Peace cultural festival lights Multi-ethnic Renk town
Many joined the cultural performances (Photo: Jale Richard)
By Jale Richard
Thousands of women, men and children gathered at Renk Stadium to participate in a cultural festival on a sunny Friday. Many dressed in white t-shirts branded Beledna Awel (South Sudan First), defied the hot sun heat of Renk a northern town bordering Sudan.
It is the second cultural event in the town in two consecutive years organized by Upper Nile Youth Development Association (UNYDA) in Northern Upper Nile State. Renk is a multi-ethnic town for communities from all the 64 tribes.
The stadium buzzing with sounds of drums and voices of different cultural performers created a scene similar to that of swarming bees. The event was alternated with speeches from government officials and representatives of local non-governmental organizations, as well as musical performances from local artists. All performed songs preaching peace and unity of people in the peace-deprived country South Sudan.
Yai Thap Bol who led the Dinka Ngok Lual in the cultural event said the event was important because it presented an opportunity for people from different ethnicities to showcase their cultural practices.
“I have seen how our different tribes came together to dance and appreciate each other’s tribe which was a good thing for promoting peace,” Thap says. It was a very good initiative and seeing people coming together to unite should continue to ensure people are united in South Sudan,” he adds.
Thap said during the cultural dances, he observed that people were pleased with each other’s cultural dances.
“People are saying if the cultural events continue, they will be united because they will be embracing each other’s cultures instead of hating each other based on their ethnic backgrounds,” he says.
Moses Akech Deng Goch from the Korfulus community says through the cultural event, he saw how people have transformed in a positive way in all the communities of Renk.
“I have seen the government officials speaking in a positive way which is promoting peace. I have also seen people interacting to exchange peace building ideas,” he says.
Akech also thanked UNYDA for the second cultural event in Renk, saying people were excited to participate in the cultural event.
“Cultural events can transform a lot of things that have happened in our communities for peace to prevail. At this level of peace, we need to focus and maintain it so that we can ensure all south Sudanese can live anywhere in the country in peace,” Mr. Akech says.
For Stephen Gatkhor Chuol who led his Nuer community in Renk in the cultural festival, the fact that many people turned up at Renk Stadium for the event meant people from different communities built special relationships with each other.
“This kind of activity should continue to bridge the gap that exists between the different ethnic groups in the country,” he says.
Gatkhor urges non-governmental organizations to support cultural festival initiatives so that local communities can be mobilized to use their cultural practices to promote peace amongst different ethnic communities.
“This festival should continue to promote peace and unity,” Gatkhor urges.
Paulino David, the Deputy Governor of Northern Upper Nile State speaks
late in the night (Photo: Jale Richard)
The Deputy Governor of Northern Upper Nile State, Paulino David who presided over the cultural festival, said UNYDA’s theme of “connecting youth to promote peace” reinforces the need for engaging youth in developmental activities as future leaders of the country.
“Without youth there is no nation. I say this because all of you are now adapting the western culture. We have our own cultures-Dinka, Nuer, Maban Shilluk and others which you are forgetting. But you are adapting the foreign cultures which is not a bad thing but if you translate it wrong, that’s when it becomes bad,” he said.
The Deputy Governor warned the youth from engaging in groups commonly known as “niggers” who leave their homes for the streets. “Instead of spending your time at school, you spend time at markets stealing people’s things which are bad,” he said.
He urges NGOs operating in the state to create opportunities for the youth so that they can be employed.
“When they are employed, they can contribute to the development and peace building in the country,” he says.
The Mayor of Renk town, Dau Goch said the event was a celebration of the towns’ diverse cultural groups given its multi-ethnic status.
He said in Renk, there is no ethnic conflict that is why all the 64 tribes of South Sudan have representatives living in Renk.
He urged the youth to stop following political ideologies of dividing people along ethnic lines, saying that time has passed.
“The youth should stop following politicians whenever they start their political ambitions by mobilizing youth to fight for them. That time has passed and let us use this time of peace to engage in developmental activities,” Mayor Goch said.
Charles Onak Judo, the Executive Director of UNYDA said the cultural event in Renk aimed at allowing citizens to come together, reconnect, sing, play, dance together and appreciate their cultures as a toll of peace building.
“We believe that no culture is bad but instead there are unique cultures. So we as the citizens of this Country should enjoy the uniqueness of each and every culture,” Onak told the celebrant crowd at Renk Stadium.
The theme of the event is the year-long Beledna Awel (our Country First) campaign run by many civil society organizations supported by Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA).
The campaign focuses on five pillars such as inclusive progress (growth and social progress), ending and denouncing any form of violence, uniting in diversity, inclusive and sustainable peace, and transformation to better lives.
“There are needs to work and commit ourselves to empower individuals and families to participate in the opportunities brought by peace,” he said. “Let’s all try to work on programs that focus on youth, entrepreneurship, small business, financial inclusion and resilience, and environmental sustainability,” he added.
He adds, “As Citizens of South Sudan we need to embrace the peace agreement and work for lasting peace in South Sudan. Encourage our leaders to end the violence, work for peace and reconcile as one people of one nation.”
Norwegian People’s Aid representative Kenyi Emmanuel recognized the “great work” UNYDA is doing in Renk, Malakal PoC, Wau Shilluk, and Melut to bring youth together to unlearn violence and promote peace through sports and cultural activities.
He said NPA started partnership with UNYDA in 2016 under two projects-unlearning violence and promoting peace, and oil for development funded by NORAD.
“My fellow youth, I would like to assure you that we were born in the war, grew up in the war, married and now have children who need to go to school, eat, get access health services yet we do not have them. Now the peace agreement has been signed, let us give it chance so that our children can have a better future,” he urged the youth.
Mr. Kenyi who travelled from Juba to Renk for the first time to participate in the cultural festival is amazed by the diversity of cultures in the northern Upper Nile town of Renk.
“I have noticed that Renk is a multi-ethnic town. This is a true sign of nationhood. I encourage you to stay in peace,” he appealed to the youth.
“As I go back to Juba, I will tell my fellow youth than Renk is a peaceful town and I will encourage them to live the same way you do,” he stated.
Upper Nile Youth Development Association (UNYDA) is a local network of young women and men from counties of conflict, post conflict and vulnerable counties of greater Upper Nile.
UNYDA creates a space for youths and young people from different ethnic backgrounds in Upper Nile State who have been isolated and divided by decades of civil war to come together, interconnect and build their capacity to initiate and facilitate community dialogues with local stakeholders changing mindsets inherited from the war. Mr. Onak says, this is meant for local citizens to deepen peace and support development opportunities brought about by the Peace Agreement.
The cultural festival event was one of the activities supported by NPA. So far under the project over 120 youth in both Malakal town and Malakal PoC, and Renk Town were trained on conflict resolution skills, conducted two sports for peace activities in both Malakal and Renk, youth have organized 4 youth led dialogues in Malakal Town, PoC and Renk of Northern Upper Nile, carried out 4 radio talk shows in Malakal on peace and reconciliation.