Never has a former VCU student been an international presidential candidate — an alumnus is changing that in his home country.
Bol Gai Deng, who graduated in 2008, is running for president in South Sudan as a member of the Kush Democratic Majority Party. Deng earned a double major in political science and homeland security at VCU.
According to Deng, he is the most qualified candidate to be president in South Sudan because he can relate to the common person and did not descend from royal ancestry.
“My family has never been a part of the leadership in Africa before,” Deng said. “I come from the village.”
Deng grew up in South Sudan, but in 1987 he was one of the more than 700 children taken from their village by a radical Arab Islamic militia. Deng spent years in shackles before escaping to Egypt.
There, Deng found U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services — which has since become U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — and was eventually sponsored by a Christian church in Richmond. The hardships he faced in Africa and what he learned in America, Deng said, gave him a humanitarian approach to the world, which is a central part of his platform.
“I believe in humanity more than the politics,” Deng said. “Humanitarian means that you try to help everyone. I see myself qualified to do that, to try and treat everybody with the dignity they deserve to live with as a human being.”
Deng said he wants to change South Sudan’s educational standards. He said free education for children is a necessary step to improve life for the people in his home country.
“The reason America became sustainable is because they’re giving a chance to the youth to go to school for free before they go to college,” Deng said. “I feel like I have to do something like that.”
Deng said U.S. Immigration Services letting him into the country when he was a child exposed him to the outside world, and is a huge part of why he is able to run for president now.
“America turned my life around — to be someone that can go back and try to liberate those individuals,” Deng said. “If I was not given an opportunity as a young boy to come to this country, [and be able to] see the world in a bigger picture, I wouldn’t get a chance.”
Deng said the U.S. allowing entry to legal immigrants can have a positive effect on the countries of the refugees.
“[Immigration] made me to be a leader that can go back and change the lives of 14 million people; that is huge for America,” Deng said. “For America’s immigration system, they should be thankful that they brought people like me now going back to form their country and set up a democratic system.”
Deng’s campaign manager and fellow VCU alum Donald Blake said VCU provided the support and motivation Deng needed to accomplish his goals.
“He will tell you that he would not be where he is today if it were not for VCU,” Blake said. “[VCU] opened their doors and their hearts to him and they gave him an education. With that education, ever since he’s gotten out of college, he’s been working on the issues in South Sudan.”