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Upper Nile community Explore National Identity as a Path to Peace

Internally displaced persons living at the protection of civilians’ site (PoC) in Malakal, South Sudan, presented their thoughts on using national identity as a path to peace at a consultative forum organized by the United Nations Mission In South Sudan Civil Affairs office.

What makes someone South Sudanese?

Can national identity help lead the country out of violent conflict towards reconciliation and peace?

These are the questions the community of the Upper Nile region of South Sudan are trying to answer with the support of the United Nations Mission of South Sudan (UNMISS) civil affairs team and the local UN field office.

The engagement so far has involved religious and traditional leaders, women and youth representatives, the local judiciary, peace and security council members and government officials getting together to grapple with the complex issue of national identity and how it might be a path towards peace.

Meetings have been held with internally displaced people living at the Protection of Civilians (POC) site as well as people living in Malakal town.

“I think national identity for me means oneness, sense of belonging and coexistence. For everyone, not just a few people,” said POC forum participant, Eliza Ayokier.

While Both Winy said it was about “the land, the people, the national anthem, unity – all these are signs of national identity.”

In South Sudan today, people commonly identify with tribal rather than national affiliations – a trend that has contributed to the ongoing civil war, which began in 2013. 

The conflict has included the targeting of individuals based on their tribal and political affiliations, with an ongoing battle for geographic and political control. This has caused millions of people to flee to neighbouring countries or displaced them within the country itself.

In the Upper Nile, many of those forced to flee are now living in the POC site. With this in mind, the UNMISS team in Malakal has initiated discussions designed to encourage the South Sudanese living in the region to identify with their nationality rather than solely their tribes. It is hoped this will encourage a sense of oneness and patriotism and rally individuals behind the goal of peace, prosperity and productivity for everyone.

Beyond Malakal, the team will deliver this messaging to other areas in the region.

“It’s where we are, how we live, who we are that creates our sense of identity. This is not about me telling you what national identity is, but you telling me what your national identity is,” Hazel Dewet, the Head of Field Office in Upper Nile, explained to the participants. “Really this is just the beginning of a discussion. It’s the beginning of a process that UNMISS would like to support over an extended period and it is my hope that we will find ways to extend this throughout Upper Nile.”

The chairperson of the county peace committee said: “We here in South Sudan and our 64 tribes, we are like a flower of many colours. We need to bring all these parts of the flower together as one and be proud of our heritage as South Sudanese. During the struggle in Sudan, we all identified as South Sudanese. We need to return to that identity.”