[lg policy] Sudan: English Language Fleeing 'Anglophone' South Sudan (part I)

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 23 16:41:43 UTC 2012

Sudan: English Language Fleeing 'Anglophone' South Sudan (part I)
By Atem Yaak Atem, 22 March 2012

Even before the phrase "One country, Two System" gained official
recognition in Sudan following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace
Agreement, the CPA, between the Government of Sudan and the former
insurgents of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the SPLM, and
before the secession of the southern part in July last year, the
country had always been a land of stunning diversity, culturally,
linguistically, ethnically and in terms of confessional affiliation.

Our main concern here is language, both in official use and as a
medium of communication by individuals in their every day lives in
Sudan before and after the split.

People who love to reduce complex situation into simplistic formula-
in the vain hope of making life easy- were and still are fond of
referring to the two parts of the country then as "Islamic and Arabic
speaking North" as opposed to "African, largely Christian and animist
South." Reference to Africa implies existence of multiplicity of
languages spoken by "tribes" as communities or nationalities- a
category that excludes the monolingual, monoculture, and nearly 100
Muslim Somalia- are known to most Western writers.

In practical terms, for decades before Sudan gained its independence
from joint Anglo-Egyptian rule in 1956, education which was largely
under the control of the Western Christian missionaries was given in
the English language as a medium of instruction right from elementary
school through to secondary stage in Southern Provinces of Bahr el
Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile, now constituting the Republic of
South Sudan.

While the educated class, small as formal education was not
universally available for various reasons that do not concern us here,
the elite from Southern Sudan claimed English language as if it were
their own and accordingly some of their members took pride in the
mastery and command of this foreign tongue. For practical purposes,
schooled or otherwise, the majority of urban dwellers from the South
found Arabic as a lingua franca. For years right up to the time these
lines were being composed politicians and other public personalities
had and have no choice but to address crowd in colloquial Arabic with
its famous "Juba Arabic" as the dialect (of Arabic) of choice for
effective communication across ethnic and linguistic divide. The
leaders of Southern Sudan from the time the Addis Ababa Agreement came
into being in 1972 to the end of Southern self-rule in 1983, addressed
public gathering in colloquial Arabic. Abel Alier, the first
politician to head the Regional Government spoke to the masses in
Arabic and so was his successor and former Anya Nya, General Joseph
Lagu. (Mr Lagu has a flair for mastering languages other than his
native Madi: he is fluent in Acholi, Arabic, English and Dinka which
he has mastered to extent of composing and singing hymns in that
Nilotic tongue.)

Use of Arabic a lingua franca for the South did end with the outbreak
of the second civil war in May 1983. The SPLM's military component,
the Sudan People's Liberation Army, the SPLA, used Arabic as the
medium of training, command and even on daily communication except for
the signal unit which strictly communicated in English.

Origin of Southern and "national" pattern educational system

English language in what is today the State of South Sudan has played
a pivotal role in education and government. As mentioned earlier
before English was a medium of education in schools of Southern Sudan
during the colonial times and even after "independence" of Sudan in
1956. However, when the military took power in 1958 it soon embarked
on the twin policy of Islamicisation and Arabisation, including
Arabicisation of the entire country. And since Darfur, Eastern Sudan
and to some extent the Nuba Mountains were largely Muslim and where
some of their political elite considered themselves Arab, the policy
actually was aimed at the population of Southern Sudan, their cultures
(including the African languages most Northern Sudanese called lahjat
or dialects), traditional beliefs and practices.

This policy that was in all its aspects was a naked attempt by
Khartoum at complete assimilation of the non-Arab peoples and the
eradication of their cultures. Policy was resisted by the South to the
point of the rejection fuelled and revived the 1955 mutiny by elements
of troops from the South in Torit.

But there was a decision made in 1953 by a team working for Unesco
that endorsed the adoption of Arabic as language of government and
education all over the country. The team consisted of an Egyptian, a
Sudanese of Arab stock and an Australian. In their book, Education,
Politics and Religion in Southern Sudan, Sanderson and Sanderson hint
to the fact that the Australian on the committee appears to have been
compromised to endorse the position of educationalists who were first
and foremost Arab nationalists.

In 1965, the policy that bore the imprimatur of the world's body
institution in charge of culture, heritage and education, was
implemented all over the country. With the exception of Rumbek
Secondary School and Juba Commercial, then the only institutions off
learning that offered subjects in English, all schools in the whole
Sudan offered all subjects in Arabic. English was taught as a subject
but inadequate to meet demand of post-secondary education teaching
that was carried in English. Despite that the "national educational
pattern" students had enormous problems with their lectures because of
shaky command of English language but were soon able to pick up after
about two terms; sometimes some of these students helped themselves
with lecture notes made by their colleagues from the "Southern
pattern" system as the students from Rumbek and Juba Commercial
secondary schools were pejoratively referred to.

(To be continued in the next issues.)

Atem Yaak Atem taught English language in Sudan in the 1970s - Malakal
Secondary School, Juba Commercial, Juba Girl Secondary and later at
Lodwar High School (1994) in Kenya. In 2006, he taught English at the
University of Newcastle, Australia. His teaching of methods and ethics
of interpreting at TAFE (Technical and Further Education) at Graville,
Sydney, Australia earned him Australian Award for Excellence and
Innovation in Learning and Teaching in 2008. Mr Atem who is a
journalist was also speechwriter for the late SPLM/A leader, John
Garang from 1984-1991.


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