Petition against Arabic use in public offices

A group of lawyers calling itself Advocates Without Borders has petitioned the constitutional court over the use Arabic language in public offices.

After South Sudan gained independence from Khartoum in 2011, the government dropped Arabic as an official language and chose English as the sole official language.

The Transitional Constitution states that English shall be the official working language in the Republic of South Sudan.

“Nothing has changed”

The lawyers say that three particular public institutions violate the constitutional provision.

These are the Judiciary, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior, which they say record information in Arabic.

“Nothing has changed. All the paper works from the police, from the public attorney’s office are in Arabic,” Philip Anyang Ngong, lawyer of the Advocates Without Borders, told Eye Radio on Thursday.

This, he said, “defeats the dispensation of justice for someone who doesn’t speak Arabic or someone who wants to see a public document”.

“Going contrary to the provision”

For his part, the head of the petitioners, Peter Ayei, accused the Judiciary of failing to implement the law.

“The Judiciary, which is supposed to protect the provisions of the constitution, is the one going contrary to the provision…” Ayei stated.

“If they want…Arabic, they have to go back to the parliament and amend the constitution.”

The court is yet comment on the petition.

In the Rejaf Conference held in April 1928  – during the Anglo-Egyptian condominium – it was decided that the language of instruction in the South would be English.

But after independence the Sudan government tried to replace English with Arabic, part of the peace agreement in 1972 ensured that English continued as the medium of education in most schools in southern Sudan.

English is widely spoken by those who have had the opportunity of going to school, either within South Sudan or in the diaspora.

On 2 August 2011, South Sudan’s ambassador to Kenya said  Swahili would be introduced with an aim of replacing Arabic as a lingua franca.

This is in line with the government’s move to orient the young nation towards the East African Community rather than Sudan and the Arab League.

[Interviews by Rosemary; Writing by Ayuen]