KAMPALA, UGANDA - To celebrate the International Day of Peace, South Sudanese students studying at universities in Uganda are embracing their country's cultural diversity to foster peace rather than focusing on tribal differences that have torn apart South Sudan in a nearly four-year-long conflict.
The South Sudanese Students' Union in Uganda organized a festival in Kampala as part of a series of events marking the United Nation's International Day of Peace on September 21, whose theme this year is: "Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All."
Organizers said the event brought together South Sudanese communities and students in Uganda who have been divided along tribal and political lines.
Kampala International University student Apari Albino said political differences among South Sudanese leaders have strained relations between students in Uganda.
"You find there are students who belong to [former South Sudan Vice President] Riek [Machar], there are students who belong to [rebel Thomas] Cirilo, there are students for [South Sudan President] Salva Kiir. And that thing is the one that has brought the division among students, just because of that war," Albino said.
Ngor Joseph Akok, a South Sudanese student leader at Makerere University, said the festival promotes better understanding among different ethnic groups.
"The fact that I come from Bahr el Ghazal, my friend here comes from Equatoria can be ironed out when we come together in that cultural day and we say that we are South Sudanese, but our country is diverse in culture," Akok told South Sudan in Focus.
Tribalism and hate speech, often instigated by killings at home, appear to be entrenched among some students. Makerere University business school student Yanga Victor said student leaders must work hard to foster a culture of peace.
"They tell you usually, 'Me, I don't like this tribe, I don't like that tribe,' but we are trying to see how we can change them. By acting exemplary, we mix up as leaders, we interact together; we ensure that we bring communities [together]," Victor said.
Dance troupes from South Sudan's Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile and Equatoria regions participated in the cultural gala at St. Lawrence University in Kampala.
Student leader Martin Kaido said the festival was a chance for students who hail from different parts of South Sudan to get to know each other and build relationships.
"There are very many tribes around, but we united as one. You may know each other and it's like just bringing peace together and relationships so that as students, we should know the members we are dealing with," Kaido said.
Victor said along with holding peace-oriented activities, much more needs to be done to restore peace and harmony among South Sudanese.
"Most of them are traumatized, most of them are developing that tribal kind of affiliation. They feel that if you are not from this tribe, you are not part of them. But we said no, we need to come together as students," Victor said.
The United Nations General Assembly declared September 21 as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples. This year's theme honors the spirit of togetherness, a global initiative that promotes respect, safety and dignity for everyone forced to flee their homes in search of a better life.