Professor Akolda Man Tier: In Memoriam
One of the greatest honors I have had in my life was the opportunity to be a student and colleague of Professor Akolda Man Tier, who passed away last week in Kampala. No words would suffice to express the deep sorrow that I feel because of the demise of this prolific and great scholar. Nor would this short piece be sufficient to encompass the indelible impact of such a distinguished scholar as Professor Tier—whose whole life deserves to be written about—on his students and colleagues.
Professor Tier, who was born in what is now Lakes State, South Sudan, to a Dinka family, completed his secondary education in South Sudan and joined the University of Khartoum Faculty of Law, from which he graduated in 1968. After further studies at Cambridge University, he returned to Sudan with an LL.B. and a Ph.D. and was promoted to a lecturer position at the University of Khartoum.
Despite the numerous opportunities that were available to him, Professor Tier spent more than three decades teaching at the Faculty of Law, with the exception of three years when he was Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Juba University (from April 1990-August 1991) and Visiting Professor at the University of Windsor in Canada (from 1999-2000).
In the history of the University of Khartoum, no other law professor has dedicated such a long period of his or her life to the Faculty of Law. He was the only professor who, based on his service and publications, reached the highest academic rank in law at the University of Khartoum, a rank that is also known as full professor.
He was the first and last South Sudanese to become Dean of the Faculty of Law. All academically distinguished southern Sudanese who were appointed at the Faculty of Law left to pursue other passions. Natalie Oluwak Akolawin (1962) and Peter Nyut Kok (1971) joined southern Sudanese resistance movements. Francis Deng (1962) became a diplomat after he completed his graduate studies at Yale Law School and later joined the United Nations.
Professor Tier’s passion was academia. Neither politics nor other career paths that bring fame and fortune faster attracted him. He, instead, chose to live a simple, but productive and utile life, as a “full-time” legal scholar. He was a man who was created to be an academic and academics defined his life. The broadness and inclusivity of his legal knowledge is demonstrated by the diversity of the courses he taught at the University of Khartoum and elsewhere, some of which he introduced to the University.
As an academic, he was always alive – if you believe in the maxim “publish or perish-” given his extensive writings. His works appeared in prestigious journals such as the Cambridge Law Journal, the New York University Law School Journal of International and Comparative Law, the Journal of African Law, and the Arab Quarterly, to mention a few examples. His “Private International Law in the Sudan: Cases and Materials,” which runs to 536 pages, is an indispensable comprehensive treatise for any student of or researcher on private international law in Sudan.
In addition to their conspicuous novelty, his publications have other characteristics; they are deep in analysis; they expose the reader to other legal systems, as his critique of legal issues is usually comparative; and they normally reflect his adherence to legal positivism, a philosophy largely developed by great legal thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham, John Austin, and H.L.A Hart.
I was honored to be one of his supervisees when I was pursuing my master’s at the University of Khartoum. It was at his hands that I first learned the fundamentals of legal writing, and I am sure this is also true of the vast majority of the students who wrote their theses or dissertations under his supervision.
True pedagogues do not only teach in classrooms. Professor Tier was a great example of a pedagogue who taught whenever there was a need or an opportunity to do so. At the Faculty of Law, all students, including Christian students, were required to take a mandatory course on Islamic culture. At some point, Christian students from South Sudan protested against that, and a group of their counterparts from northern Sudan regions joined them in support.
Professor Tier invited the students, who were in the process of preparing a memorandum to the Administration of the University, to his office and advised them that they had to look at themselves not as northerners or southerners, or Christian or Muslims, but as lawyers. In a country where people are divided along ethnicity, region, and religion, his advice was a great lesson that we all need to think beyond the dichotomies of our societies and countries if we would like to reach good and durable solutions.
Professor Tier’s love for law, academia, and justice was unlimited and unconditional, and was reflected in his relationship with the University of Khartoum Faculty of Law. The only thing, which separated him from his Faculty, was the separation of South Sudan.
In 2011, when South Sudan’s independence became official, the University sent termination-of-service letters to all southern Sudanese professors. A bright former student of Professor Tier, Dr. Elrasheed Hassan Sayed, was the dean of the Faculty of Law. He refused to forward the termination letter or communicate its content to Professor Tier. Instead, he suggested to the vice chancellor, Professor Siddig Hayati, to come himself and inform the veteran law professor of the decision.
The vice chancellor informed Professor Tier of the termination decision, but told him that the formal position of the University was to retain him as a professor. Professor Tier told him that South Sudan needed him more than the University and that he would go to South Sudan, where he would be appointed the chairperson of the National Constitutional Review Commission. Professor Tier added that if the general situation allowed, he would be glad to return to the University of Khartoum. Professor Hayati said to Professor Tier: “This university is your university and you are one of its professors whenever you decide to come back.”
This story was not the only well-deserved gesture from the University of Khartoum to recognize and honor Professor Tier’s long and distinguished dedication to the University. Thanks to an initiative taken by Dr. Elrasheed Hassan Sayed, what was previously “Lecture Hall No. 3” for graduate students is today “Professor Akolda Man Tier Lecture Hall,” where postgraduate diploma and LL.M. students take their courses.
The sudden, unfortunate demise of this great scholar has unified through sadness and sorrow many people in South Sudan and Sudan. His death is a great loss to knowledge and justice and to everyone who was fortunate enough to associate or deal with, or learn from, him. He sincerely dedicated his bountiful energy and life to teaching, developing, and promoting the science of law in Sudan and South Sudan.
His most profound legacy, namely his supervision of graduate students (myself included), and his splendid publications, will, no doubt, remain forever. He will always remain in my mind and heart and indeed in the minds and hearts of hundreds of his colleagues, friends, former students, and acquaintances as a scrupulous and principled legal scholar who left tremendous academic achievements behind him.
His objectivity, straightforwardness, honesty, candor, and dedication and commitment to work are noble and often rare-to-find human attributes that we should all try to live up to if we want to keep his memory and legacy alive. Prof. Akolda (as people in Sudan used to call him) was a good man. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
*Nasredeen Abdulbari was a student of Professor Akolda Man Tier at the University of Khartoum. He was also a teaching assistant and later a lecturer in the International and Comparative Law Department, of which Professor Tier was head for several years. He is currently a doctoral student at the Georgetown University Law Center.