By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
A government official from the newly-formed country of South Sudan spoke to students at Le Moyne College about the struggles her country faces after a landslide referendum voted to secede the Christian and animist South from the muslim North. The change ends decades of civil war but presents new challenges in constructing a nation.
The talk took place March 2 in Grewen Auditorium. The room was packed with students and faculty, so much so that a live feed was set up for the overflow crowd in the Reilley Room down the hall.
Darius Makuja, a native of Sudan and a member of the religious studies faculty at Le Moyne, organized the event to help students understand the struggles of his home country. “I, for many years as a citizen in my home country, never felt free,” Makuja said. “But now I can feel that I’m a human being.”
Makuja said he was inspired to organize the event after a visit to Sudan last summer. He said he had the opportunity to meet with officials there who asked if he could help educate Americans about the plight of the Sudanese. After speaking with people at Le Moyne and SUNY Oswego, Makuja invited a delegation from the State of Eastern Equatoria, one of the 10 states in the country of South Sudan, to come and speak. The delegation also spoke at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Syracuse on March 5.
This delegation was originally to include the governor, state minister of health and state minister of housing and physical infrastructure. Due to urgent matters in their home country, the state minister of finance, trade and industry, Josephine Akulang Abalang, spoke in the governor’s place.
“There are so many challenges but because South Sudanese have been fighting for freedom and justice since 1955, there is such a sense of determination,” Abalang said. “That’s not to take away from the fact that the challenges in other sectors are much bigger, such as the education sector.”
There are few schools and few qualified teachers, she said. There are high illiteracy rates, few programs that provide food for students during the school day and a high drop-out rate, particularly for girls who are likely to get married at a very young age.
Abalang said the new government plans to complete schools that were abandoned halfway through construction because of the war. They also intend to build vocational training centers and teacher accommodations in rural areas.
“The majority of the population who remained in the state did not get adequate education,” Abalang told the audience. “Many of them are around 22 years old now — your age. The majority of them need to get an education so they can be a part of the new nation.”
There are also very few hospitals in the country. “And they are not in any way what you would equate with a hospital here in Syracuse. It’s a hospital you would have after 22 years of war,” she said. Most are one-room concrete structures, and Abalang showed a map with a small scattering of blue dots indicating where these structures are located. The government is looking into ways of funding the construction of new hospitals and attracting healthcare workers who can share their skills.
Another challenge is dealing with South Sudan’s diverse tribes. It is important to build a sense of larger nationalism that extends beyond the tribe. But this is difficult when tribal disagreements extend back years and even lead to squabbles about what a state in the new nation should be called. “If we don’t have nationalism, then the nation that we are trying to build might not even be sustainable,” Abalang said. She said the government also wants to begin a process of reconciliation and dialogue with people who have suffered at the hands of others and may want revenge.
But while these goals are difficult enough, the government also has to put in place the laws and policies that ensure these initiatives are undertaken in an efficient and legal manner.
“We’ve just emerged out of this long process of attaining our freedom,” she said. “We’ve been so busy doing that, we’ve had no time as a government to come up with policies, but in order to implement a lot of this you need policies. So in the meantime, we’re calling them ‘strategies.’”
Abalang thanked Le Moyne for its invitation for a delegation to come and speak to students about the referendum.
“This is the first institute of higher learning in the entire world that has done that,” she said. “I hope that you leave here tonight feeling inspired that you’ll be able to think of maybe giving us a hand. And if you’re not a big traveller, then maybe consider working here in your community because nation-building is never-ending. We know that even here it’s a continuing process.”