Independence and beyond: Why the discussion continues on the recent lecture

JUBA, South Sudan – On July 6th, 2011, my closest friend, Dr. Nyantung Ahang Beny, a Law Professor at the University of Michigan, USA, invited me to a public lecture that was organized by Justice Africa.  The theme of the lecture, Independence and beyond: Building the New Nation of South Sudan, was catchy and I agreed to join Professor Nyantung in attending the event. The lecture was held at Nyakuron Cultural Center in Juba, South Sudan. Professor Dr. Alfred Lukuji of Juba University was the keynote speaker.

It was a great idea to think beyond independence and all that is associated with it, for the real work of building a nation has to commence right after independence celebrations. As Professor Nyantung, who was asked to be member of ad-hoc panel put it,  “once the celebration is over, and the curtain goes down, the hard work shall resume.”  The event was even more interesting than the title suggested and I had to later thank Professor Nyantung for the invitation. I couldn’t think of a better way of spending that day or a better way to start my celebration of the independence of the Republic of South Sudan. Dr. Lokuji was energetic and charismatic in delivering his speech to the audience. Well educated and experienced, Professor Lokuji rocked the microphone.

During the lecture, the professor raised nine agenda items that are of great importance to the independent South Sudan. One priority that caught my attention was agenda item 8: “Education as a surrogate mother to all advancements in Nation-building and for improvements in the quality of life.”  The Professor clearly explained this agenda by carefully explaining all the levels of education and their impact on human capacity building. For instance, he points out that “primary school is the foundation, vocational education is empowerment through capacity building, secondary education prepares for university and other tertiary studies, university to produce professionals in the various disciplines.

Although Dr. Lokuji amply explained this agenda, I felt that an in-depth elaboration was needed to effectively explain the role of education in building the newly independent South Sudan. Such an in-depth discussion would have included discussion on employing South Sudanese graduates and building more schools in South Sudan. On employment, I wanted to ask the Professor to give the audience an estimate of his graduates (Juba University graduates) who get jobs within the year following their graduation. Based on the estimates, I would have made my own judgment on whether or not university education is of any value to the independent South Sudan. On Building more schools, I wanted to ask Dr. Lokuji about the current situation of the University of Juba (Juba branch), and if there are government plans to renovate it. With his answer, I would have made my comment on the future of education in the Republic of South Sudan. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to ask questions or make comments regardless of constantly raising my hand, even if more than 10 individuals in the audience of less than 200 were randomly chosen to ask questions and comment after the panelists.

It is unfortunate that I never got a chance to ask the Professor the two questions I wanted to ask him during the discussion so that I could build my comments based on his answers, but, being committed to continuing such a great discussion by all means, I have done enough research of my own to make reasonable comments as I continue the discussion in this piece. Regarding my first question concerning how many young South Sudanese graduates find jobs within a year following their graduations, I found that only a few (less than 50% on average) find jobs within a year after graduation. Here, I’m not talking about Juba University graduates alone, but about all South Sudanese young men/women who graduate from Juba University and from universities around the world. I came to this conclusion from talking to friends (both graduates from Juba University and graduates from around the world). If this finding is true, then there is no justification for the government of the Republic of South Sudan to fund public schools. Using common sense, why would any government spend money on public schools that produce graduates who cannot function in either the public or private sector?  On the other hand, considering the fact that only a few Southern Sudanese were able to go to school during the civil war, the government of the Republic of South Sudan, NGOs operating in the country and the private sector should be able to employ all South Sudanese with degrees of all kinds.  Indeed, the country needs all these graduates for a successful kick-off to sustainable development.

Back to my second question regarding the current conditions of Juba University, and whether the government of South Sudan has plans to renovate the University, I also conducted my own research and found that the University of Juba has been shut down indefinitely for several months because of lack of funding.  From this, I have concluded that the University is not in good standing, which is not that surprising.  Why would Juba University operate? The answer is very simple. There is no reason for Juba University to operate, because “the best” South Sudanese students are going to schools in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Ethiopia, and so forth. Or, should I call them advantaged students, instead of being “the best?” Not only are the advantaged students going to foreign Universities, they are going to secondary schools, primary schools and even to Kindergartens in foreign countries.

Whose children are the advantaged students, and who allocates funds to public schools in South Sudan where the not- so-deserving students are studying? If the same people who send their children to foreign schools are also responsible for allocating funds to public schools in South Sudan, then I’m afraid that there is a blatant conflict of interest. Do not get me wrong, however. There is nothing wrong with sending a few highly qualified students (selected by our schools through their superior academic performance) to foreign countries for better education in fields where our universities are not so great. What I do not agree with, though, is sending the entire generation to foreign schools because this only drains the nation of critical funds that should be used to build South Sudan’s educational capacity.

Conclusion and Recommendations

There is no doubt in my mind that the public lecture of July 6th was a great kick-off for celebrating the independence of the Republic of South Sudan. There is also no doubt that the event serviced its core purpose of creating awareness among the citizens of the new Republic of South Sudan that there is more to be done beyond the celebrations. As for the 9 agenda items the Professor discussed, education as the foundation of the new nation caught my attention and although I didn’t get a chance to make my contribution at the time, I was inspired to continue the discussion by writing this piece.

Every successful nation invests in its future generations, and the best way to invest in the next generation of leaders is by educating them. But education alone does not effectively prepare the next generation of leaders for future leadership. The trick is to educate the next generation and start inserting them in to the system so that they also learn by doing (no school of experience, they say). The next generation of leaders brought up this way is the generation that could inherit the nation and run it effectively. But, this is not what I’m seeing in South Sudan. Of course there is much talk about breeding the next generation of leaders in South Sudan just like there is everywhere around the world, but our approach seems to be focusing on education alone, but not providing work experience. Basically, our elders/leaders seem to tell the next generation to get educated and remain quietly patient until the instant of inheritance (the time when the nation falls into the youth’s hands). There are many young South Sudanese graduates from all over the world loitering in the country unemployed. This will not prepare them for the awaited inheritance of the nation. Therefore, the newly independent Republic of South Sudan should educate and employ its next generation of leaders if they are to evolve into responsible and effective future leaders.

The government of South Sudan should also start renovating all public schools and start building new schools, from kindergarten to universities. The only way to do this effectively is to stop the culture of sending children to foreign countries and instead investing the funds in schools in South Sudan. Not only would South Sudanese be able to build better public schools in South Sudan with all that money, this would also enable the country to buy over some of the Professors and teachers whom we consider the best in those countries. With such an approach, South Sudan could become one of the African countries with an exemplary educational system. On the country, if we continue with the current trend of sending our children to foreign schools, South Sudan will retain its place among the countries with the poorest educational systems on the continent.

*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  n This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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