Emmanuel Monychol is a graduate of Uganda Christian University. He writes regularly for The Advertiser weekly newspaper and is an opinion writer with The Citizen. He recently attended a briefing for prospective Chevening Scholars and is guest blogging here to share his thoughts on Chevening Scholarships and the challenges that young South Sudanese face:
On 13 December, a hall at Paradise Hotel, Juba was filled with young men and women, who see themselves as potential leaders and heeded a call to go to the UK to hone their skills and come back to serve South Sudan.
Looking at the filled room on that day, I realised that most of us wore cheap jackets – a sign of hope for the better for one’s self and as a representative of the people. It is a good thing to visualise one’s self and exalt one’s self esteem. It was a good thing that we had already seen ourselves as, for example, successful opinion formers, promoters of good governance and democracy, decent public servants, focused environmentalists and diplomats, who had gone to the UK and been exposed to cultural diversity, respect for law and the self. The particular way we dressed ourselves for that day was a typical show of self-selling. We were trying to convince the Chevening Scholarship Board, some of whom were not even around, that we are the future leaders, which was a good thing.
Interestingly, the way we dressed reminded me of the description of Dr. Riek Machar in Emma’s War, when he jetted to the UK to pursue his studies. In that narrative, the then future leader and now a leader of the people of South Sudan, His Excellency the Vice President of the Republic of South Sudan, was portrayed as a typical Luo, whose legs were longer than the flabby trousers he had on – but with a good brain and skills worth nourishing by the British government for the benefit of his society, in this case, South Sudan. We are supposed to write an essay of about one thousand words, explaining our earlier achievements, how we intend to develop our dreams and what we intend to do when we come back with the vast knowledge we are going to receive. I don’t know what Dr. Riek wrote in his essay to convince the government of the day of his worth as a future leader. We can just infer. When he came back from the UK, he joined the movement of the masses of South Sudan to fight the oppressive regime in Khartoum, under the few Sudanese Arab leaders, who treated us as slaves.
We must always have a dream. Like some of the unsung heroes and heroines, who died wanting South Sudan to secede, Dr. Riek championed the cause of self-determination as a dream. We are told that even before he went to the UK, he believed that self-determination was the solution for the problems of marginalization that faced us; the British government gave him a fitting education to achieve his dream. Like the Anyanya guerrilla force, self-determination was the only thing Dr. Riek and the majority of the South Sudanese masses thought was the way out of the lion’s den and they followed that dream to the end, when they voted to secede in 2011. However, in the initial stages, the method of achieving this goal of self-determination was the source of conflict between the intellectuals, which affected the community of each intellectual’s origin and led to continued character assassinations. All that must be left behind and we should forge unity. And that is why President Salva Kiir, who does not believe in character assassinations, was also farsighted in his humble way, as he was able to tell the intellectuals that we should “first kill the elephant and discuss how we might share the carcass” later. Indeed, through the CPA, we have killed the elephant. And through secession, we have shared the carcass. As future leaders who will write our essays, to convince Chevening Scholarship Board, we must make sure that our dreams are realistic and achievable.
However, during the question time on that day, most of us, the hopeful future leaders vying for studies in the UK, failed to ask relevant questions about our courses and the process of filling out the form or what exactly one needs to write about in an essay or where we might get the materials for IELTS (International English Language Testing System). Instead, as usual, we wasted time unproductively, talking about regional and state representation in the scholarship. Some of us started complaining that the scholars allotted to South Sudan were too few. “Why not make ten like other countries?” I shrunk with shame. Did we realize whose money was being used to sponsor so many Africans, including South Sudanese? It is the money of the British tax payers we are going to use. Therefore, we do not have the right to complain about numbers or inequality. Instead we should be grateful.
On that day, another thing opened my eyes totally. I got educated even before I went to the UK. When asked, “What is your community?” Some of us gave varied responses. One prospective leader represented our thoughts when he got on his feet, shook his head and shrugged his shoulders typically, and then said: “my community is Didinga NOT DINKA,” with great emphasis. His response was and is the level of our minds. Even if I am in the same work place with a Didinga man or an Acholi, and vice versa, he considers himself not as my community member since he is not a Dinka. And I see him likewise. Our work place is merely a place of survival, not a place of fostering comradeship and finally nationalism. Our major aim is to foster tribalism. If I work with other people who do not speak my language or dialect, even if they are South Sudanese, I feel alienated. This is the kind of thinking we need to kill with speed if we are to put the scholarship awards and the British taxpayers’ money to good use.
Thankfully, we were educated by the facilitator that “community” does not necessarily mean your tribe; rather it means a place where you feel at home or being with people with whom you share common objective, such as, a country, a group of writers, a group of office clerks, a group of footballers destined to win a match etc. it was good knowledge for I thought all along that my community was down there at Apuk Padoc among the Adokthok people narrowed down to my household name of Pan-Majak Athim within Sub-Panyop clan.
South Sudan Independence has opened for us opportunities – which were so rare in the recent past. It is up to us to cherish these opportunities. We should make use of them. And especially, we need to thank those who have unveiled them to us by committing ourselves to promises, to contribute in rebuilding South Sudan; South Sudan that will, in a few years, be able to compete with the rest of the world through a vibrant, well trained and exposed manpower.
Let us mark this: we are not the first South Sudanese able to have these privileges with the British government. Many of our leaders in key positions today went to the UK or the US to get wider knowledge and good skills that enabled them to have visions that have seen us through this momentous history of our new country.
For the people who will be lucky in this year’s Chevening Scholarship scheme to study in the UK, they should remember that they have a bigger task ahead of them. There is a lot to be done here in South Sudan, ranging from security, education, health, environment, economy, public service and culture. So, YOU MUST BE HONEST with yourself and come back to serve in your small way.
Remember this: our elders are worn out by war and political wrangles. A few of our leaders who have used the British tax payers’ money to acquire knowledge are able to look back and regret how badly they have missed the mark. But they cannot bring back the wasted years. Instead, they are waning. They can only encourage us to do better. It is us who are genuine future leaders, and who they are looking up to with elderly eyes. Our educated elders do not expect us to fall into the same pitfalls that have held them back during the war and continue to hold them back today. So, we must come back and do better. At least, we should have said thank you to the British taxpayers, whose money is being used to champion the rapid development of South Sudan.