Diborah Donada is back in the classroom to learn a skill that will help South Sudan’s economy grow from dependence on oil – English, East Africas’ business language.
“As a Customs officer, I am the eyes of the nation. My job is very important to earn revenue for my country’s development, for our children’s health, for hospitals and for education. English will help me be a better officer.”
She is one of around 200 staff of the Customs Service of South Sudan and National Bureau of Standards who are being taught to learn English so they can deal efficiently in the business language of the East African Community. The training is part of a comprehensive programme of skill and capacity building backed by TradeMark East Africa, which has carried out similar language programmes in Francophone Burundi so that government officials can negotiate in the EAC’s key language.
Surprisingly, for many visitors, the language of day-to-day South Sudan is Arabic the language of the mainly Arab North from which the country gained independence in 2011 after almost 30 years of war.
Around two million South Sudanese left Arabic-speaking jobs in Khartoum and now form the backbone of civil service positions, according to the Director-General of CSSS, Maj-Gen Mikaya Modi.
“English is vital,” he says. “It is the language of business in East Africa.” Linda Nansubuga, one of the English-language trainers, says many of her candidates have little background in English and are given remedial and extra tuition.
“Skill levels vary a great deal so we are flexible. We use every method we can, audio-visual, role plays, scenarios, phone conversations, anything they will encounter – in English in real life.”