UNMISS culture festival in Gurei: A feast of diversity for hearts, minds and senses in unity
JUBA – Against a backdrop of grey skies and drizzle, the contrast was both welcome and stark when 30 different cultural groups rocked up in Gueri, instruments in tow, to indulge in a vibrant expression of unity likely to be the talk of the Juba township for days and weeks to come.
"Just have a look and you will see that peace is within us, no matter how different we may be. Here we are, so many communities embracing and celebrating our diversity. We can definitely live peacefully together,” said a jubilant Hellen Poni, one of the revellers at the culture festival jointly organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the Ministry of Peacebuilding.
She, like the few thousands of other people gathered at the Mary Queen Catholic Church Ground, had quickly grasped the unifying message and purpose of what turned into a captivating tapestry of showcased traditions, clothing, rhythms, singing and dancing, with the air reverberating with hypnotic drum beats and the tapping of feet. Peace, poetry, and people in flowing motion.
And it is here, to the hearts and minds of the people and grassroots of the country, that Pia Phillip Michael, Undersecretary in the Ministry of Peacebuilding, and the UN, wants to bring South Sudan’s peace process and all of its necessary practical steps.
The former spoke of appreciating diversity and rejecting divisive and destructive hate speech and violence. Guang Cong, the peacekeeping mission’s Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General responsible for political affairs, stressed the pivotal moment in its history that the youngest nation in the world is currently living.
“A new constitution provides a crucial opportunity for South Sudanese to establish arrangements that promote harmonious coexistence and prevent the repetition of past mistakes made during two recent outbreaks of civil wars,” he said, referring to the ongoing drafting of the South Sudan’s political blueprint that is meant to pave the way for free, fair and credible elections in December 2024.
If, as Pia Phillip Michael told the audience, there is a need for the South Sudanese people to come up with a shared vision for their country, the multi-ethnic crowd enjoying the Gurei festivities seemed well placed to play their part.
In fact, 13-year-old resident Michael Wani could see no tribal boundaries at all as he marvelled at what was perhaps the highlight of a day full of the outstanding: a breathtaking live performance by WJ De King, one of the nation’s hottest artistic tickets.
"I honestly can't distinguish one tribe from another. What I see is us, all together as one people. It is just beautiful, and it is the way it always should be, with all of us as one.”