South Sudan‘s students, Hungry for knowledge

By Paul Ndiho

August 16, 2011

In South Sudan, Juba University remains closed due to the decay of its facilities, following years of war.

Juba University is in the heart of the bustling capital of the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, which celebrated its independence in July. It is hard, however, to see the signs of post-independence jubilation and development here. Juba University was closed last November until further notice, unable to serve the students flocking to its gates.

Many of them still live on or visit the campus, and are urging the government to re-open the university as soon as possible.

“We need our people to study, because through education development can be easy and we could fast develop our country, though it is newly-born nation in Africa and in the world. So education is important, because it is the key to life. Though the university remains closed we are wishing the government and the international community to support us so that we can go on with our studies.”

Juba University was opened over 35 years ago during a peaceful period between the civil wars.

In 1989, however, it was closed for security reasons and relocated to Khartoum in the north.

While in Khartoum, the university grew to accommodate over 10,000 students. The university is in the process of relocating the university to Juba, but there are many logistical problems, according to the school’s vice-chancellor, Agrey Abbate: .

“With the relocation process back to Juba, we were now faced with the challenge of having to come into the infrastructure that did not develop during these 20 years of war, it remained as it was when we left in 1989. So that is our major problem: not enough space for lecture halls, not enough laboratories for all this expansion that went on when we were back in Khartoum, and not enough student accommodation.”

The university’s facilities are in dire need of repair. The classrooms are dusty, stuffy, badly lit and crumbling with age. There is an acute lack of teaching equipment, such as maps, tables and lab equipment.

Accommodations are in a similar state. In one of the residence halls, aptly named ‘Titanic,’ there is no running water or sewage system. Students who want to wash need to fetch water from outside the campus, a walk that takes half an hour. John Ibrahim is an electrical engineering student:

“We can live anywhere, even under trees. Our reason is that, wherever we stay, we are ready to change that place, so I hope that we need to bear the situation we are in and we need also to be hopeful and work hard to change the situation.”

In Juba, where the private sector is less developed than that of Khartoum, life is also much more expensive. Students say that the delay in re-opening the university has already cost them a year of their time, and John Ibrahim says he expects there will be further delays:

“So it will be two years [for] no reason while the country waits for its graduates to participate in the development of the country. Or elsewhere we will acquire foreigners to work in our city that is in our country, because they are qualified. Yet we are not qualified because we are not graduates”.

Students say that the troubles of Juba University are affecting not only the youth of South Sudan, but the future of the new nation as a whole.

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