An Interview about the South Sudanese Diaspora, contributing to the development of South Sudan through business and skills, and knowledge transfer. With Anjelo Malek Kuoc Deng, South Sudanese-American, Chief Administrative of Kush Petroleum Inc., and Owner of the Munuki Plaza.
By Ramciel Magazine
Deng resettled in the United States in 2000, but after settling for a while, he decided to go back to his native land of South Sudan a month before South Sudan obtained its independence from Sudan in 2011.
RM.: What motivated you to return home?
Malek Kuoc Deng.: First, let start by saying thanks for having me on your platform “Ramciel Magazine”. Secondly, let me begin by saying as Diaspora, we have responsibilities toward our people and the country at large, there is a reason we are all over the world, it wasn’t just a coincidence. Our going into Diaspora has a very fine clear message behind it.
Some of our people were left behind during the arm’s struggle to fight on our behalf, and we, as the Diaspora, who got lucky and a chance to resettle to the West, were objectively hoping to get these Western, modern ideas and to come back to the motherland to make a difference when peace comes to our country. The idea was to come back and contribute to the development of our nation by using our skills, experiences, and the knowledge that we had gained in the Diaspora. Indeed, this was the shared goal between us and our western friends. Perhaps, some of us came back to South Sudan, and are currently playing a vital role in nation-building. Although, we have faced so many challenges, still yet, this is a home for us and one must confidently say we shall overcome the obstacles.
Just like those who had taken up arms, they have struggled and accomplished our goal. The road on our side was much more accessible. When I came back to South Sudan. I came having the concept that this is it. This is home! Overall, we the Diasporas have responsibilities to come back here and do something positive for generations to come.
RM.: When did you go to the United States?
Malek Kuoc Deng.: I went to the U.S. through Cairo, Egypt, on status of refugee and resettled in Salt Lake City in the State of Utah – December 2000. Long story short, it was like I didn’t leave anything behind; our country was at war, and most of my siblings got scattered to unknown places and some joined the movement. And on a personal note, one must acknowledge that God has blessed me with great opportunities in which I had accomplished admirable things while in the US, such as finishing my education, having a good-paying job and establishing a family, and of course buying a family house. Is like, I was leaving the American dreams! Those of us who were fortunate enough to go to America, Australia, Canada, and Europe had the opportunities to make sure we did what was best because we knew and we believed things were and could be possible.
When I went to the U.S. I put everything behind and focused on education and work. I achieved great things among the achievements, my undergraduate degree in international relations at The University of Utah and have some associates degrees in business management. While pursuing that, I was working in the private sector; as a member of management and was holding the title of Shift manager at Wal Mart Stores Inc, USA, that way, I developed skills through several management training and more knowledge of running today daily business. I had started my MBA in 2007 at Strayer University in the State of Utah but I didn’t finish it because I had to put off and focus on work as so I save up for my family when I come back to South Sudan. So, I came here and got employed by Kush Petroleum, which was an opportunity accorded to me from the people that I admire the most, those of uncle Bona Panek Biar, Manasa Machar Bol, and Kuer Dau Ding.
I was hired as one of the management in the company, and along with that, I continue to pursue my master’s degree in business school at Mount Kenya University through virtual distance learning, which I completed in 2017, hopefully, one day I shall pursue Ph.D. if time allows.
RM.: Since you came here in 2011, you have done so much which could be inspirational for those in the Diaspora and a legacy for your children. Can you tell us how you balance the time between work here and with your family back in the United States?
Malek Kuoc Deng.: I appreciate you asking this crucial question. Yes, I had been wanted to fit in somehow, but I could not find the channel to fit it in. And since you asked. Let me begin by using an old phrase that says something like this: “Behind every successful man, there is a strong woman.” You know, I am blessed with a beautiful and strong woman Akuat Alor. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here to manage all of this. Sincerely speaking, she stood behind me, and she has been managing the background taking care of our family back home in America.
