A Loyola Marymount University professor was an eyewitness to history when the nation of South Sudan celebrated its independence earlier this year. Jok Madut Jok, an LMU history professor on a one-year leave from the university, was appointed undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture and Heritage by President Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan, the world’s newest nation and Jok’s homeland.
South Sudan became Africa’s 54th country on July 9, and has joined the United Nations as the 193rd member state. The independence celebrations in the capital city, Juba, were attended by close to 200,000 people, 31 heads of state and many government delegations from around the world. “It was the most festive moment in the history of this part of the world,” Jok said, “but it was also a mourning gathering, to remember 3 million lives that were lost in order for this day to be possible.”
Jok is referring to the civil war from 1983-2005, the second civil war since Sudan gained independence in 1955. Though the second civil war was ended by an accord in 2005, there have been lingering hostilities, adding to the burdens of one of the world’s poorest nations.
Jok has been dividing his time between South Sudan and Washington, D.C., and, this summer he’s teaching a study abroad course in Oxford, England. South Sudan’s culture ministry is tasked with developing and promoting a sense of collective national identity, helping the new country transition to independent nationhood, and weaning the people from many ethnic-group identifications and creating a national identity among the citizenry. Jok is helping develop unifying symbols, such as the flag, the national anthem, cultural centers, museums of national heritage and war memorials. “This emanates from the conviction that all nations are made, not born, and that it is the responsibility of the current generation to create the kind of nation that they have yearned for and aspire to see come into existence,” Jok said.
Jok’s work has been mostly in Juba, in the southern part of the new nation, but he has traveled throughout the country, taking him at times very close to the recent fighting. Marol, Jok’s home village and where he has established the nonprofit Marol Academy, is in the state of Warrap, which borders the contested area of Abyei. “Travel in conflict areas, unnerving as it may be, brings one face to face with the kind of cruelty that one would not otherwise think human beings are capable of,” Jok said.
He sees the delivery of basic services as the most pressing need for South Sudan, followed closely by security. “The South Sudan government will have an annual budget of $3 billion, but for the next 10 years, it will need $30 billion,” he said. The country’s needs are extensive: bring electricity to every village, pave roads to the country’s ten states, provide classroom space for every school age child, train enough teachers, vaccinate every child against all major childhood diseases, and reduce current levels of infant mortality, maternal mortality and illiteracy rates, which are all the world’s highest at the moment.
But still, Jok feels a sense of accomplishment. “A new nation was born, the world’s longest and deadliest war since World War II was ended,” he said. “And, now the focus turns to developing South Sudan into a modern state to join the community of nations.”