Battles not just academic for South Sudan Ph.D. scholar

BHEARD scholar Dr. Martin Baru Richard Sebit was recently named a department head at South Sudan's University of Juba, just a month after being promoted to assistant professor.

BHEARD scholar Dr. Martin Baru Richard Sebit was recently named a department head at South Sudan’s University of Juba, just a month after being promoted to assistant professor. It’s just the latest in a series of goals he’s determined to achieve, despite numerous obstacles.

“I never give up nor quit,” Sebit said. “The struggles will continue until I reach my ultimate goal of obtaining a professorship.”

Sebit, pictured in the blue shirt, is now head of the Department of Animal Production, part of the University of Juba’s College of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. He was named assistant professor in November 2017, when he returned home after earning his Ph.D. in the United States.

The goal of the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) program, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is to develop agricultural scientists and increase agricultural research capacity in partner countries. The program is named after Dr. Norman Borlaug, an American biologist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate who has been called “the father of the Green Revolution.”

After studying dairy science at the University of Juba, Sebit qualified for a BHEARD scholarship and enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Virginia Tech in 2014. His academic battles culminated in a doctorate in agricultural leadership and community education. But those weren’t the only battles being waged.

“My academic journey was not an easy one due to the civil war in South Sudan,” he said. “My family were right in the center of the conflicts in 2013 and 2016. On several occasions, during phone calls, I could hear my kids screaming with the sound of AK-47s, artillery guns and helicopter gunships firing rockets in the background. Thankfully, despite my house being robbed twice by armed men, no one was injured.”

Sebit’s dissertation topic covered another form of conflict in South Sudan: cattle rustling. The theft of cattle and the violence that accompanies it are destabilizing the country’s pastoral communities. It’s estimated that 85% of the country’s households keep or produce livestock, including roughly 12 million cattle. Cattle-based conflict, which has been growing, kills an estimated 2,000 people or more every year.


The goal of Sebit’s Ph.D. research was to measure the impact of cattle rustling on pastoral communities and find out what could be done to discourage the practice. He learned that the major causes of cattle rustling include expensive marriages, revenge, pride, accumulation of wealth, poverty and joblessness. He also found that, though cattle rustling has existed for many years among South Sudanese tribes, they now possess sophisticated automatic weaponry, making the practice even more dangerous.

To discourage cattle rustling, Sebit’s study formulated a few potential strategies: establish an agricultural Extension service; design educational services for women and youths; empower chiefs; comprehensively disarm groups before rustling activities can escalate.

In his new role at the University of Juba, Sebit plans to use these strategies in his work with pastoral communities. He also will teach and do research, especially in the areas of dairy production and technology, Extension services and animal breeding.

Sebit said his Ph.D. studies have given him the technical, managerial and intellectual leadership skills to manage and guide agricultural innovations in South Sudan. He said those skills will enhance his research and help him grow as a lecturer, too. As a life-long learner, he wants to “transform and improve the livestock sector in South Sudan and the surrounding region.”

– Matt Milkovich

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