Uniting cultures in South Sudan, celebrating diversity for dialogue and development

The conflict in South Sudan is still ongoing. After decades of struggle for liberation the country is once again in the middle of a devastating conflict. Many suggest that a key factor contributing to this is a lack of a deep collective identity or a shared sense of nationhood. The opportunity to become a nation comes partly from observing a shared history, culture, and identity. But also at the same time, by deepening the understanding of the values of cultural diversity and learning to live together with tolerance and harmony. Both political leaders and ordinary citizens recognize the importance of national unity and the equitable display and celebration of cultural diversity as a national asset. However, South Sudan’s cultural pluralism is badly managed as mentioned by Dr Jok Madut Jok, “most South Sudanese … assert that the most obvious impediment to national cohesion is exclusion from the national platform, especially exclusion along ethnic lines.”

With this backdrop, the World Day for Cultural Diversity was celebrated in Juba on the 21st of May 2015. It was celebrated in one of the locations were respect for cultural diversity and tolerance is already manifested; in one of Juba’s multiethnic schools where students with different cultural backgrounds coexist and interact. 

UNESCO in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports marked the day by supporting diversity with real and every day-life gestures. Together with the UNESCO Club in South Sudan and the Whitaker Foundation for Peace and Development, the youth of the Juba Day secondary school participated in interactive games based on UNESCO’s Education Activities publication on Dialogue of Cultures and Civilizations and the UNESCO Traveling Exhibition project. Objects and audio recordings that form part of the collection of the UNESCO Traveling Exhibition project became the basis of stories and games allowing the students to engage in an interactive dialogue.  School youth explored the diverse cultures of their country through folktales, music instruments, hunting spears, cooking pots, symbols, traditional practices and songs, and celebrate together their shared heritage. Deng, a student from Warrap state, drew symbols and objects similar to the ones he saw on display explaining traditional practices to his peers. Justine, a girl from Central Equatoria, organized a group of youth in a presentation of dances from four different states, all performed with the same enthusiasm.

Reaching out to a wider audience, radio Miraya’s Community Connect programme was dedicated to the celebration of the World Day and discussed issues related to cultural diversity but also its links to tribalism. Ellen Lekka, UNESCO Culture Programme Specialist together with Honorable Thomas Wani Kundu, Chairperson National Legislative Assembly’s Specialized Committee on Culture and Information discussed and received questions from the public. Mary Lokoyom, a listener from Juba, captured the essence of the day by saying that it is essential to respect and appreciate other cultures simply because no culture is superior to the other. She also explained how interaction of cultures provides a basis for development.

In 2014 UNESCO celebrated the World Day for Cultural Diversity in Torit, Eastern Equatoria. A large festival was set up with the participation of groups that traveled to the State capital to take part in the event. The idea of celebrating the diverse cultures has successfully become a locally owned tradition. This year it was celebrated once again, in spite of the overall context in South Sudan, as it is seen as a necessity for the community’s wellbeing and cohesion to be reminded of the importance of diversity as a driving asset for their own development.

UNESCO Juba is supporting the transformation of a young state into a nation in which the diversity is embraced and celebrated as an instrument for innovation and development. Through the projects implemented by the Culture Programme, including the National Archives, the Traveling Exhibition, the National Theatre and other initiatives building on the nexus of heritage and peacebuilding, UNESCO is contributing to creating a culture of peace and facilitating dialogue through what South Sudanese cherish the most, their culture.


Ellen Lekka// Culture Programme Specialist, UNESCO Juba – South Sudan

e.lekka(at) +211 928 061 247