Civil War in Southern Sudan

Jack Deng was born in a small village near Juba, Southern Sudan, to a household of five. His mother Jessy worked as a housewife, and his father Odek was a local instructor. Deng, the oldest son, desired the best for his siblings, even putting his high school diploma on the line so that two of his younger siblings could go to school. Civil conflicts had occasionally broken out in Sudan, but Juba, where Deng and his family resided, had rarely been affected. Machar was the village elder and also a retired army general who always focused on ensuring that there was peaceful co-existence among the members of the community. In Deng, Machar saw a leader, a young man that could change the lives of people of South Sudan in the future. After his circumcision, he was chosen as the youth leader in his small village of Chibanga. His parents were proud of him and believed that with the instability being witnessed in the country, he would one day rise to the position of a national leader. Taking of the mantle was the beginning of a rugged path ahead of Deng’s life.

Chibanga village had always enjoyed serenity and peace. The relationship between the people in southern Juba was always cordial. However, the inhabitants of the region knew that tensions were brewing in several parts of Southern Sudan. Riek Dadong, the leader of one of the revolt movement, had in the past years strengthened his army by purchasing arms from neighboring countries such as Uganda and Kenya as well as foreign countries such as the U.S. the armed militia group fueled inter-ethnic violence and tortured those persons that failed to live by their accords. They moved from one village to the other, torching houses, raping women and kidnapping young men to join their gang. The instability in the south had been created by Albashir’s decision to amass resources to the northern part of the country and marginalizing individuals on the South. Kier took advantage of the challenges in the region and opted for self-determination which was not that easy as he had thought.

Infiltration of Kier’s armed militia into Juba caught Chibanga village by surprise. In one evening of August 1992, as Machar was addressing the people on moral values, a loud bang rent the air. Deng knew what was coming, but he was scared of his siblings and parents. At first, the villagers thought that it was the sound of a bomb, but that was not the case. Kier’s army had shot down a military helicopter that was patrolling the Juba region at large. That symbolized the entrance of the militia in the southern part of Juba and the beginning of a gruesome war. Confusion rocked the village as women screamed and ran in different directions. Animal sounds were heard in various corners of Chibanga. Machar collected a group of youth from various households, armed them with weapon and asked Deng to position them strategically beside the perimeter. They were to launch their attacks immediately Kier’s militias matched into the village.

Kier’s army arrived at the village immediately past midnight. They sang war songs and shouted all sorts of insult. Machar ordered Deng not to act until the gang got closer to the perimeter. By then, most of women and children had escaped, fearing for their lives. When the army stormed Chibanga village, they were met by full force from the armed youth. Fighting ensued, and a mixture of gun sounds and screams filled the air. Surprisingly, Kier’s army was prepared for such a battle, and this made it easier for them to demolish the youth. Marchar noticed that they were being overpowered and it's then that he asked Deng not to continue engaging with the militias but instead escape. The army took control of the village, torched houses and stole property. They also raped the women, killed those that resisted being taken hostage and kidnapped the children. After the two-hour combat, the Kier’s army left the village, and it’s not until dawn that the extent of their damage was witnessed.

The following morning, Machar and Deng came out of their hidings. The atmosphere was smoky primarily as a result of the burning houses, tires, and structures. As they walked down the streets of Juba towards their village, bodies lay all over, some with gunshot wounds and others with deep cuts. At that point, he thought about his family whereabouts. According to Machar, Kier’s militias were still around, and they were up to committing rounds of attacks. When they got to Chibanga, village, the once lively area was deserted. Lifeless recognizable bodies lay in pools of blood. The thought of Deng getting into their family was crushed when he identified that it had been razed down. His heart beat fast, and he kept on sweating profusely. He moved from one body to the other, searching for his parents and siblings but to no avail. Some of the casualties were still alive but accessing urgent medical attention was difficult due to the predicaments. From a distance, he heard Machar’s voice calling and without hesitation, he dashed towards his direction. On a tree trunk, laid the body of his lifeless father with deep cuts on his face and abdomen. The reality that his Dad had succumbed hit him hard like a thunderbolt. Tears rolled down Deng’s eyes as he pondered about the challenges that were to come in the future after the loss of his dad.

