By Robert A. Portada III
Kerbino Wol, the energetic, young, South Sudanese entrepreneur and philanthropist, has been unjustly imprisoned in South Sudan since 27 April of this year.
No formal charges have been lodged against him, and no evidence has been presented of any wrongdoing on his part. Still, unsubstantiated claims that Kerbino Wol is an opponent of the current government of South Sudan have been levied in the press.
Kerbino Wol should be immediately granted his freedom. He has impacted so many lives through his businesses and charitable endeavours, and his story has already inspired a generation of South Sudanese youth. Kerbino Wol has devoted his entire life to his country, and he has worked tirelessly to create opportunities for his fellow citizens.
Kerbino Wol was born in 1982, just before the beginning of the Second Sudanese Civil War. As the war intensified, his family was forced to flee into neighbouring Ethiopia. Kerbino joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) at the age of twelve, becoming a member of the “Red Army,” a contingent of child soldiers. Early on, Kerbino used his discipline and communication skills to help train his fellow soldiers, and his knowledge of over eight languages allowed him to work with various ethnic and tribal groups.
The civil war ended following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, which included provisions for a referendum to be held on South Sudanese independence in 2011. Tragically, Dr John Garang de Mabior, leader of the SPLA, died in a helicopter crash one week after the peace agreement was signed. Nevertheless, the South Sudanese population overwhelmingly voted in favour of independence and South Sudan became an independent country on July 9, 2011.
As South Sudan’s independence approached, Kerbino set out to start a business career. His military and leadership experience gave him opportunities to serve on the security details of top South Sudanese political leaders, and he would serve as a close protection officer for high profile diplomats and guests visiting South Sudan. In 2010, Kerbino founded Kerbino Agok Security Services (KASS) while employing a handful of guards and using a shipping container as an office space. Pretty soon, KASS began providing basic security services to local businesses, NGOs, and diplomatic missions.
In 2015, the South Sudan Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture awarded KASS a Certificate of Appreciation in honour of its outstanding contribution towards economic and social prosperity within South Sudan.
As the CEO of a 100% South Sudanese-owned Company, Kerbino expanded his business last year by venturing into hospitality industry and real estate business. In so doing, he created many more jobs for his fellow citizens.
In June 2017, I participated with Kerbino in a series of public lectures on peacebuilding, conflict resolution, and reconciliation at universities across Juba as part of his efforts of giving back to the community. The lectures were sponsored by Kerbino’s youth empowerment organization, The Nile Foundation. As I shared personal stories of family reconciliation in Cuba and the United States, I stood beside Kerbino and listened to him speak about the imperative to overcome tribal divisions, how to use one’s energy toward productive ends, and his commitment to investing in South Sudan. He spoke of the importance of education and self-reliance, and the need specifically to empower women in business. Throughout these lectures, Kerbino stressed that he himself was born into a life of war, and that like him, all South Sudanese can overcome their obstacles and contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous future.
In addition to public lectures, the Nile Foundation has organized business training workshops for students and multicultural football matches for IDPs. Kerbino’s vision has been to invigorate the youth of South Sudan through these events, guided by the conviction that South Sudan can reach its full potential only by providing the youth with the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in the 21st-century global economy.
Above all, Kerbino inspires through his personal example. In his interactions with young people, he has sought to demonstrate that his success could be their success, and that hard work and persistence will be rewarded.
Through our years of friendship, Kerbino taught me that South Sudan has the capacity to become a place of hope and opportunity. He is fond of saying that the most treasured resource in South Sudan can be found in the spirit of the youth.
In his journey from child soldier to entrepreneur and philanthropist, Kerbino Wol stands as a shining example of the success and dignity that all South Sudanese youth can hope to achieve. His imprisonment represents a deep injustice for the citizens of South Sudan. I join in the growing number of voices calling for the freedom of Kerbino Wol.
Dr. Robert A. Portada III. is an Associate Professor – Department of Political Science & Public Administration – Kutztown- University of Pennsylvania, USA.