Saturday, 27 October 2012

A Letter From Juba, Republic of South Sudan

My friend Ayak Acol de Dut grew up in Juba and Khartoum in Sudan. She did most of her schooling in Juba before moving to Khartoum in 1984, after the second civil war started. In Khartoum, she studied in an English medium school for two years until her father, a civil servant and diplomat, was posted to India. Ayak moved to New Delhi with her family in 1987. After finishing her high school from the American Embassy School in New Delhi, she successfully took the entrance exam for the National Law School of India University’s B.A. LL.B (Hons) degree programme. On graduation from NLSIU, Bangalore, in 1996, she returned to Khartoum. An ethnic Dinka, she moved to Juba in 2010. Recently, I emailed her to find out how things have changed for her after the creation of the Republic of South Sudan.

Ayak wrote to me thus:

“Although I had a law degree from NLSIU, when I returned to Sudan, it was very difficult for me to join the legal profession as everything was in Arabic, including the bar examinations. There were also components of Sharia law that I would have had to learn (in Arabic) and pass at the bar exam, in order to practice. Since law practice was out of the question at that time, I got involved in the area of Applied Linguistics and ESL and managed to get some qualifications (post-graduate diploma and Masters which allowed me to become a tutor, lecturer and trainer at various points of my life. I taught at a language centre and was also a teacher trainer. Later I was a lecturer at a university and a training officer with the United Nations. I confess that I did not really miss law that much, although my background in it had been handy in teaching legal English to members of the Judiciary and in imparting some training modules when I worked with the UN (peacekeeping) Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

On top of Jebel Kujur (Mount Kujur), a small mountain on the outskirts of Juba. The urban sprawl in the background is Juba.

Our countries (Sudan and South Sudan) had been at war for twenty-one years. Independence seemed to be the only option for most of the Southern non-Arab population because there had already been several earlier agreements on confederation and autonomous rule, and those had been repeatedly dishonoured. The presence of an Islamic fundamentalist government with a Jihadist agenda made the idea of unity even less attractive. A peace agreement was signed in 2005. A referendum brought separation six years later. During that time I had been visiting South Sudan intermittently, in various capacities, until finally moving here in December 2010.

9 July 2011 - The Dawn of Independence for South Sudan - Celebrations in Juba

9 July 2011 - Ayak with a South Sudan flag on Independence Day in Juba

The independence of South Sudan opened new doors for me, and I saw the possibility of getting back to law. This time, with oil being very much a part of our future as a nation, I got the opportunity to go and do a Masters in Petroleum Law and Policy from a Scottish university. Doing it gave me a chance to participate in some of the post-referendum negotiations (on oil), albeit in a non-official capacity. From April 2011 I have been working as a language specialist for an international educational NGO. I would like to think that it has helped me contribute and make a difference in our new country. 22nd October 2012 was my last day of work as a language specialist.

The legal profession in South Sudan had its groundwork laid out in 2005. The official language is English and not Arabic. Just like Sudan, our laws are based on Common Law, but without a Sharia component. So, I am back in familiar territory. It is quite dynamic and is expanding albeit with the challenges associated with starting up in a new country. The private sector in particular is quite vibrant and with many lawyers returning from the North and overseas involved in it. The good news for me is that I start working with the Energy Sector, in a legal capacity, from next week. The government is working on implementing public/private partnerships that would help build capacities of employees in the Sector. Those of us who are joining are aware that, in many ways, we are going to be the pioneers in this area, and so it is with some anticipation and trepidation that we approach this.

Although the international commentators have been trumpeting all sorts of dire predictions about the future of South Sudan, there is one thing we going for us: people always underestimate us and our abilities. There are some hiccups, but I think that the Republic of South Sudan will be fine. We will just need to put in a lot of work to straighten out things. The government needs to act seriously in carrying out its duties, but the citizens and civil society organisations will have to become tougher and put a lot more pressure on the government to act responsibly. Civil society organisations had played a very big role in the signing of the final peace agreement between the North and the South. They need to reclaim that role.“

No comments: