South Sudan ends year with long-awaited EAC games: what does it mean?

South Sudan ends year with long-awaited EAC games: what does it mean?
Three Speakers of the national parliaments of South Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya meet during the launch of the EAC Inter-parliamentary Games in South Sudan, Juba (Courtesy Photo).

South Sudan overcame a lengthy huddle by successfully hosting the 12th edition of the East African Community (EAC) inter-parliamentary games.

Juba made amends after missing out on the hosting rights in 2018, two years after she joined the East African Community.

Over 800 parliamentarians from other EAC member states participated in various sporting activities alongside South Sudan’s Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA).

Football, volleyball, athletics, the tug-of-war walk race, golf, basketball, and darts are some of the sports disciplines.

The tournament, which lasted for one week, was conducted under the slogan “widening, deepening, and tightening EAC integration through raising visibility for its citizens through sports,”

The participating EAC member states included Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and the host country, South Sudan, although DR Congo missed out on the competition.

Despite facing question marks over her preparedness for the games, South Sudan surmounted the doubts and prepared a smoothly-run string of games.

The TNLA’s preparation team nearly came to a halt when the Juba Stadium, which had previously been reserved for games, proved too difficult to obtain.It was a push and pull that saw the South Sudan Football Association (SSFA) exchange bitter words with the lawmakers who were organising the tournament.

At the end of it, Buluk Playground was used for football, athletics, and the tug-of-war walk race, while the Juba basketball court and Nimra Talata volleyball and handball courts were used for other sports activities.

What it the milestone means

But even after the inter-parliamentary games came to a smooth end and achieved their purpose, it was the impact of hosting the tournament that gave South Sudan something to brag about. Thus, 2022 may have been a gracious year for the youngest nation. Just what did it mean to host these games?

Paul Yoane Bonju, MP at TNLA and head of the Media and Publicity Committee for the EAC competition, says the occasion allowed legislators from other nations to witness the development South Sudan has made since gaining independence in 2011.

“This event washed out the narrative of associating South Sudan with violence,” Bonju told The City Review.

Bonju’s observation had been captured by Kenya’s National Assembly Speaker, Moses Masika Wetang’ula, who said in his speech at Freedom Hall when they arrived in Juba that hosting the game would provide South Sudan with investment opportunities.

“Coming to Juba to participate in these games is like coming home for many of us because we all know that the Republic of South Sudan was born in this region, and today we are seeing something different than what we used to hear when we were in our places,” he said.

Invoking himself as an example, he urged parliamentarians to serve as peace ambassadors for South Sudan when they return to their own nations.

The event, according to the Kenyan speaker, was symbolic and intended to show thanks for South Sudan’s recent progress toward peace.

“South Sudan to hold an event of this scale in terms of sports is a very telling message that the country has matured.”

Peter Ogwang, the minister of education and sports for Uganda, also expressed his gratitude to the officials for holding the competitions equitably.

“I want to express my gratitude to the officials in particular for overseeing the professional games. I have never before witnessed such officiating during an inter-parliamentary game.”

“In Tanzania the previous year, there were problems with the officiating, but this year, starting with South Sudan, the host nation, it was amazing, and even a mistake is an error, so nobody should be offended,” he continued.

He said that South Sudan is quiet and that the current circumstances have allayed his concerns, particularly those related to security.

“The most important thing was that before I came here, I was afraid of what was in South Sudan.” “Specifically in Juba in terms of security, but today I will be leaving South Sudan as an ambassador to say that the country is peaceful and full of loving people,” he said.

According to the TNLA Speaker, Jemma Nunu Kumba, the games gave nations the chance to learn from one another and exchange examples of cooperation, particularly in terms of the growth of the nation and the region.

“By bringing regional parliamentarians together, the games give us the opportunity to know, learn, and recognise each other’s problems, as well as appreciate each other’s points of view and achievements. It also enables our politicians to appreciate how valuable we would be to each other in an increasingly integrated East Africa Community,” she said.

EAC inter-parliamentary games were introduced in 2001 during the inauguration of the regional assembly in Arusha, Tanzania.

It started with only one football match, but in the following years, it witnessed several bilateral games between EALA and the National Assemblies. Other games were added in 2009, at the fourth forum of speakers, when it was agreed to have the inter-parliamentary games as an annual and rotating tournament.

Basically, it was intended to promote regional diplomacy and sensitization of citizens by members and staff of various parliaments across the region.

The games take place at the end of each year, and the hosting is rotated. Last year, they were held in Arusha, Tanzania, and South Sudan’s parliament participated for the first time.