South Sudan Youths' Identity Crisis

The fragmented history of the formerly united Sudan has created issues of belonging and identity amongst the population. How these issues are addressed will determine how the country moves forward. These issues are particularly pertinent to the youth; many are not equipped to thrive in their homelands because of their irregular cultural identities.

As a former British colony, English was the language of choice and taught in schools. This was slowly reduced after the country’s independence in 1956, and has been replaced by Arabic in both Sudan and South Sudan. However, the prevalence of rotana, or tribal languages, complicates language cohesiveness within South Sudan. As a result, South Sudan’s various generations — even households — do not have the same language skills, making unified curriculum and employment extremely difficult.

In cities like Juba, employment is almost impossible unless applicants are proficient in English, a skill many youths lack. Some believe that the return to English is a way to separate the country and the people from their Arab past. For many South Sudanese, there is a perceived imposition of culture and religion by Sudan, while they simultaneously experienced discrimination and intolerance. However, others argue that the sheer number of international aid organizations (19 USAID funded organizations working in the Sudans, in addition to other smaller organizations) dictates the English requirement since that is the primary language of operations.

Adding to identity issues are the migrant and refugee youths, who grew up outside of their homelands. The combined duration of Sudan’s civil wars since independence meant that in 2005, when the peace agreement was signed, there were generations that knew nothing but war. While exact figures are unknown, approximately millions of South Sudanese fled their homes and migrated to Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, or sought refuge in neighboring countries. For these individuals, assimilation is very difficult due to restrictions on employment, education, and discrimination.

This has created a desire amongst many to return to South Sudan as soon as possible. Unfortunately, returning to a country that they do not know has made many feel as though they do not belong anywhere. Youth refugees often return to their country of refuge when they realize that their homelands are just as difficult. The difference being, in their country of refuge they at least have friends, social networks, and a familiarity with everything; these safety nets are often missing upon their return home. 

Moving forward is going to be difficult, but addressing the psychosocial needs of the youth is an important step. While my previous post addressed education in general, these circumstances require special programs to address the needs of older youth. Adult literacy programs need to be established to help even out language abilities, especially for those who were never able to attend or finish school when they were younger. Furthermore, developing programs and support networks to help reintegrate return migrants and refugees into their communities and provide them with skill sets to find adequate employment will help prevent alienation and re-migration to their countries of refuge.

Photo Creditantheap