• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
Cashing in on an oil and aid boom was probably not what his Cuban professors of communist economics had in mind for Bona Bol Bol. He has made a small fortune selling sport utility vehicles to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the former rebel army-turned-government in this nascent nation.
In the mid-1980s, at the invitation of Fidel Castro, the SPLM sent about 600 children to Cuba to be educated, with the aim that they would one day return and help develop a communist southern Sudan. As a 14-year-old, Mr. Bol was plucked from a refugee camp in Ethiopia and deposited on Isla de Juventud (Isle of Youth), where Castro’s government had built a school for about 25,000 students.
Bol says he is grateful to Cuba for the opportunity, and he has fond memories of families who hosted him on weekends and holidays. “I like the way people there were very social,” he says. “We started eating and dancing like them. It was easy because we were young.”
The students’ repatriation was delayed as the war in Sudan stretched on, eclipsing the global fall of communism. But many of them finally returned after a peace agreement was signed in 2005, which led to last month’s independence referendum.
Bol said peace has brought a flood of business opportunities as the SPLM struggles to build a state from the ground up, financed by oil revenues and international aid. “What I did in Cuba in economics is different than what I am doing now,” he says with a smile.
Although it may not be in the way envisioned by his communist professors, he is literally helping to build his country: Tapping Juba’s lucrative real estate market, Bol is now constructing and selling apartment blocks.