In Search of National Identity, South Sudan Promotes Local Creatives

An annual multicultural festival aims to thwart negative stereotypes about the recently independent nation.

Posted: 10/04/2013 02:30 PM EDT

South Sudan is looking to the catwalk and other creative outlets in hopes of boosting both national and international perceptions of one of Africa's least developed countries.

A 2005 peace accord ended the continent's longest-running civil war and ushered in moderate stability, but the South Sudanese still experience interethnic tension and clashes.

“There are still problems. Partly that’s because we don’t have a sense of common identity as South Sudanese,” Akuja de Garang, the mastermind behind the country's annual Festival for Fashion and Arts for Peace, told The New York Times.

Determined to fight the images of rebel fighters and malnourished children most commonly associated with her homeland, Garang launched this multicultural event to showcase fashion designers, models, drummers, dancers, singers, artists and rappers from across the country.

The United Nations provided air transportation to the capital for many of the festival participants, while the intergovernmental organization's education, science and culture subdivision, UNESCO, served as a sponsor.

“South Sudan has been at war for a very long time,” said Ellen Lekka, a culture specialist at Unesco who also spoke with The New York Times.

“Traditions that go from generation to generation might have been lost in the struggle for survival and migration.”

As The New York Times reports:

“We have a flag,” said Zacharia Diing Akol, director of training at the Sudd Institute, an independent research organization.

“We have a name for the country. We have a national anthem, symbolic items of national unity. But you have to go beyond that.”

With every tiny step, the country inches closer.

Last year, actors from the South Sudan Theater Company represented the country at the World Shakespeare Festival in London, performing “Cymbeline” in Juba Arabic.

In July, the president named the country’s soccer team the Bright Star as it beat a team of players from the diaspora 3-2 at the Juba soccer stadium.

Keep reading here.

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(Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

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