The Lost Boys of Sudan

January 18, 2013

After decades of civil war that left millions dead, Sudan was split into two countries in 2011. Artist Niki Singleton’s graphic novel tells the stories of four refugees who fled their war-torn villages and resettled in the United States.

After decades of civil war, the Sudanese people voted in January 2011 to split their nation into two countries.

Two years later, though, the move has brought little respite; the presidents of Sudan and newly formed South Sudan are in a deadlock over borders, a dispute that centers on oil production and economically vital border regions like Abyei. Since becoming a sovereign state in July 2011, South Sudan has been afflicted with deadly clashes in the region of Southern Kordofan, the oil-producing town of Heglig and the long-besieged refugee camps of Darfur.

The International Criminal Court continues to pursue the arrest of Sudanese government officials, including President Omar al-Bashir, who have been indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity over their roles in the deaths of approximately 300,000 people in Darfur since 2003.

The fighting in Darfur broke out in February 2003, as two rebel groups rose up against the Sudanese government, which enlisted militias to suppress the rebels. At that time, a civil war had already been raging between northern and southern Sudan for two decades.

The conflict between north and south has its roots in Sudan’s first steps towards independence from the United Kingdom. In 1956, the country’s constitution named Khartoum—in the mostly Muslim north—the capital, and failed to establish whether the nation would be a secular or Islamist state. Subsequently, southern secessionists battled the Sudan Defence Force in a civil war that lasted until 1972 and killed half a million people.

Sudan’s second civil war erupted in 1983 when President Jaafar Nimeiri introduced sharia law. It resulted in the deaths of two and a half million people, and the displacement of four million more.

Excerpted below is artist Niki Singleton’s graphic novel, Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan, which tells the story of children displaced by Sudan’s second civil war. In 2001, international aid organizations resettled 4,000 of these “lost boys” from southern Sudan, who were on the run or in refugee camps, to the United States. The graphic novel focuses on four boys who fled their villages as armies from the north attacked, and, many years later, found themselves living in Dallas, Texas.

From the Artist:

For me, stories of extreme struggle need to be studied, retold and kept in public discourse. It is much easier for an atrocity to be recommitted if history is forgotten. My Greek grandparents were twice exiled to east Africa around the First World War. I believe that as a result of this, our family—myself included—has never stopped moving around the globe.

Although I’d previously visited east Africa, I’d never been to Sudan, so I illustrated Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan remotely, across continents. I researched Sudanese shelters, tools and even facial features online. I did not speak with the book’s protagonists directly, but instead communicated with my editor in Texas, Susan Clark, who transferred my questions to the young refugees. On very little money, I worked nocturnally in residency spaces in France and the Netherlands, arranged by freeDimensional, a non-profit that involves artists in perilous situations outside of their own countries.

The making of this graphic novel was so intense that I felt as if I were experiencing, in a small way, the desperation and fear of the boys I drew. This process led me to understand the reasons for my own self-imposed exile. I am also a product of displacement.

For more information or to buy the book, click here.