In addition to that, she has been an important consultant all along, someone I seek advice from most of the time. So, yes, if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have been able to help the family back home. I thank God for his gifts, for having her as my wife. We have been married for good 17 years and are blessed with smart and healthy children. Indeed, she has been the ultimate guide and a big supporter of my success. One must say our love has grown better and richer over time. I love her more than I have ever loved anything (except God, of course).
So how do I manage it? Well, let me say I went to business schools and obtained a master’s degree in business school. majored in Public Administration and Management. Prior to that, I worked in one of the giant retailers in America, I read some books; I learned from many writers and business owners I interacted with. So yes, it was not an easy task, but hey, so far, so good, I am managing…
On the family aspect, my wife and I, managed to put our two children to high school in the United States, and the rest of the kids are progressing well, and soon or later they shall join others in the higher institution of learning. And while I am here, I have been managing my work to support my family. The progress is going on well in which I have started moving toward real-estate development and at some point, God has blessed me with opportunities as I said earlier. Whereby I got the job and the people working in the field. These decent people help me come up with time to go back to the U.S. and visit my family and spend a little time with them and come back to continue the progress. We have never been disconnected. I thank God for the technology whereby one could talk to his kids through what I called ‘The mother of FACETIME” and still be able to connect and give advice every time they try to slip away from the task. So, in reality, and in general, it is something doable.
I recommend everyone in the Diaspora to come back home and give a bit of sacrifice to our people and the country we all love. This is our land, and if we cannot do something here, our children may not be able to come back as we wish because they were born and grew up in that western lifestyle whereby, they may not want to live those western dreams. But if our children come back and find out we had established something good for them, they can join our hands and live that dream as well as it has been my goal that, one day our children will come home.
RM.: We are now on the fourth floor of this beautiful piece of real estate. Are you in the real estate business?
Malek Kuoc Deng.: Well, yes. I am a business person. I do run a few businesses here and there, and I primarily focus on real estate development. So I seek to buy lands with little I have and develop it and move on at least this was what had wished and intended to continue doing.
RM.: Why business rather than politics?
Malek Kuoc Deng.: Well. Like I said earlier, this is a personal choice. I felt comfortable being in business rather than in the government, but maybe someday if my people wish I could help serve in the government, I will not hesitate to answer the call. But now I felt business is where I can progress and do what I do the best to contribute to nation-building.
So, I have been in the business for quite some time, and yes, some of us who came from the Diaspora and are here focusing on business and are doing okay. And that should be the message to the rest of our Diaspora to come back home and do the same because our country needs us. The country is still facing tremendous challenges due to the recent senseless war in 2013. Yet, we still believe and hope that one day will think of the country and its people first than our interests.
RM.: How long did it take you to build the Munuki Plaza?
Malek Kuoc Deng.: It was quite a struggle to set the records straight; I am not an engineer. I am a business-minded entrepreneur. Suppose you come and talk to me about business management. I will challenge you because that’s what I had been doing for the last 20 years. The resources are always the key for every project you want to achieve. Having said so, I team up with some friends to help with a little cash to start with. To mention my friend Mabior Chol who was the one I had started with his 60,000 South Sudanese pound which was equivalent to 15,000 USD in which I had been able to finish the foundation. Then comes in my friends Kezia and Asaga hebeab and among others. I had been able to work with the engineers, I think the amount of time it took was a bit longer than the normal time due to lack of resources. Indeed, I managed to complete it in 2017 and the grand opening was done in presence of my Mother Achol Yor, my wife Akuat Alor, and our children who came from the US. We also had relatives and friends who came that day to witness the grand opening of Munuki Plaza! Indeed, it was an unforgettable moment for me, friends, neighbors, and the entire family.
RM.: What’s your advice to South Sudanese Youths?
I would advise them to focus on doing what is right and never take no as an answer to failure and should try to multitask in anything they do so they can be an inspiration to others. Please don’t sit back and watch others struggling to do great things for themselves when you are not part of it.
