Bol Gai Deng: A Labourer In Sudan Is Contesting For Presidential Elections
July 14th, 2018 / 7:28 PM
Image Credits: NDTV
About twenty years ago, Bol Gai Deng arrived in the US as a Sudanese refugee, days ahead of a wave known as the “Lost Boys” of Sudan. Now a citizen of the U.S and a resident of Richmond, Virginia, working night shifts at a hardware superstore, Deng has some big plans like running for the presidency of South Sudan.
He has been working at the Richmond branch of Lowe’s for six years- unloading tools and equipment from the supply trucks at night. He has stuck with this job for so long because he likes having his days free for pursuing the presidency of the world’s youngest nation that was created in 2011.
His $15 hourly wage is just enough to pay his bills and fund his campaign that relies largely on social media. Apart from that, he gets some free help from Andrea McDaniel, a longtime NBC12 anchor who he met at a charity event, and Don Blake, president of the Virginia Christian Alliance. Deng makes his bid from Virginia, where he still lives with the family who took him in when he was just a teenager.
In November 2017, Deng pressed State Department officials to call for elections in his war-ravaged homeland. However, the cowboy-hatted President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir shows no desire to give up on his power.
A fellow refugee, who acts as a security adviser to Deng, deemed a campaign trip to their homeland too risky. So instead, Deng travelled to Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia in May, where he promised crowds of displaced South Sudanese that he would establish an era of democracy and honesty in South Sudan.
Bol Gai Deng was about 7-years-old when raiders from the North of Sudan swept into his Dinka village in the south, raping women, killing men and kidnapping hundreds of boys and girls including him. Enslaved for years, Deng managed to escape and made his way to refugee camps in Khartoum and Cairo. When he was about 17, he reached suburban Richmond in 1999, where a church offered to resettle him and three other Sudanese teenagers.
“He bought a car from one of these people who charged him 29 per cent interest when he was working a minimum-wage job,” said Jill Wood, Deng’s “American mom.” Wood calls him by the Christian name he was given at birth, William, reports Washington Post. Her husband, Frank, had persuaded fellow members of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church to sponsor the four refugees. The Woods eventually invited Deng to live with them in 2001. He still lives there.
Deng attended college at Virginia Commonwealth University and was the first student to sign up for the homeland security major, which had been introduced after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He wished to get a job with the FBI or Department of Homeland Security, but his command of written English served as a disadvantage.
In college, Deng was actively involved in organizing different programs. Not only did he put together a program specifically to help local African immigrants improve their English, but also led efforts to build a school and deliver medicine to South Sudan. Moreover, his two-day conference on Sudan drew diplomats and scholars all the way from Washington and elsewhere.
“Of all the Lost Boys, I’ve not heard any of them saying, ‘I’m going back to make a difference,’ ” Shawn Utsey, a psychology professor at VCU told Washington Post. “He came here, achieved some success, and the whole time he did that, he was worried about his people in South Sudan and how he would improve their lives.”
Deng runs his campaign out of Don Blake’s offices at the Virginia Christian Alliance, which leads battles against abortion and gay rights in the state Capital.
Government experts in the United States have also given him the time and attention that he demands. He has met with William Leighty, former chief of staff to Democratic governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, who has trained government leaders in different countries like Scotland and Nigeria.
While some of Leighty’s advice was universal, such as the need to build a cabinet that reflects all people, not just the people who support you, some of it was specific to Deng’s country – which gained independence from Sudan proper in 2011 and soon swamped in a civil war that led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people – lacking the most basic infrastructure for governing, such as a functioning financial system.
Despite the country’s deeply polarized immigration politics, Deng’s share of believers spans the U.S. political spectrum as well. To the left, he’s proof that refugees can flourish and offer hope to their homelands if only America would welcome them. Whereas, to the Right wing, Deng – a Christian kidnapped as a young boy by the mujahideen and forced into slavery; served as a validation of President Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban.”
As Bol Gai Deng has his eyes on South Sudan’s presidency, he sure has to overcome some daunting obstacles standing in his way. Like the fact that the current president, Kiir shows no desire to give up and that the country is plagued by civil war and that it lacks even the most basic tools for running an election. The first step is to replace the current government and establish an interim one that is willing and able to host fair elections.
Deng thinks President Donald Trump could get the ball rolling by nudging Kiir out.
“I want him to tweet, just tweet, ‘Step down,’ ” he said, smiling broadly.”It’s simple.” As reported by Washington Post.
Written by : Disha Thakrar
Edited by : Abhinav Joshi