Are highly educated South Sudanese corrupt? A critique

JUBA, South Sudan - When the Lost Boys started arriving in the United States 13 years ago, their common dream was to get better education and return to South Sudan to help with the reconstruction. Many Lost Boys fulfilled this dream by finishing their University studies and started returning to South Sudan as early as 2006; a year after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended a two-decade civil war between the North and the South. Some of these returnees were lucky and got jobs, especially with the government of South Sudan. Some were not that lucky however, and did not get jobs. A majority of these unlucky Lost Boys were discouraged and returned to the United States.

While finding jobs in South Sudan is increasingly becoming harder, the attempt to return to Juba never ceased among the intellectual members of the South Sudanese diaspora. In fact, the number of these highly educated returnees is ever increasing. This increase became more noticeable after the independence of South Sudan in 2011. What is changing though for these young returning intellectuals is the approaches they are taking to find jobs in South Sudan. The current trend shows that South Sudanese who earned their higher degrees (Masters and PhDs) from the prestigious Western Universities are returning and joining the work force as consultants with consulting firms instead of directly working for the government. Some have even formed their own consulting firms or Think Tanks, such as the SUDD Institute and the Center for Strategic Analyses and Research (C-SAR). The funny thing though is that the dominating market for these consultants is the government of South Sudan. So why are young highly educated South Sudanese resorting to marketing their knowledge and skills to the government through consulting firms instead of directly applying for government jobs?

There are two possible answers to this question. First, the answer can be simply that the government is not willing to employ these young returning intellectuals. The logic behind this answer is the fact that there are government jobs for highly educated youth, but they cannot just get them directly. Who can really argue that there are no jobs for those young intellectuals in a country where illiteracy rate is more than 50% and which has existed only for less than two years? Logically, jobs should be everywhere for those few highly educated South Sudanese, and a large number of them should get employed by the government as the government needs their expertise.

The other possible explanation is that the government, or, at least some high ranking government officials are willing to employ these highly educated youth, but do not know how to go about doing that. Therefore, the second reason as to why South Sudanese young intellectuals are resorting to getting high government jobs through corruption/nepotism and consulting firms is because the government may not have viable employment mechanism. A working employment strategy should include advertisement of government jobs online and through other means by the ministries or by the Ministry of Public Service in particular if given the authority to do so. But do these mechanisms exist? Not really, because I cannot even remind myself of the last time I saw a government job advert anywhere since 2007. There are rumors that you can submit your documents to the Ministry of Public Service and the Ministry can match you with the job of your qualification in the government institutions, but this is becoming more of a myth than a rumor according to my experience.

Without any proper employment mechanism in place, the highly educated youth is basically doomed from getting government jobs in South Sudan. But what do humans do when one way of getting something is blocked? They would definitely find other ways of getting what they want, and so goes the saying that when one door is closed, another one will open. This is exactly what these young highly educated South Sudanese are doing. They have the qualifications to get good jobs and they are determined to get those jobs one way or another.

One way of getting these jobs is through corruption/nepotism. Let us not forget that these young men and women are South Sudanese and some have powerful relatives and friends in the government who can get them jobs if they want to. So it is not a surprise these days to hear that Ms. X, or Mr. Y just graduated with a Master’s degree and has been given a job as a Director, or Deputy Director in the Ministry of Z by her/his uncle, or by her/his close friend who holds a high position in the government.

Another way of getting a job with the government is to come together as a group of young intellectuals and form a consulting firm or a Think Tank and try to market your ideas to the government through such initiatives. Those who are adventuring in this business seem to be well off as our government seems to like everything foreign than anything indigenous. In fact, those young South Sudanese intellectuals working as consultants are getting paid more than some government Directors and some are even paid in Dollars. The trick though is that for these firms to make money, some or all members of those firms have to have strong connections with high government officials to give them government contracts. In fact, some of these firms are formed with the blessings of some of the Ministers. Whatever the case, these young consultants are more like government workers except that the government is paying them more money than what it should have been paying them if it directly employed them. So how can the government correct or reverse its current employment mechanism to directly attract young highly educated South Sudanese?

Being it that the government of South Sudan is not willing to employ the educated youth, or being it the lack of employment policy, one way or another, the youth is getting in to the government’s workforce. And as a result, the government is going to keep losing millions of dollars to keep hiring highly qualified young South Sudanese men and women as consultants. At the same time, these young intellectuals while they work for the government they do not consider themselves as government’s employees as the government picks them up from their consulting firms. Therefore, these youths have all the rights to quit consulting with the government at any time to go and invest in other businesses. And when this happens, it can affect the government in the near future because this is the youth that the government should be investing on now to run the country effectively when their time comes. Therefore the government is losing money to hire consultants it should have employed as regular nationals, and at the same time, it is losing a generation of intellectuals as more highly educated youth are being motivated to join the consulting business. Furthermore, the current government employment system is encouraging corruption through nepotism as young South Sudanese are turning to relatives and friends who hold high government positions for employment. Therefore, for the government to prevent these three negative outcomes of its current employment mechanism, it has to encourage more open and just system of employment.

*Thon Agany Ayiei holds 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.




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