Inter-university debate in pursuit of lasting peace draws 700 local participants

18 June 2016 – A rapid repartee and succession of words flowed through a packed auditorium to highlight whose responsibility it is to bring peace to South Sudan – the government, police, military, parliamentarians, ministers, international community and the people, just to name a few – as ten undergraduate students in Juba were stepping into an intellectually charged debate over whether or not peace is everyone’s responsibility.

The academic debate between Catholic University and the University of Juba, which took place at the Nyakuron Cultural Center on 18 June, was organized by these two local universities and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in an effort to create a safe space to promote the exchange of different ideas and to encourage everyone, especially youngsters, to listen, respect and unite in diversity.

Five students from the University of Juba, consisted of a freshman and four third- and fourth-year undergraduates, argued that peace is everyone’s responsibility while the other five second- and third-year undergraduates from Catholic University challenged this argument, claiming that a specific group of leaders should be responsible for peace.

Nearly 700 spectators – university students as well as attendees from the universities, religious institutions and UNMISS – participated in the event. In the core of the debate, moderated by John Ugolo, Head of UNMISS Juba Field Office, lay an argument over the various entities’ responsibilities.

Asking the audience how many of them went to Addis Ababa to sign South Sudan’s recent peace agreement, Sunday Mayor, captain of Catholic University’s debate club, said, “The answer is absolutely no, none of you went. The negotiation and signing of the peace agreement are done by our leaders, not everyone. Peace is not everyone’s responsibility.”

Mayor’s comments drew a sharp response from Taban Oliver, a proponent of the argument from the University of Juba. He said, “Our country is a constitutional democratic country, where leaders are elected and represented by their constituents. These leaders represent our interest and went to Addis Ababa,” making his case that peace is everyone’s responsibility.

Bith Abram Biar, the leader of the debate team from the University of Juba, also pointed out that stability, security, love, reconciliation, social cohesion, forgiveness, all of which account for peace, are the duties of all the people of South Sudan.

The proponents went on to insist that peace should also be the responsibility of entities like religious institutions, cultural groups, business associations, media outlets, education and research organizations. Meanwhile, the opponents responded that leaders of these entities should be responsible for peacebuilding.

In his remarks, Seth Kumi, Director of UNMISS Political Affairs Division, referred to the students who came to the debate as “the sunrise generation,” and encouraged them to see themselves as a potential. “The future of South Sudan lies on its sunrise generation. They have the talents and they have the energy. The debaters will prove that today,” Kumi said.

At the end of the debate, the audience cast their vote. According to the final polls, 328 attendees said that peace is everyone’s responsibility while 137 voted against it: The debaters from the University of Juba prevailed. However, the entrance polls that had been conducted earlier show that at the beginning, the University of Juba had been supported by 408 participants, which indicates that Catholic University managed to convince 80 of them to change their mind in the end.

The audience was basked in the lyrics of Maya Nemaya, a well-known South Sudanese singer, who came to sing in support of the students and premier his new song, “My people.”

Additionally, two peacekeepers from the UNMISS Japanese contingent, Lieutenant Yuji Koyama and Sergeant Ryuji Ichinohe, brought in Japanese traditional drums to demonstrate unity in diversity. The two drummers chanted back and forth with the rhythm, beating their drums with dizzying speed and precision, demonstrating unity of purpose.

The universal values of dialogue and respect for diversity prevailed at the Nyakuron Cultural Center on Saturday, and the UNMISS Communications and Public Information Section pledged to continue supporting local students, praising them for their high-quality arguments based on solid evidence and comparative analysis in pursuit of lasting peace in South Sudan. “This is not a place to be judgmental, not a place to be right or wrong. We will respect opponents and their different views,” said Birungi Machrine from the UNMISS Public Information team, who hosted the event.

Leave a Reply