Gabriel Mabior left South Sudan’s army for the same reason he joined it: he wanted an education.
Mr. Mabior signed up to be a child soldier in 1987 after being assured that a pledge to fight would give him a seat in school. But like thousands of other boys, he was quickly yanked out of school and ended up fighting for years for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army against the government of Sudan.
Mabior, now a soft-spoken and thoughtful businessman with a proclivity for button-down shirts, feels proud of his contribution to the liberation struggle that led to South Sudan’s independence in 2011. Freedom allowed him to earn a university degree, he says, which is why he chose to fight in the first place – and achieving a degree was unlikely under the old Sudan regime in Khartoum.
But Mabior, who lives in the capitol Juba, is now frustrated that South Sudanese are fighting again instead of pursuing what he describes as the fruits of liberation and peace, like study and individual growth. “What are you fighting for?” the former child soldier asks. “This is the time for young people to live. This is the time for peace. This is the time for education.”
Mabior’s disappointment is shared by millions of his fellow South Sudanese, and echoed by donor countries that poured in billions of dollars to help the new nation over recent years. They all want to know why, given decades of fighting and two civil wars that killed millions, anyone would pick up the gun again.