the powerful north will likely not let the oil-rich south go so easily.
“I’m scared of violence,” Deng said. “If this voting has any game play in there from the government, the south will respond.”
The country has been in a state of hostility since it’s independence from the British in 1956 and its history has led to this upcoming referendum, Deng said.
He believes the unrest can be attributed to the differences in culture, religion, power and education levels between the warring northern and southern regions.
The country’s religious and cultural conflicts, government, battles, rebel forces, child soldiers, laws and peace agreements are all briefly outlined in the 36-page book that Deng recently wrote with his common law wife Collecia Moody.
He also talks about his personal experience as a child soldier in Conflict in Sudan: After Two Decades of Civil War, is Separation the Answer?
“I look at it as a bad experience,” he said. “We need to be working through it to stop the abusing to those kids. A lot of us, we were like wishing just to live a normal life. I don’t want no gun. I don’t want to shoot nobody.”
Deng, who hails from southern Sudan and graduated in 1997, said all high school graduates were forced to fight in the war zone against their own people of the south. He said school children were “brainwashed” and prepared for war from the age of 13.
He decided to share the story of Sudan with Canadians after he returned home in September of 2008 to visit the parents and siblings that he left behind when he moved to Red Deer in 2002.
Deng was inspired to write Conflict in Sudan when he saw that homelessness, hunger and abuse of power remained rampant despite the fact that the peace deal was signed three years prior to his trip.
He stayed in the African country for about a year-and-a-half to gather information for the book that he hopes will educate and motivate Central Albertans to help as a new war potentially looms in Sudan.
“How are we going to make that country to be a better place to live?
“We come to Canada here, and we learn a lot,” he said of living in unity.
“Canada,” he paused, “you look like you live in heaven.”
Deng will be joined by others in the local Sudanese community at the downtown branch of the Red Deer Public Library on Jan. 7 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to provide more information about Sudan. Copies of Conflict in Sudan: After Two Decades of Civil War, is Separation the Answer will be available.
Deng is also working on writing another book that looks at the tensions in Darfur, the western region of Sudan.