Professors and lecturers in South Sudan's five public universities are on strike Wednesday, because the government has not paid their back salaries for the past three months and other benefits for the past year.
South Sudan's undersecretary of higher education said his ministry is aware of the university employee demands, but the government is too broke to come up with the money.
Representatives of South Sudan's universities called a news conference Tuesday in Juba to announce the strike.
Philip Finish Apollo, spokesman for the South Sudan Public Universities Staff Association and acting president of the University of Juba Academic Staff Association, said professors and lecturers have vowed to go on strike Wednesday and stay home until the Finance Ministry settles their previous debts and delivers the new salary adjustments.
The five public universities are the University of Juba, Upper Nile University, the University of Bahr el Ghazal, Rumbek and Dr. John Garang Memorial University of Science and Technology.
What it means
Apollo said the lecturers' unpaid salaries total nearly 28 million South Sudanese pounds ($4.6 million). He said the strike will impact students.
"Teaching, of course, is going to be affected. No going in the classes, things related to doing research, supervising students — of course, these are all activities university staffs used to do and, of course, these are all going to be suspended," he said.
Unless the government responds to the university employees' demands within 24 hours, Apollo said, the strike will proceed as planned.
Professor Bol Deng, undersecretary of higher education, said his ministry has done what it can to address the demands. He said education ministry officials have forwarded their complaints to the finance ministry, which is the government entity that would make the payments.
"The Ministry of Finance has only one answer [and that] is to pay the lecturers,” he said. “When there are strikes like this, committees are formed and they sit down and discuss, then they reach a middle way, because the ministry may not afford to pay all the claims but when they sit down together, they may reach a solution."
Sworo Elly Martin, a first-year student at the Department of Rural Development at the University of Juba, said the government must address the lecturers' demands.
"I am very sorry for the message for the strike that will take place by tomorrow,” he said. “And I am urging the government sincerely to remember the lecturers, because education is a key in our life; when we are not educated, it means there is no prosperity in our nation, because if they are not paid it will be difficult for them to come and give lectures."
Nyadah Paul recently finished her studies at the College of Law at the University of Juba. She said she is not happy with her professors' decision to strike.
"It is not the good time for them to strike because of education,” she said. “Most of the people now will be left like that. Most of the people will lose hope in education, so I don't think it is a good step for the lecturers to strike."
Word of a strike comes just as students who completed their studies at the University of Juba are preparing to graduate Thursday at a ceremony to be presided over by South Sudan President Salva Kiir.