A major challenge facing the Republic of South Sudan is a high rate of Illiteracy. A 2009 survey by the Education Management System concluded that up to 73 percent of South Sudanese were illiterate. Many today, especially of the older generation, blame this on the policies pursued by the regime in Khartoum in the years before independance.
Isaiah Ayuen Deng Kuai, an elderly South Sudanese who dropped out of school in the 1960s, insists that slanted policies, including the application of Sharia Law, discriminated against South Sudanese. In an interview with Radio Miraya, he remembered what those days were like, starting with a crackdown on students at his school in Atar, Jonglei state who were protesting a government decree making Sunday a working day.
Deng Kuai: I led the strike. I was tortured. Very badly tortured. We suffered a lot. We were stripped naked and put in sacks doused with pepper. Imagine the situation of a naked person in peppered covering. The soldiers and policemen kicked and walked on you. I lost several teeth and suffered a broken cheek. Finally, I was helped by the director of education in Malakal. I and a friend , the late David Bol Athiek.
Miraya FM: Were those the toughest times in your quest for education?
Deng Kuai: Yeah! Bol stayed in Malakal and I was sent to Bor. But when I reached Bor, I could not disembark from the steamer. I continued to Juba. I hid myself. One journalist called Richard Malcum, a British, let me hide in his cabin. I disembarked at Gemeiza (on the River Nile between Bor and Juba) and I changed my clothes so that the railway police would not recognize me. That's how I proceeded to Juba.
Miraya FM: In Juba, were you able to return to school?
Deng Kuai: I enrolled at Juba One. But the director of education for Upper Nile inquired from people in Bor whether they had seen me there. The district commissioner of Bor told him I wasn't there. That's how the police were able to trace me.
Miraya FM: What happened after they discovered you were in Juba?
Deng Kuai: Two detectives came and picked me up. Ali Aldo, the then governor of Equatoria, ordered the chief of police to bring me to his office. The governor ordered the assistant director of education for Southern Sudan, Hassan Al-Hash, to take me to Juba One. I could not finish my studies in Juba. The director of education in Upper Nile was bitter about this, because I was the best in my class at Atar (Jonglei).
Miraya FM: Did he want you to be taken back?
Deng Kuai: The director wanted that I be taken back to Upper Nile. This was approved. But I didn't travel back all the way. I stopped at Gemeiza.
Miraya FM: Didn't you want to go to Atar?
Deng Kuai: I didn't want to. My mind was increasingly leaning towards revolt.
Miraya FM: Were you angry of being moved here and there?
Deng Kuai: I already had strong feelings against the government. I came and took the guns of late Bishop Daniel Deng Atto. Of course, Daniel was not there. The district commissioner of Bor was contacted and he confirmed that I was around Bor area and moving up to Pariak, and was armed. Twelve policemen were sent after me from Bor town. I returned on my own, however, and reported to the district commissioner.
"You're growing my boy, why don't you change your mind? Have you come finally?" he asked me. I said I had, and Malakal was informed. When we reached Malakal, I was taken to the police station and then to prison. The director of education still insisted that I sit the secondary school entrance exams, and while in the prison I was allowed to attend classes at Obel. I wrote the entrance exam, after which the Governor ordered that I be taken to Bor. There, I was set free and handed over to the chief of Makuach.
When the entrance exam results came out, I scored very high and my name came out on the admission list for Rumbek. But because I was at the time surrounded by southerners and students from Khartoum, I decided to go to Khartoum, from where I could eventually leave the country.
While in Khartoum, I met the late Enoch Akau Mayom, who became the leader of those who wanted to go into exile. We were nine in number, but only five of us left. That was in 1960s. We crossed to Ethiopia.
By Radio Journalist Philip Thon Aleu