Following the funeral of John Garang, I had the opportunity to interview Kola Boof, a controversial Sudanese American novelist who has also been a long time champion for the cause of the Southern Sudanese people, through her writings and her outspokenness. Kola Boof first met John Garang in 1978, when at the age of five years old, her Arab Egyptian father, the late archeologist Harith Bin Farouk, took her to Garang’s home where the two men discussed the formation of what would much later become the SPLA. Boof was adopted in 1980 by African-Americans in Washington, D.C. following the murder of her Sudanese parents after they complained of witnessing slave raids in Sudan. Often referred to as “Queen Kola” by the South Sudanese who love and adore her and now living in the United States, I found Boof to be quite eloquent even while grief stricken over Garang’s death. Here’s what she had to say.
Jane: You are known in the international scene as a very dangerously controversial writer. Please tell us quickly in your own words, who Kola Boof is.
Kola: Well, I’m an African mother of two sons and I’m an artist. I use the written word as my vehicle for art, but someday, I hope to make films about Black women’s lives. But for now, I’m a novelist, I’m a poet and I’m sometimes involved in the politics of North Africa.
You had the opportunity of having met John Garang when you were a little girl, can you please tell us what kind of man he was like? What was your relationship with him?
I had no relationship with Garang as a child other than playing on his floor and repeatedly asking for cups of water or peaking in and out of the rooms. I remember that he was a very humorous, lovable figure with a keen seriousness. My father would bring him information as Garang was contemplating leaving the Arabic government in Khartoum and starting up a rebellion, which he did years later. I remember him being appalled when my father reported to him that there were actually Arab people conducting slave raids and selling Dinka and Nuer children like cattle.
John Garang is being mourned by many African states and even very many North Americans. Can you please explain why his death is a loss to Africa and to the Sudan?
His death is a loss, because he brought the North and the South together in Sudan. He was a brilliant politician, a provocative thinker and a great speaker. He was able to capture and inspire the minds of the South Sudanese people as well as demand respect from the Northerners. I don’t believe that the peace agreement would have been possible without Garang’s commitment to peace and to justice. He was sent to us by God.
How do you Kola Boof, think that John Garang would want to be remembered?
As a father to the people. A man of integrity and a believer in justice. He would want people to remember that he cared about everybody. He really did. He was the man who cared.
There are many people that do not know the atrocities that are happening in the Sudan, can you please elaborate on that?
We have a peace agreement right now, so in the interest of making it work, it’s best not to dwell on the evil that completely possesses Sudan. I look forward to Salva Kiir Mayardit’s leadership, and I pray that he can find a new experience for the South Sudan.
You were part of the SPLA. Can you tell us what the SPLA is? What was your contribution to this group?
The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army is a world wide network of mostly Southern Sudanese, committed to the liberation of the Black African indigenous Cushitic people of Sudan. It’s well known by now that I was a secret agent for the SPLA. A novelist and former paid party girl who used my way with words to persuade others to help my people. Over the years, I’ve acquired a lot of guns and ammunition for the South Rebel Army and instigated attention to their plight. As a woman, I determined to bring justice to the South Sudanese people…by any means necessary.
I know that you have been living in hiding because there is a death threat on you by Muslim fundamentalists, are you able to go to his funeral?
No, there’s no way I could set foot in Sudan. I am considered the biggest traitor in Sudanese history – and I have revealed that I was once a mistress to both Hasan al Turabi and his protege, Osama Bin Laden. They would kill me if I showed up anywhere near an Arab Muslim country in Africa. But I was overjoyed that people informed me that my Poem for Garang, “Choll Apieth,” was being read at the funeral. I never worked directly with John Garang, never got to speak with him as an agent, so I am glad that Garang and his wife, Rebecca, finally heard of my love for them, personally.
Earlier this summer, you debuted a poem in honor of your friend, slain Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, which you said was the most painful thing you had ever written. How painful was writing the poem for John Garang and what were your emotions as you wrote it?
I cried terribly while I was writing Garang’s poem, mainly because I knew that no one in America would care. You know–I am so isolated in America where people don’t understand what it’s like to be me in this society, and especially, where the American press is often nasty towards to me and assign demonic motives to my work and my feelings, mainly because they don’t give a damn about Sudan or what it’s like to be a black Sudanese woman, all alone, in a huge, Eurocentric nation like America. So it was very painful, and it was rushed, because many people around the world were pressuring me to get out a poem for Garang’s funeral.
What does the expression “Choll Apieth” mean? What does the poem about John Garang mean?
It means “black is beautiful” in the Dinka language. The poem is about the fact that although we do not have Garang’s flesh anymore, we can always summon his spirit within ourselves. He will live forever through us.
What do you think about the terrorist bombings in London and Egypt? Do you think America is next?
Oh definitely – and it’s very sad, because in America, the people don’t take the government’s warnings seriously and they really should, because terrorism is the new frontier in world warfare. Chemicals and things are eventually going to be used, and because I was raised in a culture that taught me that I should strap on a bomb and blow up innocent people’in the name of Arab imperialist progression and religious superiority – I know better than most Americans that terrorism is real. Americans are very spoiled people and they don’t want to hear about it.
You also know many terrorists. In 1996, you met Osama Bin Laden in Morocco and became his mistress, against your will, for six months. You say that you were really ashamed when that news became public.
Yes, I was. I originally denied it in London’s Guardian newspaper, because it’s sort of like admitting that you’re the girlfriend of Hitler. But then as the rumors persisted, there were people in America who were concerned that I might be a terrorist, and there was the possibility that I could lose my U.S. citizenship if I didn’t come forward with the truth – my children would be taken from me. So I had no choice but to reveal that I had been Osama’s mistress. And at first, when the media thought I was Arab, they were respectful towards me – but once they saw that I was black, they insisted that it just couldn’t be true.
I recall a few years ago, there were British reporters making fun of your name and claiming that you didn’t even exist. Arab media reported that you were a cannibal who hate human flesh.
Well, I still hurt very badly over that treatment and the fact that the New York Times wrote an article basically making fun of me as well. I really was an obscure womanist writer and activist at that time – they had never heard of me – and to them, my name and my story sounded fantastic and outlandish. I had been Bin Laden’s mistress, my parents murdered in front of me and just… larger than life realities that they thought I was making up. But I’m not the first black woman whose life experiences are dismissed and not believed, simply because she’s not the package that the media wants. I was very happy, however, when FOX NEWS spent several weeks fact-checking my story and proved that I had lived with Bin Laden in Morocco, and I was especially thrilled, because their intention had been to discredit me.
Your fans want to know. When can we expect your latest novel?
My next novel is called “The Sexy Part of the Bible”, and it’s really, truly powerful. It has a lot to do with cloning in Africa. I finally have a major literary agent in America, so it should be published in the United States by January 2007. Before that, in December 2005, will be the release of my autobiography “Diary of a Lost Girl”. I also have a new poetry collection coming in 2006.
What’s next in Kola Boof’s personal life?
Hopefully time… raising my sons and exploring my art. I would like to move away from politics and controversy.
By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas