August 12 is annually marked as International Youth Day.
In South Sudan, where some 70 per cent of the population is estimated to be under 30 years of age, Youth Day is especially significant.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), therefore, partnered with the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the South Sudan Multi-Partner Trust Fund for Reconciliation, Stabilization, and Resilience (RSRTF) to host a youth forum attended by some 500 people in Central Equatoria’s Yei River county.
Frank discussions on leveraging peace and security as a platform for a more prosperous, developed South Sudan and the critical role played by youth in galvanizing positive social change were the order of the day.
“We have spent our past looking at what divides us,” said Daniel Ohide, Principal, Emmanuel Christian College in Yei. “As concerned citizens we must accept our differences and embrace the rich tapestry of languages, culture and opinions if we are to shape a better future for every community member,” he added. “This is even more important for our youth who have a massive role to play in the country’s socioeconomic development.”
Mr Ohide was addressing participants on the importance of self-identity and urged all to find a common purpose given that South Sudan is at a critical point in its history with elections slated for next year.
“At a time like this, all South Sudanese have important choices to make. These choices will determine our national identity for years to come. So, I encourage all youth and everybody in the community to forget ethnic divisions,” he stated.
Similar sentiments were echoed by the Commissioner of Yei River County, Aggrey Cyrus Kanyikwa.
“The diversity of the South Sudanese people is the very characteristic that should make us strong. We must all work together for peace under one flag as one people, one nation,” he exhorted.
For Ezbon Gali, the county’s Deputy Executive Director, the time is ripe for South Sudanese to forget past traumas and embrace a conflict-free, development-focused approach.
“Everybody deserves peace. But peace comes with the spirit of compromise. We must accept past wounds to start the healing process, never indulge in hate speech and ensure we do our part as community members to chart a new course for South Sudan where the rights of every citizen are upheld,” he stated.
All participants agreed that young people must be heard and included in taking decisions on issues that impact them directly.
“It is incumbent upon our leaders to ensure that youth are empowered through education, economic opportunities and trained to develop robust leadership capabilities,” said Retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Yei, Hillary Adeba.
Speaking at the same event, James Mugo Muriithi, the UN Peacekeeping mission’s Civil Affairs Team Leader in Yei, said that UNMISS would do all it could to advocate for young South Sudanese to be fully included in the political and civic space of their country.
“Young people are change agents. Their ability to transform societies is well documented as is the incredibly important role they play in building peace. UNMISS will continue to lobby for youth engagement in politics and decision-making,” he averred.
Another topic examined at the event was the role of youth in battling climate shocks.
“Yei used to be a breadbasket of South Sudan,” revealed Bishop Adeba.
“But today’s unpredictable climate has led to a situation where temperatures continue to rise, and seasons are hard to predict. This has impacted crop yields in our country. I urge every young person attending this dialogue to adopt a climate conscious approach to life—plant trees, use less plastic and do your part as individuals so that our country is protected from climate change. We have seen how floods have crippled community life in many parts of South Sudan. Every small step has a ripple effect in preserving a good environmental balance,” he explained passionately.
Johnson Poru, Chair of the county’s Youth Association, picked up on Bishop Adebe’s call for climate action, calling for government support so that young people can become ambassadors for a greener, cleaner country.
“We hope we will be able to enhance our capacities, with help from our leaders, to make sure we live and work sustainably, causing minimal harm to the environment,” stated the youth leader.
Women’s participation in public life was also a strong conversation point.
“In any society, women make up 50 per cent of the population and our needs and voices must be included in nation building,” said Winnie Juru Diana, another member of the Yei Youth Association.
“We are strong, courageous, and influential in our communities, whether in doing business, in conflict resolution, or in agriculture. If the government can tap into this strength, South Sudan will be more peaceful and resilient,” she concluded.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).