03.09.2018 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

First-ever National Youth Conference held in South Sudan

© Radio Miraya -  Participants of National Youth Conference

The first-ever National Youth Conference held in recent memory in South Sudan, bringing together over 200 youth from across the country was held in Juba from 29-30 August 2018 under the theme: Promotion of Youth Voices for Sustainable Peace and Development in South Sudan. The ground-breaking conference was organized under the leadership of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports and the National Youth Union with technical and financial support from UNESCO, UNFPA, United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and other development partners.

The conference served as an inaugural platform for youth to engage decision-makers and other stakeholders on important issues affecting young people who make up over 70% of South Sudan’s population.  A Youth Declaration adopted at the end of the conference attracted signatories from all participating youth. The Juba Declaration on Youth Civic Engagement and Participation calls on all relevant stakeholders, including but not limited to the government, the UN and development partners, to continue to support youth civic engagement and meaningful participation of youth in decision-making; strengthen vocational skills training for employment; and promote sports, arts and culture as mechanisms for building peace in the country among others. The Declaration was the first of its kind by the young people of South Sudan, in which they boldly expressed their concerns collectively and the need for youth to play a more central role in all activities.

“Countries cannot develop sustainably without their young people,” said Sardar Umar Alam, UNESCO’s Representative in South Sudan, in his remarks during a plenary discussion on the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063. “We need to support young people in skills development, quality education, protect their freedom of expression and promote a culture of peace for a prosperous future for South Sudan.”

South Sudan is the world’s newest nation and one of the youngest globally.  Born and raised in a country with protracted conflict, most are poor, unemployed and lack access to basic social services such as education and health. A gathering of youth at this scale, for engagement, inclusive of youth from all backgrounds, such as gender, geographical location, ethnicity and other relevant characteristics, has never taken place before in South Sudan.
 
UNFPA Country Representative Dr. Mary Otieno emphasized the importance of government and other stakeholders investing in youth, specifically in their health and education to enhance their future employability and expand opportunities for them to realize their full potential. She also urged the youth to claim their space in the peace process and nation-building. “You are 9.1 million strong,” she said, referring to the number of South Sudan’s population 30 years old and below. “If you speak with one voice, you can make the loudest noise and everyone will listen to you.”

The issues and concerns raised by the youth during the conference will help inform policymakers and development partners on how best to engage the young people of South Sudan. Throughout the deliberations, participants emphasized  that peace in South Sudan can only be  sustainably achieved with the full and active involvement of young people as they are the majority of the population. Furthermore, the youth stressed the importance of support for Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET), so that young South Sudanese can obtain much needed skills that would enable them secure employment, in order to support their livelihoods and those of their families.

The conference was officially opened by the Acting Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport and current Minister of General and Instruction, Deng Deng Hoc Yai, who noted the timeliness of the event and emphasized the government’s commitment to support engagement among the young people. The Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and UN Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, Alain Noudehou, in his opening remarks highlighted the significance of involving the youth in South Sudan’s search for lasting peace, hence the relevance of the conference.  Mr. Noudehou further called on the youth to take their responsibilities seriously, since “leadership,” he noted, “also comes with responsibilities.”
 
Other notable attendees/speakers included the Minister of Trade, Industry and East Africa Community Affairs, Moses Hassen; Undersecretary of Culture, Youth and Sports, Agum Rin; Ambassador of the African Union Mission in South Sudan, Joram Biswaro; UNFPA Representative in South Sudan, Mary Otieno; UNFPA Deputy Representative to South Sudan, Wilfred Ochan; UNESCO Eastern Africa Regional Advisor for Social and Human Sciences, Abdul Rahman Lamin; Members of Parliament; Embassy of Canada; and two youth leaders from Kenya and South Africa, Faith Manthi and Lennon Monyae, respectively.

The guest of honor at the closing ceremony, the Speaker of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly, Honorable Anthony Makana, made a commitment to work expeditiously with key stakeholders to develop a National Youth Development Act. While unexpected, the commitment came as a welcomed announcement.

The ground-breaking conference is only the first step of UNESCO’s efforts to support youth engagement in South Sudan.  UNESCO will continue to support South Sudan’s youth through the Youth Space Initiatives (YSI), an initiative supported by the MiSK Foundation, to create sustainable platforms and strengthen existing ones throughout the country. According to Lamin, in the coming weeks, UNESCO will formally launch the South Sudan YSI and embark on supporting a series of youth-led activities designed to build on the momentum coming out of the national conference.

UNESCO’s programmatic contributions to the conference was generously provided by UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences programme and UNESCO’s Capacity for Education Development (CapED) programme, which is supported by the governments of Sweden, Norway and Finland as well as Dubai Cares.




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