RM.: Follow up question:
You started early that behind a saucerful man is always a woman and your wife being an example of how she had managed and had done a lot to support you, especially by taking care of your children back in the United States, which afforded you flexibility and courage to come and do more thing here in South Sudan. What’s your advice to the women of South Sudan?
Malek Kuoc Deng.: My advice, you know, I take pride in a girl child education. Why? because educating the girl child produces mothers who are educated and will in return educate their children, care for their families and provide for their children. A girl child education prepares her to face realities in society and teaches her to be a good wife and mother. I give an example of my daughter Nyandeng which is now playing basketball in the U.S at her school Judge Memorial Catholic High School. And she is now in her eleven grade and she had been along with good in both academically and in sports. One hopes that she could get the scholarship as she advances her educations. Also, among 37 children I brought from the village for schooling in Aweil city, among them there are quite a few girls, in fact, 4 out of 10 are currently enrolled in high school and others are still in primary schools. As it said, “When You Educate a Girl, You Educate a Nation.” – unknown.
So, my advice to our young women out there. Please, don’t be discouraged. Maybe when I mentioned earlier that my wife takes care of our children and I am here in South Sudan, that doesn’t mean that I have abandoned my wife so she could not follow her education. I am a good fan of a woman finishing her education. The only way you will pass on the message and shine as a young woman is to have an education and marry the right partner-in-crime. These are things young women need to hear:
- Obtain an education.
- Choose and marry the right partner, the earlier, the better, so you guys can grow together because you will be able to do many things.
- Having children alone is also an education and progress in life.
As the Bible says, “Go forth and multiply and fill the earth.”
RM.: When you arrived in Juba. How was it, and how did you manage to overcome the challenges here?
Malek Kuoc Deng. It wasn’t all by myself; I had people who helped me overcome some of the challenges. I have friends who came from the United States, people I already knew, and with whom I used to socialize. It wasn’t that they were in a better position, but they had ideas, and they gave me a hand up. They wanted me to succeed, and I wanted them to grow as well. With the level of cooperation among us, we managed to lean on each other and work cooperatively to achieve this Munuki Plaza. And, some of our friends have also achieved other little things on their own. And if I may mention one of the people that stood with me since the first day to have this place, it was my best friend, Mabior Chol Atem. So Mabior and I came a long way.
RM.: Who’s Mabior Chol Atem, and where is he now?
Malek Kuoc Deng.: Mabior is one of the South Sudanese-Americans. He went to the United States in the mid-1990s as a young boy. He went to school, excelled, graduated with an MBA, and then returned to South Sudan, where he works in finance with one of the respected banks here in Juba. So, having good friends and people willing to offer the best advice is the key to success, and Mabior has shown me the way to do things right. In turn, I have shown some of my friends, even though I don’t want to take credit for that.
RM.: What other things have you done besides business so far?
Malek Kuoc Deng.: Speaking of other things, not only focusing on trying to build ourselves, but my friends and I are also trying to build to the next generation of South Sudan. When I came back here in 2011, I had an idea whereby I felt like some people brought me up and America is one of the places that gave me a chance to become who I am. Let me put it point-blank so that I could be better understood. I came having an idea, and then I found out my brother General Dominic Deng Kuc had already started doing it. The idea was that he brought some children from the village to school in Kenya in 2007. And in 2012 I followed the same path, by sponsoring several children from the village to school in Aweil. And due to financial constraints, I couldn’t take them to Kenya or any other part of the region. And since I had managed to build my father’s house in Aweil, I decided to accommodate all those children there, and the progress and the transformation of these children are now moving on well, and among these thirty-seven children who are currently under my care and supervision, I hope next year we shall have more enrolled in the various high schools in Aweil State.
R.M.: Thank you, Mr. Anjelo Malek Kuc Deng, for taking the time to meet with us today.