Time was moving fast, and the two had to come up with their next move. As they sat on the tree back thinking of a place to burry Ojal, Deng’s dad, the rattling of helicopter froze their nerves. The sound kept on getting closer, and soon gunshots rang the air. The plane was headed towards the village, and this forced Machar and Deng to flee to safety. However, the shots were directed to them and were only saved by a ditch. They emerged from their hiding after the rattling of the helicopter faded away, and it is then that they decided to follow the route leading to the Northern part of Kenya. After walking for more than three hours, emaciated and thirsty, they met a large group that was also fleeing their war-torn homes. They asked for food from the individuals who were kind enough to share. Deep down Deng, he was worried about his mother and siblings. It was the second day, but he had heard from neither of his family members or seen them apart from his dead dad. According to the group’s head, they were headed to Kakuma, a refugee center, located in Kenya.

The walk towards Kakuma was challenging, and in most occasions, Deng had to ask the group to stop so that Machar could rest. The women also took that opportunity to breastfeed their hungry babies and nurse their injuries. Deng made friendship with Ojok, a young man in his early twenties and they shared their stories, primarily focusing on the events that led to their status. Ojok said that his parents and sibling had been killed by the forces allied to Kier and that he had escaped death on a whisker. Deng, on the other side, informed his new friend that he never knew where his parents and four siblings were but his dad had been killed. He also informed him that his village had been set ablaze and that women and children were kidnapped. As they narrated their stories, they both shed tears, having no idea on what awaited them in the future.

On the third day of their walk, challenges started setting in. They ran out of food and water. They also lacked medication to deal with the ailing children that had contracted malaria due to the cold weather and mosquito-infested environs. It is on that day that Deng realized that Machar had a bullet wound on his abdomen yet he had not told him before. The wound had worsened, and his body weakened very fast. Despite all the pain written all over Machar’s face, he kept on saying that “all will be well” as he smiled cheekily. In one of their stops, Ojok suggested that he knew about traditional herbs that would sterilize the wound and heal it after some time. He dashed into the thickets, and after thirty minutes, he came back with a combination of twigs and leaves. They crushed the herbs and squeezed the juice on Machar’s wound, later covered it using a torn clothes. On the fifth day, five elderly persons and three children succumbed to hunger and malaria. Women wailed, filled with the pain of losing their children. The mourning sounds led the group into deeper trouble since it attracted the attention of a few Kier’s soldiers that had strategically positioned themselves in a neighboring town.

Machar warned the Deng and Ojok about the oncoming catastrophe, and this hardly took long before it took place. The rattling of helicopter blades was heard from a distance moving towards the group, and it merely took long before the armed militia started shooting the innocent women and children. People scampered in different directions, and those that could not escape were left at the mercies of gunshots. Ojok and Deng carried Machar in shifts. After running for close to two hours, they met a smaller group that was also escaping the escalating violence in Juba. Lucky enough, they were also headed to Kakuma refugee camp. Ojok boldly asked them for food and water citing excessive hunger and thirst. The group shared with them the little food that they had. Machar’s condition kept on worsening, and he knew very well that his days were counted. He urged Deng to take care of Ojok and should he find his mother and siblings, let them know that they are heroes. He later slept but never woke up. Deng sobbed endlessly, and he was sympathized by his friend and the group members. They helped him dig a shallow grave, where Machar, a once respected village elder, and retired general was buried.

The journey, after the death of Machar, was not easy. Deng kept on thinking about the interactions that they had and his desire to help him meet goals and objectives as a leader. Ojok kept on consoling him and promised of a better future. One morning, the hope that was elusive came to their doorstep. Three UN tracks were spotted from a distance, headed towards their direction. On reaching the group, everyone was asked to get into the vehicles, and the head of the humanitarian control unit explained to them that they were aware of the on-going war in Southern Sudan. They were, therefore, among the lucky few that were being transported to Kakuma. Ululations and songs filled the air. To them, they had been fished out of hell. On arrival to the refugee camps in the northern part of Kenya, they were registered and shown shelters where they could stay.

Deng met his mother and siblings at the Kakuma refugee camp, and they were happy to be reunited. They were, however, saddened by the loss of their father. One year later, Deng won a scholarship to study in the U.S. after he emerged the best in a regional exam. In the U.S., he was admitted to Cornell University and upon his graduation; he landed himself a lucrative job at the Google Company. He later invited his family and best friend Ojok to the country where they live currently live. Deng founded the Deng Foundation in Southern Sudan, a non-governmental organization that caters for children education, health status and drives campaigns against war and violence.

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