February 5, 2017
On 5th February 2017, the closing ceremony of the Second National Unity Day (National Sports Event) was held in the capital city of South Sudan, Juba, after nine days of sports competition by youth athletes. The guest of honor, Honorable Taban Deng Gai, the First Vice President, congratulated all the athletes and organizers for the peaceful event, and called "let us support peace and leave conflict behind" to more than 15,000 audiences.
Opening ceremony of the 2nd National Unit Day
The Second National Unity Day, organized by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MOCYS) in collaboration with JICA, was held from 28th January to 5th February 2017 in Juba, South Sudan, with the participation of around 500 youth athletes from 12 cities across the country. Inheriting the event's theme from the First National Unity Day held in January 2016, "Peace and Unity" was selected as the slogan for the event.
In July 2011, South Sudan gained independence as the newest nation after long years of struggle, but descended into turmoil in December 2013. In August 2015, a peace agreement was signed and the Transitional Government of National Unity was established encompassing different ethnic groups and political parties. However, violence erupted again between the Government and the opposition group in July 2016, which resulted in the evacuation of many international people, including the Japanese staffs of JICA South Sudan Office. South Sudan was in need of peace and unity more than ever.
Opening ceremony of the 2nd National Unit Day
With the success of the First National Unity Day in January 2016, MOCYS and JICA South Sudan Office had been working together for the preparation of the Second National Unity Day that was planned early 2017. Even after the evacuation of the Japanese staffs, JICA continued to communicate with MOCYS, and explored ways to organize the event under the difficult environment. "When the Japanese staffs left, I thought maybe there will be no Second National Unity Day. But after the meeting in Kampala, we were sure the National Unity Day will happen," said Mr. Edward, the Director General of MOCYS.
In November 2016, MOCYS and JICA launched a state convention in Kampala, Uganda, where the representatives of the state ministries and coaches were invited to discuss how to organize the Second National Unity Day. One of the important issues discussed was the security risks associated with the event. For example, there were big concerns over gathering a large crowd at match fields as well as the movement of athletes from different cities to Juba. The event for "Peace and Unity" could not risk any casualties. After intensive and heated discussions, it was decided that the MOCYS and JICA would support the transportation of athletes to Juba by air and deploy security personnel to all match fields and the dormitory to ensure security and safety of athletes and spectators.
With tremendous effort of the MOCYS and state officials, the Second National Unity Day began on 28th January with an opening ceremony attended by the Fist Vice President Honorable Taban Deng Gai, Ministers and Ambassadors. The ceremony was broadcasted live on television and radios disseminating the message of "Peace and Unity" across the country.
Competition of football and athletics began from 29th January at five sports fields in Juba. "In all the matches, there were larger audiences than the First National Unity Day. All radios in Juba and in the states were talking about the results of the matches and ‘Peace and Unity.' I really think the National Unity Day became a country-wide event and its message reached the people," said Mr. William of the MOCYS. Because it was the second time, the management of the event also improved from the previous year. For example, the selection process and the registration of athletes were done in a more transparent and fair manner.
Among the athletes, there were those who had never travelled outside of their town or mingled with people from different ethnic groups. In order to promote understanding and friendship among the athletes, MOCYS placed athletes of different origin and ethnic groups in the same room in the dormitory, and organized peace activities such as ‘tug of war' (or rather, ‘tug of peace') outside of official competition. "Win or lose, either way the athletes were celebrating and had a good time. There was no red card presented at football matches this year," said Mr. William proudly.
MOCYS also explained the objective of the event to all athletes. Before every football match, the captain of each team spoke to the audiences calling for fair play and to watch the game in a peaceful manner.
Audiences at the National Football Stadium
On 5th February, the last day of the event, the National Football Stadium was filled with citizens who gathered to watch the final football match. This year, the match was Rumbek against Aweil. After an exciting 90 minutes, it was Rumbek who won the winning cup of 2017 with the score 2-0.
"The wining of the cup is not for Rumbek as a team, but is for all South Sudanese people and particularly the youth. The fair play exhibited during the tournament shows that youth can rise above their ethnicity and political affiliation and make the whole country proud again," said one of the spectators supporting the Rumbek team, Mr. Majok. On the other hand, Mr. Makur who supported the Aweil team conceded the defeat and said, "I don't feel the pain losing to Rumbek for we are all winners. We won unity."
Final football match
Final football match
Although the Second National Unity Day concluded in success, MOCYS wants to improve the event even more. For example, out of all the athletes who participated in the competition this year, only one fifth were female. MOCYS wants to include sports like volleyball which is popularly played among women. MOCYS is also looking into the ways in which they can include more youth athletes with great potentials to the competition from every part of the country. They also need to train athletes and get ready for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
These are not easy tasks when you consider the security and the economic situation of South Sudan. However, MOCYS plans to hold the National Unity Day every year and call for "Peace and Unity" to its people through sports. "The role of the National Unity Day is that it contributes to ‘Peace and Unity' of the country. We have to continue," said Mr. Edward. MOCYS is already looking ahead to the Third National Unity Day in 2018 and beyond.