Should GOSS stop supporting its students in East Africa?

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Tuesday, 28 July 2009 23:18
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Zechariah Manyok Biar

(Texas, USA)--A week before Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled on Abyei’s borders, Rengo Gyyw Rengo reported in an article published by South Sudan Nation that the money Government of South Sudan (GoSS) gives to its university students studying in Kenya and Uganda had been diverted by a man called Felix, allegedly in collaboration with Undersecretary of GoSS’ ministry of education, Dr. Josephine Lagu. Angry South Sudan university students locked offices and gate of SPLM Liaison Office in Kampala until their grievances were addressed. Later on, Felix was arrested and Dr. Lagu was reportedly suspended from her post and her immunity lifted for investigations. The Minister of Internal Affairs, Gier Chuang, is reported to have assured students of the release of additional money.

The event received some reactions from South Sudanese. Others think that GoSS is handling the problem well. One student from Makerere University thinks that Dr. Lagu is targeted by uneducated SPLM leaders simply because she is well-educated.

One alumnus from Kampala International University, who confessed to have benefited from GoSS’ support, recommended that support to students in Uganda and Kenya be stopped because all students who went to universities in Kenya and Uganda were financially well off, meaning that they never wanted any financial help. KIU alumnus argued that GoSS is supporting students only as the way of getting electoral support. He also complained that GoSS only supports university students, living out poor college students, an act that he called the “marginalization” of those Sudanese students who can't afford to join universities which charge higher fees compared to colleges. He even thinks students’ support weakens Juba University. Interesting argument!

The question is: Should GoSS stop supporting university students studying in Kenya and Uganda because these students are financially well off?

It is unclear that all university students are financially well off. KIU alumnus never asked GoSS to stop helping students when he was still student. I am KIU alumnus too, and in fact, one of the founders of South Sudan Students’ Association at KIU. During our time when GoSS had not started helping university students, I knew students who dropped out of KIU because they could not afford it. Therefore, getting into university does not guarantee one’s financial well-off.

Regarding the question of why GoSS should not support only students who cannot afford paying their fees, one has to remember also that it is difficult for GoSS to do selective support in this case without abusing it. Philosophers like John Rawls who advocate for distributive justice on the ground of equality for all cannot solve the problem of inequality in distribution.

Rawls’ theory of “behind the veil of ignorance” is artificial. The idea behind Rawls’ “behind the veil of ignorance” is that people should imagine themselves ignorant of who they are. For example, men wouldn’t know they are men, the same thing for women. Rich or poor people wouldn’t know who they are, and so on. This ignorance would let everyone deal fairly with others because they might one day be in the position of those who are now in need. For example, those who don’t need help should help others because they might one day need help. So Rawls advocates for equal opportunity for all.

But when it comes to distributive justice, that equality is hard to achieve because if you give $500 to each student like GoSS does for university students, then there is still inequality because some students are worst off than others. If you give the worst off more than the better off, then you can be accused of unequal treatment of your people in distribution. So Rawls gives up and says that inequality is permitted when it makes the worst off better off.

Aristotle, on the other hand, advocates for intermediacy in justice. He argues that inequality happens when one side is given more than the other side. Therefore, all sides must be treated equal. This is the position that GoSS seems to have taken in distributing money to university students. GoSS, like Aristotle, chose to ignore the question of what to do with the worst off.

However, any government has a reason for choosing what to do. Maybe the goal of GoSS is to support university students because GoSS wants university graduates to work in GoSS’ ministries so that the government can solve its problems in the hands of qualified human resource. That can answer the question of why GoSS does not support college students.

I am not in a position to recommend that GoSS stops supporting its students, although the support cannot cater for needs of all students. Any prosperous country is always the one that has well-qualified human resource. USA currently doesn’t have enough oil, but its super-qualified people are making USA wealthy. I believe it is wise for GoSS to invest in education.

I don’t buy into argument that support of one government program means the weakness of another program. Juba University cannot be weak because of money that is given to students in Kenya and Uganda. GoSS can support Juba University without depriving students of their support. Universities don’t excel because of money; they excel because of academic quality that attracts students to register and pay money.

Zechariah Manyok Biar is a graduate student at Abilene Christian University, Texas, USA. He is pursuing a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry and a Master of Science in Social Work, specializing in Administration and Planning. He is a regular contributor to The New Sudan Vision website. For comments, contact him at email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.