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André-Guy Soh

Durhamite heads to Sudan, grieving slain diplomat friend

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André-Guy Soh (right) and John Granville in Cameroon. Granville was killed in Sudan in December. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDRÉ-GUY SOH
  • Photo courtesy of André-Guy Soh
  • André-Guy Soh (right) and John Granville in Cameroon. Granville was killed in Sudan in December.

On Dec. 31, John Granville, a 33-year-old American diplomat with the U.S. Agency for International Development, was shot to death in Khartoum, Sudan. Hours before, President George W. Bush had signed a bill that makes it easier for investment managers to divest from Sudan's oil and defense industries, which have been linked to genocide in Darfur. The United Nations had also recently warned of possible terrorist cells targeting foreigners in the country.

Durham resident André-Guy Soh was friends with Granville for 10 years and had spoken to him just days before his death. Soh spoke at Granville's funeral in Buffalo, N.Y., last week, and is preparing to move to Sudan for a year to work with a humanitarian aid organization. His wife and young son will stay in Durham. (Soh did not wish to name the organization out of security concerns.)

How did you meet Granville?

In 1997 in Bamendjou, my village in western Cameroon. I became a teacher, and that's where I met John, who was an English teacher with the Peace Corps.

I was making something like $56 a month and living with my aunt, sharing a mud brick house. When he realized in what conditions I was living, he asked me to share the big house the Peace Corps had rented in the village. I lived with John for two years. He worked on his French as well as the local dialect called Nguemba, a Bantu language. I also improved a lot on my English, so it was beneficial for both of us.

When was the last time you saw him?

In June, I was in Buffalo and we spent a week talking, drinking and just speaking French.

Did he sound scared?

Oh, he wasn't scared. He was very relaxed, very happy. I don't think he considered Sudanese people to be a threat to him in any way. He worked a lot in the Nuba Mountains; he loved that area and loved the people in that area. He was excited about the type of work he was doing and the changes he was bringing to people's lives, and the prospect of a more solid peace in the whole country.

It must have been a terrible shock when he was killed.

Yes, it was. There are people who mark us in our lives and we generally tend to think they will be around forever. We never take a second to reflect on what type of positive influence they bring in our lives and appreciate it when they are alive. That's what makes me the most—how can I put it?—really, really sad, that I did not take the time to tell him, "John, I love you and I appreciate you being in my life."

What will you do in Sudan?

I will be working to support a civil society program. If there is a group of individuals who have certain interests, we try to give them the tools that they need to be part of the system, part of the change that's taking place. We do not come in with an agenda.

Are you afraid?

Not at all.

Why not?

Because I'm African. I think the people of Sudan want to have a chance at something better. As an African, as a son of the continent, I believe we should be able to confront what's happening head on, not by using weapons, but by providing the education or giving our expertise to the people who need it most. As John believed, education is what will change the continent.

I think the best way to have people live the type of lives that they want is to be there, listen to them and provide them with the tools. Then we are at the same time helping make the system more democratic and more fair.

Are you making that sacrifice out of some sense of duty?

In some way, yeah. When my son is old enough to understand what's going on, he'll be able to say, "I think my dad did the right thing for his people."

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