South Sudan needs Diaspora Commission

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Tuesday, 24 May 2011 11:38
Written by Thon Agany Ayiei, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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(Juba) - In January 2011, the people of Southern Sudan (both at home and abroad) overwhelmingly voted for separation (with 99% in favor of secession from the North), and Southern Sudan is due to become the world’s newest state under the name Republic of South Sudan in July, 2011.  This independence was a hard-earned one. Two million Southern Sudanese died as a result of the two decade war of liberation (1983-2005), and more than four million ended up as refugees worldwide. As such, the upcoming Republic of South Sudan will be among the states with the largest global diaspora. While many members of the Southern Sudanese diaspora have already returned, many more undoubtedly will return after independence. This impending massive repatriation requires careful planning by the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS).

Definition of Diaspora

Diaspora is defined as a community of people living outside their country of origin. The two usual reasons why individuals leave their home countries are for work opportunities abroad and in response to persecution or war at home. Diasporas comprise largely of those who leave their countries of origins as a result of war and are best known as the conflict generated Diaspora. Diaspora in general, and conflict generated diaspora in particular, generally remain attached to their home countries because they have historical, cultural, economic and emotional ties to those they left behind in their countries of origin.  For these reasons, Diaspora members tend to remain active participants in the political, social and developmental issues of their home countries.

Southern Sudan and its Diaspora during the civil war

The Southern Sudanese diaspora is clearly a conflict generated diaspora and had indeed been a strong supporter of the liberation movement in Southern Sudan. Southern Sudanese living abroad worked very hard to educate the international community about the suffering of the people of Southern Sudan and their struggle for freedom throughout the civil war. This started in the mid-to-late 1990s when many Southern Sudanese refugees arrived in the U.S., Canada and other western nations.  And it continued after 2000, when a group of Southern Sudanese young men and women known as the Lost Boys and Girls who were granted resettlement in the United States  made it part of their daily life in the U.S. to educate Americans about the civil war in Sudan. Their arrival in the United States attracted attention from the world media and they used this media fame to their advantage to let the world know about the suffering of their people back in Southern Sudan.

At around the same time the Lost Boys started pouring in the U.S., the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) were involved in peace talks which gave informed countries, such as the United States, a chance to help end the civil war in Sudan. Collin Powell, the Secretary of State in the Bush administration was sent to Kenya to sign for the United States during the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. To acknowledge their support, the then Chairman of the SPLM, Late Dr. John Garang de Mabior, in his 2004 Phoenix meeting with the Lost Boys referred to them as freedom fighters, and announced that he had 3,800 ambassadors to the United States, referring to the number of Lost Boys living in the U.S. at the time, and the role they played in strengthening relations between the United States and Southern Sudan.

Southern Sudan and its Diaspora from 2005 to present

Diasporas have been regarded worldwide as generally having a positive influence on their home countries, including supporting democratization, promoting human rights and participating in peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction efforts. This is true with Diasporas living in rich countries, as this enables them to mobilize substantial financial resources, extensive transnational networks, powerful international forces, and political connections that span the globe, through which they can make a difference to the situation in the homeland. As such, some countries with large Diasporas have recognized the importance of their Diasporas and try to find ways to involve them in the national development efforts. For example, Rwanda created the Diaspora General Directorate to promote relations between the government of Rwanda and its diaspora, and the Republic of Armenia established the Ministry of Diaspora that answers to the needs and concerns of the Armenian diaspora, just to mention a few. Apart from creating government organs that deal with Diasporas, some countries have used international and regional skill/knowledge transfer programs, such as the UNDP’s Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTON) and the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Return of Qualified Nationals, to temporarily and permanently repatriate highly skilled members of their Diasporas.

If there is any place where the help of the diaspora is needed the most, it is Southern Sudan. The majority of the country is illiterate as many Southern Sudanese did not get a chance to go to school as a result of the two decades of war; and thus there is a shortage of skilled labor in the region. Currently, the government of Southern Sudan depends partially on experts from the neighboring countries, such as Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia, to help run the country in areas where high skilled workers are needed. These foreigners are working in almost every ministry of the government. Foreigners are also the ones running almost all the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Southern Sudan.

In August, 2010, the GoSS announced that it would identify and select up to 200 highly qualified civil servants from the neighboring countries in Africa for a rapid intervention to support the civil service institutions in the region. Regardless of such urgent need of skilled labor, the government of Southern Sudan has not yet taken any visible, large-scale step to involve highly skilled members of its diaspora in the post-conflict reconstruction efforts for the last six years of self-governing. The diaspora on its side is willing to return. In fact, many have already returned, and while some found jobs, others returned to host countries disappointed. Some of those who returned to host countries because of failure to find jobs in Juba are highly educated with college and graduate degrees. So what could be done to strength relations between GoSS and its large diaspora that is willing to return to Southern Sudan to help with the re-construction efforts?

Conclusion and recommendations

Based on personal observations and several accounts from other Southern Sudanese, it is fair to conclude that Southern Sudan needs a skilled workforce, and that this work force could be found within the Southern Sudanese diaspora. Our fallen hero, Dr. John Garang was the first to realize the importance of diaspora in the post-conflict reconstruction of Southern Sudan. During the signing of the CPA in 2005, he appealed:


 As for those who [are] in the Diaspora, I would like to address them and assure them that the government of southern Sudan as well as the government of national unity will [need] their skills and I take the opportunity of this forum to appeal to all our Diaspora to return home and build our country. Fortunately, Southern Sudanese diaspora has the qualified individuals needed, who are willing to return. The complication is that while the Government of Southern Sudan is already appealing for the return of the diaspora, and the diaspora is willing to return, there is no official link between the two parties.


The fair way for GoSS to bring home top qualified members of its diaspora who could make a difference in the development of Southern Sudan is to create a Diaspora Commission with its headquarters in Juba. This Commission could be run by members of the diaspora appointed by GoSS, or elected by the diaspora itself. The objective of this Commission would be to serve as an official link between GoSS and the Southern Sudanese diaspora.  Its core responsibilities could include facilitating both temporary and permanent return of the diaspora and enhancing relations between Southern Sudan and its diaspora remaining in host countries, just to mention a few. While this commission could entirely be financially supported by GoSS, it could also seek financial support from international organizations that support the return of qualified members of Diasporas to home countries to fund the return of qualified Southern Sudanese expatriates.


The UNDP’s Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTON), and the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Return of Qualified Nationals are examples of such skill/knowledge transfer programs. It could also seek financial support from host countries for expatriates repatriating from those host countries. In fact, the Commission may be able to generate enough funds from international skill/knowledge transfer programs and voluntary permanent return assistance programs to fund its activities. Southern Sudan has a great wealth of human capital in the diaspora that could greatly contribute to the country’s post-war reconstruction efforts. All that needs to be done is to devise intelligent and efficient ways of utilizing this valuable resource.


*Thon Agany Ayiei received an MA in Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California and works in Juba. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..