Today the Great Lakes Friendship Games build the ties of tomorrow
Today kicks off the 6th edition of the Friendship Games, an annual sports, cultural and awareness-raising event aimed at promoting fraternity among youth from bordering countries of the Great Lakes Region of Africa. This year’s edition is being staged in Bugarama, Rwanda.
For three days, youth delegates come from the five youth centres supported by Peace and Sport in DR Congo, Burundi and Rwanda across the Rusizi plain, a region often affected by community tensions. More than 300 young people aged 10-18, who are members of these youth centres, will gather to take part in the event.
Initially due to take place from 7 to 9 August, the event, which aims to foster opportunities for exchange and cooperation through the values of sport, had to be postponed due to political and security concerns in the region. Indeed I am saddened to see that the situation has not improved.
Earlier this week Rwandan President Kagame, in his second term, condemned the killings and urged President Pierre Nkurunziza of neighbouring country Burundi, to learn from the past and not repeat the 1994 Rwandan genocide or the 1972 Burundi genocide. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein told the security council on Monday that over 200 people have already been reported dead and tens of thousands have left the country after months of violence and protests since President Nkurunziza declared he would seek a third term, which he succeeded in doing in a contested vote in July 2015.
Options are limited for the international community, with its reliance on Burundian soldiers to keep the peace in Somalia. Amisom, the African Union Mission in Somalia, the continent’s flagship peacekeeping operation, has sent a team from around the continent to fight against al-Shabaab and more than 5,000 of these are from Burundi. Some groups are trying to bring support and most are worried that the worst is yet to come.
Nonetheless, sport diplomacy, on a small scale, is playing its part in the region: the Friendship Games have gained support from the Ministries of Youth, Sport and Culture of the three countries, and the Games are organized by the National Olympic and Sports Committee of Rwanda in partnership with Peace and Sport, which offers technical support to the organization of the event as well as financial support.
I am proud to see the legacy of the youth centres illustrated through the Friendship Games, how the event has impacted youth in the region and how it has evolved. Looking back to 2010, the first edition of the Games was only a one day event. It has now become a three day gathering, has been hosted by all participating countries, brought together political will and addressed a local need. Below is the history of the Games:
– 2010: The 1st Burundi-Congolese Friendship Games, held in Rugombo, Cibitoke province (Burundi)
– 2011: The 2nd Burundi-Congolese Friendship Games, held in Luvungi, South-Kivu province (DRC)
– 2012: The 3rd edition of Great Lakes Friendship Games, held in Gihanga, Bubanza province (Burundi)
– 2013: The 4th edition of the Great Lakes Friendship Games took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo
– 2014: The 5th returned to Gihanga, Burundi. This latest edition stood out for the fact that for the first time, a Rwandan delegation from the Bugarama youth centre (Rusizi district) took part in the Games and it is they who are now hosting the 2015 edition.
In order to build on the success of the 2014 edition and develop cross-border partnerships, Guy-Emmanuel Girukwishaka, Gihanga centre director offered support and transferred his knowledge and the competencies gained in organizing the event the previous year with the Rwandan NOC. I am proud to see this cross-border collaboration and the development of local capacities.
Although the 6th edition marks the long journey we have taken together with our local partners, the youth centres and local governments, without whom it would not have been possible, our work will not end here.
The Games are a symbolic, punctual event, that in itself may not change the current situation directly. However, the work that is carried out on a weekly basis throughout the year in the 5 centres offers youth a space to take part in sporting, cultural and education-based activities all together, which contributes to the long term integration and socialization of youth in the region. For youth growing up in an environment that is hostile and where the future is uncertain, the programs run by the centre offers them a safe space during the week and a unique experience during the Games that forges a close bond between new friends from across the border. Step by step it is these young people who will contribute to maintaining peaceful cross-border ties in the region.
Now that the competencies within the centres, as well as in organizing the Games are present in all three countries, the key to ensuring the sustainability of these Great Lakes Friendship Games and the running of the youth centres is to renew partnerships and diversity their funding streams. For this, I call on all leaders of sporting bodies, political institutions and funders to continue to invest further in these actions in order to enable them to reach self-sustainability. The key is to diversify the sources of support needed locally so as to not create dependence. Everyone can play a part in building these ties for a peaceful tomorrow in the region.