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Basketball star Luol Deng returns to Southern Sudan for first time in 20 years with World Olympic Dreams


BBC’s World Olympic Dreams travelled with Team GB and Chicago Bulls basketball star Luol Deng as he made an emotional return to Southern Sudan, the place of his birth, for the first time since he was forced to flee 20 years ago. Footage will be available at, with special programmes also available on BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight, World News America and BBC World Service from 25 August 2010.

The documentary focuses on Deng (described as one of Barack Obama’s favourite sportsmen) as he is reunited with his fellow Southern Sudanese while also covering the plight of a country trying to recover from the ravages of a long and bloody civil war. It also looks at the forthcoming referendum which will decide whether Southern Sudan chooses independence from the north and becomes Africa’s first new country in 20 years – the hopes and fears of the people – as well as interviews with some of the area’s political figures.

BBC Sport news correspondent Tim Franks accompanied Deng and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on the trip that took him from the refugee camps of North West Kenya to the very heart of his homeland.

Deng, who was forced to flee the country aged five to Egypt and then Britain, talks about his return to his homeland, the first time since he fled 20 years ago:

"This is what I always say – I’m Sudanese. I can’t get it out of me. I mean, I know I’m gone for 20 years, I was five. But I really feel like I’m going home.

“I’ve seen both sides of the world. I was a refugee and I had nothing and now I own a lot of money and I’m known. I’m one of the best paid athletes so I mean luck has a lot to do with that.”

Deng reacts to the overwhelming reception of the Southern Sudanese people, who sing his name and welcome him home as a hero.

"I want all of you guys to know this: I know today you guys are welcoming me, but I want all you guys to know this and believe it – that you could be here, standing here. I just want you to know that everyone of you guys is capable of being somebody special.

“Maybe you’ll be the president of this country and one day you’re going to lead us. You’re going to lead us and we’re going to have a great country.”

Deng visits a refugee camp, Kakuma in North West Kenya to talk to those who fled Southern Sudan (including the “Lost Boys”) about whether they will return for the referendum.

As it transpired, a number of them have already returned to Southern Sudan only to be sent back by their parents who feel the facilities at the camp are better than those available in their homeland.

"I just thought it was important for me, coming here first to see what it is like. I know UNHCR are doing a great thing in taking refugees from all over but, once you walk in here, it’s a different story. And all you can do is think how do you help?

“It’s kind of tough to hear. I said it many times, it’s luck. These guys really had no choice, these guys had no one to go to. Not only can they not go home, they have nothing in Sudan. And the tough part is they’re on their own.”

He visits the house in which he was born, where he hid under the bed with his brother as bullets flew across the room as well as the school his Foundation has rebuilt after it was destroyed during the war.

“I’m happy that at least something is started, but you can still see it still needs a lot of things to be done and hopefully we can continue to fund the school and do things slowly.”

As his trip comes to an end, Deng reflects on what he has seen and his hopes and fears for the future of his homeland.

"If we become our own country are we ready for these refugees to rush here? When I was in Kakuma and talking to some of those guys what really scared me was a lot of them said: ’If we go home, it’s going to be worse than Kakuma.’

“To be honest with you I couldn’t tell them to go home right away. I feel like Sudan is a beautiful country, but I don’t know if these guys would have it better right now living here or being in Kakuma.”

“It means a lot to me. It’s a little overwhelming. I know it took 20 years for me to come home, but my whole experience, my whole feeling is so different now. I’ve never been in a place where I can walk down the street and I actually feel home, I don’t feel like a refugee. I’m speaking my language, I’m seeing my own people.”

His father Aldo, a former MP, who was imprisoned after Deng fled with his mother and siblings but survived, welcomes his son’s return.

“This is for me a comfort. To see your children come home and embrace their countrymen, to see for themselves the problems, you feel proud. It is excellent for us.”

Stephen Tut, the editor of Sudan Post Magazine, maintains that war is imminent come the referendum as the clash will begin once again over natural resources.

"Maybe the North will not like the South to go because, to them, the South is the basket bread for the Arab world. The danger is what comes after the referendum, it could be war. The war is imminent come the referendum.

“Until now, the things which were supposed to have been done have not been done. The natural resources that are supposed to be shared between the North and the South are not being shared equally.”

Despite the obvious poverty and lack of development, Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin (South Sudanese Information Minister) maintains that a lot has been done since when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005.

He also defends spending on defence above other infrastructure developments.

"If you can imagine that this agreement was signed on 9 January 2005 and, from that time up to now, the things that we have done are amazingly surprising to everybody. In these five years we have had to have a new constitution for the whole country, we had to establish government structures, legislature and judicial system.

"Definitely we will be on time. We are running late, but I think we can make it. I think what we have done in five years is, in fact, one thousand times much more that what was done since 1899. Look at this town (Juba) we are in. This place was just a wild place. Today, there is an office where you can sit with a chair and a bit of electricity running. We have done that. When we came in in 2005 we had only 200,000 children going to primary schools. Today we have two million children going to primary schools. Give us our peace and our stability and I think we can do more.

“If you look at our budget in 2005 we had to allocate something like 40 per cent of that money for our army. Not because we are ambitious and want to build some huge army - no. We here have a guerrilla army that we wanted to transform info a modern, small army efficient to do the job it is supposed to do.”

The documentary will play out on the following programmes:

Thursday 26 August
Radio 4 – World Tonight, Crossing Continents (repeated on BBC World Service from 2 September)

26 August-2 September
BBC London 2012 website
World News America
10 O’Clock News

World Olympic Dreams, which launched on 27 July 2010, is following 26 individual stories featuring 46 athletes from around the world as they strive to turn their hopes for Olympic success at London 2012 into a reality.

The films that form the project have been collated through the BBC’s worldwide reporting network, with correspondents in each of the countries featured providing the relevant footage.

Viewers are given a real insight into each of the athlete’s unique stories and very different personal circumstances while they all work towards the same goal of Olympic success: personal training regimes; coaches; diet; family; friends; their likes and dislikes; and the sacrifices they all have to make.

The programme is based on the BBC’s London 2012 portal – – where two new films will be uploaded each month. The site also contains features such as Q&As and blogs as well as the athletes personal social media sites, where users will be able to interact with the athletes.

BBC Sport news reporter Matthew Pinsent fronts the series and will be bringing regular updates and reports on each of the 26 stories.
Notes to Editors

A selection of pictures from the trip are available from


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