Inter-university debate winners win more than a seat at the national level, get fully sponsored education

unmiss civic space civil liberties elections youth peace security south sudan constitution gender united nations un peacekeeping

Debate and discussion are key for a democracy to thrive. As part of country-wide efforts to promote civic engagement, especially by young South Sudanese, UNMISS is hosting university debates on vital issues that the world's newest nation is facing, such as widespread participation in drafting a permanent constitution; gender equality, especially when it comes to political participation, and, of course, ensuring informed voters can express their will freely in South Sudan's first post-independence elections slated for next December. Photo by Alahayi Nemaya/UNMISS

WESTERN BAHR EL GHAZAL – With the world’s youngest nation gearing to usher in its long delayed democratic transition through its first post-independence elections in December next year, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) continues to steer conversations which promote meaningful youth participation in democratic and constitutional governance.

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One such example: An inter-university debate where two teams of eloquent students attending the Bahr El Ghazal University and the St John College, Episcopal College, in Wau, argued motions on gender representation in the government; constitutional governance and the role of the UN Peacekeeping mission.

Anchored around three questions—should gender representation in the government be mandatory or voluntary; is UNMISS impartial in protecting civilians; and should South Sudan be a federal government—the forum aimed to provide a safe space to address contentious issues as well as develop critical thinking and tolerance for opposing views.

“These articulate debaters from both universities have provided relatable arguments on real issues that our country is going through,” stated Stephen Robo, state director for the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), a civil society outfit.

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Participants said they found the session timely and empowering.

“Debating with my peers has allowed me to express considered opinions on the kind of South Sudan we want to live in as young people,” explained Mariam Taban Dafalla, the top scorer for St. John College.

“We need such open platforms to discuss key peace and security issues without fear of reprisal,” she added.

Luke Aleu, a third-year medical student, from the University of Bahr El Ghazal, was graceful in defeat.

“The best team won,” he said with a wry smile. “They were able to convince panellists about their position on the topics discussed and they deserve victory,” he added.

For his part, Philip Abiel Nyok, the Principal of St. John College has gone the extra mile to reward the winning team by announcing that the team of four shall henceforth not have to pay for the rest of their education.

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“We made a promise as college administrators and are delighted to keep our word to our talented students,” stated Mr. Nyok.

The winning team will take part in the national inter-university debate in Juba.

UNMISS intends to hold more similar youth-focused events in the run up to elections.