opinionBy Juma Mabor Marial
It is about a fortnight now since the University of Juba (A public University) of the Republic of South Sudan was dramatically shut down. The reasons given for this eventuality and drastic decision is that the students went on rampage on tribal cum ethnic basis and the university administration had no other modalities to arrest the situation other than closing down the university activities until further notice. This is not a strange outcome in the affairs of University of Juba since some of us who have been following the progress of the university would bet that, the university before this situation arose had barely two months of its opening after a very long recess that was prompted by lack or artificial lack of funds to run its activities.
As this phenomenon has been a very hot public topic of deliberation in the past weeks, I for one also recognize the very many significant contributions and opinions raised by some commentators and other concerned citizens particularly in the area of ethnicity at the university and among the student themselves. However, I want people to, apart from concentrating on the tribalism as the sole cause of the problem also take a step ahead and bring to the fore other underlying factors that have been ailing and continue to paralyze the activities of this major learning institution of our infant state in the following chronology;
1. The Government incapacity and lack of determination to ensure the effective operations of the University (Ministry of Higher Education).
It is an undisputable fact throughout the globe that the financial survival of any public institution is both dependent and squarely remains a sole responsibility of the government and this duty is effected by the Ministry of Higher Education. This is also legitimized by the Public Universities Act, which I guess without much speculations that University of Juba as a public and government institution must have been created through an Act of Parliament. This legal framework when enhanced can determine and set the foundation of the institution including the guidelines through which the University administration can be established, how the institution can be funded and how the rules and regulations regarding the students' activities, behaviours, discipline among others can be handled. If these set of policies are available, then the government must also ensure that the university as a public institution and indeed an academic hub should be administered by persons of highest integrity and intellectual capacity such that their delivery of services at this core institution cannot be compromised by their lack of adequate knowledge and/or temptations to resort to ethnic cocoons and create forums for favouring students of one tribe against the rest hence ushering in the sense of defence from the other perceived oppressed students.
To my belief and knowledge, the government has not been keen on these areas and that is why the stability of University of Juba is uncertain even as the government is trying to find scapegoat in the recent disagreement among the students. The government has never been committed to improving the university services from the dilapidated lecture rooms to a degrading University environment, limited students hostels, lack of recruitment of qualified lecturers and academic staff and all in all not giving adequate funding to ensure the smooth and consistent operations of the university activities just but to mention a few. This level of reluctance has been a receipt for the ugly outcome that we are seeing now at our public and indeed the national institution that everyone can point to and feel proud in the area of academic success. The government through the Ministry of Higher Education should pull up their socks, roll up their slips, tighten their belts all in bringing the University of Juba and other public universities in the Republic of South Sudan to the status of other leading public universities in the world.
2. The University Administration (The Senate)
I particularly blame and totally disagree with the University Administration in many areas including their recent decision of shutting the university down indefinitely. This was quite an emotional decision because the facts of the matter in question do not warrant such a drastic decision, which jeopardizes the chances of other innocent students. For instance, if as reported the skirmishes were a creation of two tribes why then do you have to close down the whole university because two tribes have had problems among themselves and even so, I don't think all the students from the two sides were involved in the disorder. As a university, the best mechanism that it would have employed was to identify the culprits/masterminds and discipline them according to the university rules and regulations or if it was beyond its capacity, send the said culprits to the police for further investigation and action. This is the procedure universities across the world follows such that any situation that arises and is likely to interfere with the university operations is treated on a case to case or individual to individual basis and not on tribal or ethnic basis as it had happened in this particular situation. The action by the university administration of shutting down the university is adding fuel to fire with the idea of extinguishing it. It is also an indirect promotion of ethnicity within the university since these two tribes may start feeling a sense of autonomy and recognition of their presence. This is a very unorthodox means of resolving issues. In addition to this fact, the University of Juba does not comprise of students from the two groups only, it has students from other parts of South Sudan and Sudan in particular Nuba Mountains and (Arabs) of northern part of the Sudan and assuming its being a public university may also have students from all over the world. Now if the university administration shut down the university because of the problems caused by Dinka and Equatoria students, does this mean the university belongs to these two groups? What is the recourse, culpability, justice and redress to other innocent students from the areas that I have mentioned or should they remain convicted because their unruly colleagues who came to the university to act as ethnic individuals have spoilt their chances of learning to make better future for themselves and their own relatives. This decision was and is unprecedented and the university administration has failed miserably in this matter.
Secondly, the university administration through the senate which is the highest authority in any university must have students note book encompassing all the rules and regulations of the university and produce the same upon admitting any particular student to the university and tell them to read through and promise to abide by said principles during his/her stay at the university. This is a prerequisite for admitting the students to the university whether public or private. The students on the other hand must make an undertaking to enable the smooth learning of other students. These principles can only be achieved by strict supervision and adherence by the university administration and the student themselves to the laid down rules and regulations.
Thirdly, the university administration should at the intervals invites experts and scholars to give public lectures to students on various academic topics including the consequences of negative ethnicity, tribalism, corruption, lack of rule of law, bad governance among other areas. This will open up student minds and bring them to the world market of ideas where they can think beyond ethnic circles. Some students also get inspired by the eloquent speeches of the experts and start working towards achieving such goals. These are some of the activities that keep the students busy when in campus because obviously an "idle mind is a devil workshop" and I think this is the common problem at the University of Juba. These experts should not however include politicians because inviting them would be like inviting the prophets of dooms to preach ethnicity or other unhealthy propagandas at the university.
