By Brian Higgins
In the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2008, John Granville and his driver, Abdel Rahman Abbas, were murdered by Islamic extremists shortly after leaving a New Year’s Eve event at the British Embassy in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.
Granville’s driver was killed instantly and Granville died of his injuries hours later. He was 33 years old.
Granville grew up on Coolidge Road in South Buffalo. He graduated from Canisius High School, Fordham University in New York and Clark University in Massachusetts with an advanced degree in international studies. He studied as a Fulbright Scholar in Africa; he was a Peace Corps volunteer and became a career diplomat for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
At the time of his death, Granville was working in the remote villages in southern Sudan to prepare them for elections and independence after more than 20 years of a brutal civil war that caused 2 million deaths in a region of 6 million people. Sudan is mostly Muslim and Arabic speaking; southern Sudan is mostly Christian and English speaking.
Granville taught the local villagers English and American history and brought tens of thousands of solar-powered radios to help educate the people and provide them, for the first time, contact with the outside world. He loved the African culture and was highly committed to the development of this region of the underdeveloped world.
On July 9, 2011, South Sudan gained its independence and became the newest country in the world. With the highest maternal mortality and female illiteracy rates in the world, the people face many challenges as a fledgling nation.
There is no running water or electricity, no hospitals or modern infrastructure. There are only dirt roads, disease and widespread despair. But in the remote village of Kurmuk, just outside the city of Juba, there is a school now for the education of girls. The villagers named the school the Granville-Abbas Girls’ Secondary School to honor the good work and memory of John Granville and his driver.
When South Sudan became a new country in 2011, the occasion was marked by a ceremonial raising of that country’s new flag in the city of Juba. The flag of the new nation is remarkably similar to the Sudanese flag but for a lone gold star emblazoned on the left side of the fabric. Flags are symbolic of the long struggle of nation building and, in that tradition, can mean many things to many people.
For our community of Western New York and for me, the lone gold star on the South Sudan flag represents the life work, courageous diplomacy and the enduring legacy of John Granville, a neighborhood kid who set out to change the world and succeeded in forever changing the lives of millions in a remote corner of East Africa.
Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, represents the 26th Congressional District.