By James Okuk
March 5, 2012 — "English shall be the official working language in the Republic of South Sudan, as well as the language of instruction at all levels of education." (Article 6(2), Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan).
When Mr. Hon. Minister John Luk Jok and his cronies in the SPLM and elsewhere were so busy and busying imposing a partiality irrelevant and selfish transitional constitution on a fact-value tough realities of South Sudan, I was one of the opposers and particularly on the case of fixating the colonial English language as the only lingua officio in the new country.
Unfortunately, my opinion was taken as an offense and thus criminalized with imprisoning consequence as I underwent shortly after my arrival in Juba. I wasn’t surprised to discover that Mr. Hon. Minister Luk was in fact behind my prosecution together with some other first-order Ministers and presidential advisors of the new Republic.
My opinion was translated and interpreted by those semi-utopian and power-hungry if not angry politicians as insult against their government and SPLM regime. However, and as Jesus Christ parabled it that even if you hid a light under a bed, its objective radiants will still come out surely despite your subjective dislike of the inevitable illumination.
The case in point here is the fate of public universities that are now annexed to the Republic of South Sudan by default. These universities used to be part of the higher learning institutions of the Sudan. Many of their colleges and centers were stationed and operated in Khartoum, and under control of Jellaba; be it the curriculum, academic staff, other personnel, laboratories, libraries, etc.
More narrowly, I would like to limit this case to the current situation of University of Juba, which is and should be regarded as the Mother of other universities in South Sudan.
As I write this article and as you read it, the students are facing difficulties of transition from the Sudan to South Sudan as far as the fate of their right or privilege to education is concerned. The government seems to be caring less with plenty of empty promises than actions as commonly known in the fourth world before it get into third one.
Those who were admitted and taught as Arabic pattern students are being forced to to become Englishmen at their final years. The scenario is like telling them to attend and write their lectures and exams in Chinese language when they are not used to this at all. If not they are advised to quit and learn the required language externally elsewhere before they dare to come back to lecture rooms or halls.
Does this makes any sense even if the transitional constitution says that the medium of official educational instruction in South Sudan must be English language?
Yes, it will be a violation of the highest law in the country if a lecturer goes to class in Juba University to teach his students in unconstitutional language. It will also be a violation of South Sudan constitution if students attempt to note down their lectures or take exams using unconstitutional language.
But what about students who are studying foreign languages like French, German, Arabic, etc; in which language will they do this? Will they write, for example, their French language exams using English language so that they can look like good constitutional law-abiding citizens?
Of course it will look naive indeed. But who is really naive; those who manufactured the law of sidelining Arabic language or those who are trying to apply and implement the imposed law that seems to lack the sense of the common good. Does South Sudan have a problem with Arabic language or with the Arabic race? Even Israel teaches its students classical Arabic language.
For me, instead of students turning against themselves or against their lecturers and administration in the university, they should go straight to where the problem has been created. It is good that Mr. John Luk, the chief architect of the so-called South Sudanese transitional constitutional is still alive and kicking in Juba, with the direction of his Ministry of Justice known by both the students and university administration. It is good too that he is now an appointed MP despite his fall in ballot boxes during 2010 general elections. He is part of the law-making and law-amending factory in South Sudan, i.e., the National Legislative Assembly (SSNLA).
Thus, the students of the University of Juba should go to Hon. John Luk’s comfortable office near New Sudan Hotel to kindly ask him to table in the SSNLA a motion of amending that messy part of the transitional constitution so that the Arabic patterns students in the university could be saved from the constitutional wrath of instructing them in a prohibited foreign language.
If Hon. John Luk declined to grant the kind request, then the students may go elsewhere to find an intelligent and caring MP to table the salvation motion that will kick out the mess for good and for the sake of students’ peace in the university. By then and only by then, will the Arabic patterns students be allowed to graduate together with their English patterns colleges.
Any tendency to compromise with the Arabic patterns students before the highly recommended constitutional amendment would surely be a violation to the supreme law in the new country. It is not virtuous to disobey the law though it is prudent to interpret the law in the interest of the common good rather than interest of the stronger or the powerful.
Please South Sudan National MPs, give an assurance of highest consideration to the difficult situation being faced by the students in the public universities, especially the problem of language transition from Arabic to English. Amend the the hindering constitutional article so that a legal safety is ensured for our universities who should not be denied the right to education in Arabic and other languages.
In truth and logic we should lay our trust. Long live South Sudan! Long live Juba and other Universities!
Dr. James Okuk lives in Juba and could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.