Fourthly, the university premise should be strictly students vicinity and no one should be allowed entry unless with authorization from the university security personnel. This would only allow the students to concentrate on academic matters and not outside information that may prompt some of the students to lose their patience and start running around with unsubstantiated propagandas thus causing havoc in the campus.
With the above misgivings on the side of the University Administration, I wish to abstain from commenting on the allegations that, the Vice Chancellor and some members of the senate could be the reason for instability and lack of progress at the University of Juba perhaps because of their ethnic mind-sets. This cannot be true but if it were to be, then the best judges in this case would be the university administration and the senate itself because it is always an embarrassment to one academic credentials and accolades to act as tribal baron at the helm of a national institution like a university senator or staff which is a multi-ethnic institution. The university administration needs to vindicate itself quite thoroughly on these allegations and justify itself by revoking some of its unprofessional decisions and reopen the University for the other students to get back to school and resume their studies.
3. Students of the University of Juba (The Dinka and Equatoria Students, Culprits/Masterminds)
I will only use common logics to reach out to my fellow students of the Juba University particularly the Dinka and Equatoria students and I will start by reminding them of the period we are in today. We were celebrating Easter holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, this cannot be important to those who are not Christians but assuming that most students of the University of Juba are Christians, what does this day mean for you? Assuming also that the Dinka and Equatoria students who fought are all Christians, what can you underline and footnote on this day? My simple reasoning is that, although we all think Jesus is a son of God and we all praise him, he is as well a native of Nazareth city in Jerusalem and he had his own tribe there but because he embraces love and harmony, he is today remembered all over the world. This means that, belonging to another ethnic group is not a crime but a recognition that our ethnic diversity is not meant to divide us but rather unite and enable us learn from one another things we do not have as one ethnic tribe. Belonging to one tribe is also a biological accident that none of us has control over, no one and I mean absolutely no one amongst us would say I want to be this and that tribe. Only God has the power to determine that fate and so, He did and will always remain the only one to do that.
On the other spectrum, I wish to be a bit vulgar and arrogant by telling my fellow students that you are not being serious with your lives and your academic future because throughout the history of the public universities across the world, I have never heard that students have fought along tribal divisions. This is very strange and I hope some of you are now very proud for setting such negative precedent in the history of the world public institutions. The obvious enemy known to the public university students and the one that invokes so many strikes is the government and its policies. For example, if you were to play a modern university students role at the University of Juba as a public institution, there are so many other reasons you will have made yourself known for like the issue of thirteen ministers who were named by the American Government to have been highly involved in corrupting public resources, you should have demanded from the government to release those names for the public to know. You should have also been demanding the urgent review of the Transitional Constitution and other imperial laws that we have in our country today, you would be much concerned and pressurize our government to be careful about our sovereignty and territorial integrity. You should pressurize the government to tell you what it is doing on the alarming and rising unemployment rates among the youth, you should ask the government to establish other specialized institutions like school of law and medical training centres such that you would have a place to go for professional training after your bachelors and diplomas. You should ask the government to improve the delivery of services to your people at the grassroots and bring in modern technology to ease your research, you should challenge the government to renovate your university and put in efforts to expand the faculties and research centres, you should condemn any politician or individual who propagates ethnic violence, you should all look to the future that your politicians are establishing for you and try to correct it without fear or favour, you should have a vision that you want your country to meet, you should challenge the government to fight poverty and close the gap that has widened between the poor and the rich in our infant state.
All the above issues are what I expect a modern university student to be very critical about and not traversing around the campus with ethnic rhetoric and theatrics of I am this and that, this does not help anyone at the end of the day unless for those who have short ambitions of wanting to be tribal chiefs and kings which I think they did not have to even go to the university because they already have enough on their CVs. The argument by some of the students that they are not happy with the university administration and want some staff sacked does not hold any water and a total misplaced defence with the event that occurred because in every organized system, there is always a procedure that should be followed and the students body called Juba University Students Union (JUSU) should have followed that line. I am also reminded of the many tribal associations at the university by one of the commentators who thought these are the cause of tribalism at the university. I think differently in this regard because in many other universities around the world, such associations are there but the university administration always assigns them patrons/matrons to supervise and direct their activities and their registration is done after their objectives are verified, so I don't see any problem with these associations but the individuals leading these associations could be the problem and therefore should be evaluated and their integrity ascertained by the university administration.
Finally, I want the students at the University of Juba to also know that, they have many other colleagues around the world who are studying hard and intending to come back home and compete with them in the job market and this should be reason enough for them to advocate for quality education in the university such that they are not looked down when that tsunami start pouring down. I want you to graduate in time and stop interrupting your studies over petty issues like the recent tribal clashes. This is very shameful and it pains me a lot because I have most of my colleagues in this institution and their brilliance is going to waste because of some few hooligans and tribal minded children who claim to be at the university for studies but in the actual sense, they are only there to consolidate their tribal and ethnic hatred against other citizens of the Republic of South Sudan. I want to inform some of these characters that the world as it is today has become a global village and have no illusions; a foreigner can come and take up your jobs if you did not get good grades at the university because of your own making.