Peter Biar Ajak is a senior advisor at the London School of Economics research centre the International Growth Centre in 2016YouTube/International Growth Centre

Peter Biar Ajak, a Politics and International Studies PhD student at Trinity College, has become the centre of international outcry, after being arrested by the South Sudanese government in Juba airport last Saturday.

Although no reasons have been given for his arrest, Ajak had recently criticised the direction of the peace process within South Sudan; expressing concern over the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) power-sharing proposal for the country.

In July, Ajak warned on Twitter that “we must stop thinking that the so-called leaders will bring peace South Sudan”

In July, Ajak used his personal Twitter account to warn that “we must stop thinking that the so-called leaders will bring peace South Sudan”, later adding that “instead of forcing our warring leaders to work together, we need… to pressure and incentivize them to exit together”. In April, the government refused to permit Ajax and his colleagues to hold meetings with local youth in the towns of Aweil and Wanyjok.

Although South Sudan gained independence from the Republic of Sudan in 2011, the country has been embroiled in a civil war since 2013 after President Kiir accused his vice president of attempting to instigate a coup.

According to the Human Rights Watch, the South Sudanese government has become “increasingly intolerant and repressive... arresting politicians, members of civil society and journalists for extended periods, sometimes years.” This was echoed by James Deng, a friend of Ajak’s who also fled South Sudan, who told Newsweek that “there are so many other people that have been detained in South Sudan”, commenting “the difference is that Peter has some international following, which is good”.

An open letter from Cambridge staff and students calling for his immediate release has gathered over 400 signatories

As a senior advisor at the International Growth Centre (IGC), Ajak is well-respected within the academic and diplomatic world, and high-profile figures have called for his release.

US Senators Cory Booker and Chris Coons, both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on the South Sudanese government to release Ajak and other political prisoners immediately, urging them to “respect the rule of law and fundamental freedoms that are necessary pillars of peace in South Sudan”. The Sudan Tribune reported that the Thomas Hushek, the U.S ambassador to South Sudan, also called for Ajak’s release.

An open letter from “the undersigned colleagues and students of the University of Cambridge and the wider academic community” calling for his immediate release gathered over 400 signatories.

A Cambridge Trust scholar, Ajak was the first person from South Sudan to study at the University of Cambridge. As one of the 4,000 ‘lost boys’ who were resettled in America during the Second Sudanse Civil War, he arrived in the US in 2001. According to The Inquirer newspaper in a La Salle magazine profile, Ajak said that being a lost boy taught him “what a difference the individual could make in the larger scheme.”

After earning a BA degree in Economics from La Salle University in Philadelphia, he became a Public Service Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Ajak played a key role in shaping public policy designed to shape the growth of the new country

He graduated from Harvard with a Master of Public Administration in International Development, having also been a Teaching Fellow for International Capital Markets and Macroeconomic Theory and Policy at the university.

Ajak was a prominent political activist within South Sudan. As a former World Bank economist based in the country, he was responsible for advising on the country’s economic and public policy. Crucially, he played a key role in developing the South Sudan Development Plan, the South Sudan Growth Strategy and South Sudan Vision 2040; public policy designed to shape the growth of the new country.


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Cambridge PhD student detained by South Sudanese government

He previously held the title of Coordinator of Policy and Strategy; which included serving as the secretary and the spokesman for the committees which drafted important legislation such as the National Security Act, and the National Security Policy and Strategy.

In 2012 Ajak left the World Bank to found the Centre for Strategic Analyses and Research (C-SAR), an independent policy think tank based in Juba. He is also the CEO of the South Sudan Wrestling Entertainment, which aims to use the sport of wrestling to promote peace.

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