South Sudanese Literature Growth and Development: Transitioning from oral to written storytelling

Posted: May 23, 2019 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Books, Columnists, Commentary, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

How many South Sudanese “read?” This is the “Bridge” generation’s responsibility

By Francis Mabior Deng, Melbourne, Australia

Francis Mabioor Deng Mabioor, Former Lost, South Sudanese Australian and Author of "A Child Escape."
Francis Mabioor Deng Mabioor, Former Lost boy, South Sudanese Australian and Author of “A Child Escape.”

Thursday, May 23, 2019 (PW) —- Arguably and perhaps controversially to some, the “Red Army Generation,” which is also referred to as the “Lost Boys and Girls” of Sudan Generation is the “Bridge” between the “Old” and “New” Sudan. They are the generation who from their childhoods witnessed and experienced the devastating protracting Sudanese civil war from its onset in May 1983 to its major end, the birth of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, CPA, in January 2005. They are the generation in the history of South Sudan to begin schooling (although under trees in camps and warzone locations) in considerably great numbers!

In late 80s and early 90s, thousands of this generation were robbed of their childhoods in the name of the Liberation Struggle. They were denied their carefree spirit and playfulness. They were too young to be separated from their families. After about five years living in rebel-controlled camps in both Southern Ethiopia and South Sudan, and often escaping enemy’s jaws, thousands of them fortunately crossed the border and later in August 1992 established Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya. Half of them had joined SPLA rank and file. In contrast to the mediocre schools they had in South Sudan, UN constructed better schools and their humble schooling resumed. Majority focused on their learning and did well against all odds and despite terrible health conditions at the time.

And about a decade later in this semi-arid Kakuma camp, their long plight caught attention of the United Nations and the United States of America. By 2001, thousands were resettled in the United States and later hundreds in Australia and Canada. As the protracted Sudanese civil war culminated, the resettled Lost Boys, especially in North America played a vital role in advocating for the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, CPA (Noticeably the original SPLM leadership acknowledged the Lost Boys’ significant role in the CPA signing.)

And collectively of course thousands of the lost Boys generation in Australia, Canada and East Africa played a transformational role (being the “Bridge” between the Old and Young) in advancing literacy in South Sudan. Many sponsored hundreds of South Sudanese families (relatives of course) and helped them resettled in Western countries (mostly Australia, Canada & USA) as well as sponsoring children of relatives in East African schools.

Why do I call this generation the “Bridge?” They are the Bridge because they in important ways benefitted from oral storytelling, they possess good understanding of the old and the emerging, and the freedom fighters were their fathers’ age, mostly, and so on. They are modern as well as knowledgeable of the old Sudan. They connect the old and young generations of South Sudan. In their early childhoods they certainly spent time beside parents and grandparents listening to traditional and customary stories and folklore. They had spent time in cattle camps, tended livestock and herded cattle.

And most important, undoubtedly, they are majorly responsible in defining and shaping the course and future of South Sudan in terms of its foundation and development pillars: Literature, socio-economy, governance, work environment, social policy among others. They have earned capability to record and write South Sudan historical journey for the present and future benefit of the fledgling nascent nation. Majority of this generation now age in their late 30s and 40s.

We live in the information age (acknowledging South Sudan still at its foundation) and individual literacy ability has never been so important in the history of mankind including South Sudan. It has nearly been fourteen years since South Sudan earned its autonomous status (six years of referendum period and eight years of independence) however, little is visible in terms of major and principal economic pillars and foundations including education capacity building and development, not mentioning critical socio-economic infrastructures like roads, health and security.

How are we fairing in terms of South Sudanese literature growth and development?  Is there a vibrant or perhaps emerging South Sudanese literature community focused and keen on ensuring literature materials by South Sudanese are critiqued and included as part of the nation building? A few years ago, with these questions in mind, I came across books and literal materials written by and for South Sudanese. In this field are prominent writers including the former ambassador and UN Undersecretary, Francis Mading Deng and Hon. Atem Yaak Atem.

Other writers are perhaps aspirant and emerging and they are of the “Bridge,” the Red Army generation. They included Emmanuel Jal with his “War Child memoir,” “What is the What?” written for Valentino Achak Deng, “The Boy that wouldn’t die” written for David Nyuon Vincent, “Songs of a War Boy”, written for Deng Thiak Adut, “Escape from Slavery” written for Francis Bok, and many others. Reading these books one finds that they are thought-provoking in the sense that one wrestles with the storyline. Obviously and admittedly, “What’s the What?” is partially non-fictional and fictional. This left me questioning the narrative authenticity as events in the book are at times pushed beyond reality.

Francis Mabioor Deng Mabioor, Former Lost boy, South Sudanese Australian and Author of "A Child Escape."
Francis Mabioor Deng Mabioor, Former Lost boy, South Sudanese Australian and Author of “A Child Escape.”

In conclusion and the main objective of this article, South Sudanese literature growth and development by South Sudanese has never been so important. And the “Bridge” generation, the Red Army generation, also known as the “Lost Boys” generation is at the forefront in as much the future of South Sudan is concerned. And self-examination through asking questions is an essential ingredient. How did we get here? And what role individually and collectively are we playing? What is the main aim of education? Self-actualisation is celebrated when we use our knowledge and skills to help benefit and transform our people and society. Dr John Garang de Mabior without doubt achieved this level, this accolade, this transformation. He is South Sudan’s beloved son. He was a true egalitarian.

When we are fair-minded, when we value human dignity, when we are led and guarded by principles of interdependence, win-win and synergy, we rise up and thrive. The freedom fighters generation achieved their objective but they failed to lay strong foundation for their “House” to withstand wind and turbulence. They primarily focussed on personality traits rather than character traits. Fourteen years later since South Sudan earned its autonomous status and ultimately independence, we collectively as South Sudan society have done little for our people. Since 2005 and counting, South Sudan has lost another generation to illiteracy. An overwhelming majority of South Sudanese children have no access to proper education.

Let us celebrate and shape literature material by South Sudanese however flaw it might be. Perfection comes when we embrace what we have and shape it. All the current literature we have by South Sudanese serves a great purpose toward building a better South Sudan. Because principally reading and writing lead to innovation, discovery and indeed invention. In one way or another the books we have are a crucial contribution to advancing not only the country’s literature but also encouraging reading and writing in a language that suits you.

There are many brilliant minds lying latent. A few years ago, these books by South Sudanese inspired me to reflect on my own journey. I felt responsible to record my own life journey primarily for my family and children and also a contribution to the South Sudanese literature. Where there is a will there is a way. This life journey story was recently converted to a book.

This contribution to South Sudanese literature can be accessed by clicking the following link: the link to accessing the book website. This link is a review by Eureka Street Magazine.

The author, Francis Mabioor Deng Mabioor, is a South Sudanese Australian, a former lost boys and the author of “A Child Escape”, which chronicles the horrors of the civil war during his childhood in South Sudan. He currently lives in Melbourne, Australia, and can be reached via his email: Francis Deng <>

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website. If you want to submit an opinion article, commentary or news analysis, please email it to PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website do reserve the right to edit or reject material before publication. Please include your full name, a short biography, email address, city and the country you are writing from.

  1. South Sudan is a field of different businesses from South sudanese themselves exploitation and agressive are marching

    On Thu, May 23, 2019, 5:22 PM PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd – South Sudan wrote:

    > PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. posted: ” How many South Sudanese “read?” This is > the “Bridge” generation’s responsibility By Francis Mabior Deng, Melbourne, > Australia Francis Mabioor Deng Mabioor, Former Lost boy, South Sudanese > Australian and Author of “A Child Escape.” Thursday, May ” >


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