Week-long National Unity Day celebrations in Juba kick off in joyous fashion

unmiss south sudan juba national unity day sports culture social cohesion peace elections

Girls and young women are at the forefront when South Sudan commemorates National Unity Day with a week full of sports and other togetherness-building activities in Juba. Photos: James Sokiri/UNMISS

30 Jan 2024

Week-long National Unity Day celebrations in Juba kick off in joyous fashion

James Sokiri/Filip Andersson

CENTRAL EQUATORIA – Born in 2016, South Sudan’s National Unity Day is still a child, and full of the boundless energy and enthusiasm to be expected from one.

And yes; the Juba launch of the eighth edition of the day had all the parades, singing, dancing, ululations, and other modalities of celebration that can be imagined when more than a thousand young revellers from across the country get together to overcome ethnic and other divisions by means of culture and sports.

“Enjoy yourself and make new friends, because it is the beauty of sport that it inherently teaches us to unite, interact with other people, and embrace our diversity,” said Joseph Geng Akech, Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, as he addressed the elated crowd.

 “We are entering a critical period of not only consolidating peace, but also of exercising our democratic right to elect our leaders. Sports will help galvanize our electorate, the bulk of which is the youth,” he added.

His speech set the tone for the entire celebration, which was organized by his ministry in collaboration with and with funds from a host of partners, including the Japan International Cooperation Agency, Swiss Development Cooperation, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and the United Nations Development Programme.

Curiously enough, the National Unity Day, is a long one, in fact stretching out to an entire week full of football, volleyball and athletics competitions, with mostly girls and women exerting themselves to win the prizes at stake. On the sidelines, workshops designed to strengthen national unity and promote reconciliation will be held.

According to Tomoko Watanabe, representing the Japanese Embassy in South Sudan, and Hiroyuki Tanaka, Chief Representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Juba office, funding sports is an investment generating many positive effects.

”Over the past two years, we have achieved tremendous results by sponsoring football teams from across the country. We can tell that it promotes, effectively, equal social participation and the empowerment of women in general,” the latter said.

Mike Dzakuma, Deputy Director of the peacekeeping mission’s Civil Affairs Division, spoke of nation-building as a key dividend of peace, stressing the paramount importance of young people being part of that process.

“Your passionate participation in the drafting of a permanent constitution-making and in elections will no doubt help build a more vibrant and inclusive South Sudan,” he said. “You must stand tall, as our beacons of hope, and refrain from armed conflict.”