For years, the Horn of Africa has been plagued by conflict and tension. However, in recent months, the dark clouds over the region have begun to recede.
Importantly, Eritrea has been playing a positive role in contributing to the developments toward peace and cooperation that are unfolding across the region. The country’s principled stand and diplomatic efforts, after years of criticism, have actually been an important part of the unfolding peace.
Notably, recent weeks have seen athletic competitions take center stage in the region. For example, last month Eritrea hosted the Africa Cup cycling competition. Many countries from across Sub-Saharan Africa, including Ethiopia, participated in the historic competition. In addition, at the weekend, Eritrea’s youth national football team had an exhibition match in Asmara against South Sudan. These initiatives reflect how powerful a force sport can be for peace, cooperation, understanding, and friendship. Recognizing sport’s role in consolidating peace, Eritrea has used it to help establish a safe, cooperative,
peaceful neighborhood a fundamental pillar of Eritrea’s foreign policy.
The match between Eritrea and South Sudan last Sunday, which was broadcast live by Eri-TV, was rganized under the theme: “Football for Peace and Development”. Thousands of football lovers attended the match in Asmara, while many more around the world watched it on television. In Juba, Eritreans and South Sudanese fans watched the match together. In many ways, the score did not matter as much as the spirit of friendship and camaraderie.
During the match, the young players were not only kicking the ball to score. Rather, they were kicking away conflict and mistrust. They were removing the historical stumbling blocks that divided the Horn. This was a match of friendship and a match for change. The teams not only played to win, but to help ease the historical pains of the region Asmara Stadium was filled with excited spectators. They proudly cheered on the players (including the opponents) and demonstrated their high level of discipline and ethics. Beyond being a venue of competition, the stadium became a platform for interaction between two countries that have strived and sacrificed a lot for liberty and justice.
Sport’s contribution to a wide range of ideals, such as intercultural understanding, trust, reconciliation, and cooperation, is great. Over the years, there have been many examples of sport helping promote peace and development. Let alone for the people of Eritrea and South Sudan, who are tied by common history and culture, sport has the power to bring together warring parties. Sport can help decrease prejudice and it creates the potential for important interactions (things which traditional politics often fail to do). Sport encourages tolerance and the acceptance of difference. Sport is an effective counter to suspicion and xenophobia. It’s a lubricant that greases relations.
In addition to the recent political and diplomatic measures, the friendly match between Eritrea and South Sudan should be seen as an important contribution to peace, understanding, and cooperation in the region. Eritrea is committed to utilizing all means –including sport – to achieve peace and cooperation.
Sport can have a positive impact on youth development and it can strengthen ties between different communities. Sport as a means for development and peace has been recognized by government and nongovernment actors. It can erect a bridge of unity and tolerance where previously there was only a chasm of hate and difference.
Sport can also contribute to development, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs can only be achieved by eliminating all forms of insecurity and if governments around the world ensure lasting peace.
With sport contributing to eliminating insecurity and ensuring peace, it follows that it can contribute to development. While many regard it as simple fun and games, it is more appropriate to suggest that sport plays an important role in society. Of course, fun and entertainment are important, as well, and thus these aspects of sport should not be dismissed.
Sport, like music, is universal. The rules are the same everywhere and often easy to understand. Music has often been described as a universal language enjoyed by people around the world, despite their various differences. Similarly, sport has the power to bring people together regardless of their national, religious, or other differences.
The powerful winds of peace are blowing across the Horn of Africa. Many hurdles have been overcome largely due to the efforts and resilience of the leaders and the people of the region. However, goodwill or good intentions alone cannot erase the many deep-rooted problems of the region. To bring about sustainable peace, we need to chart programs, strategies, and policies. Considerable work is still required. In this context, sport can help peace and cooperation to take root and flourish in the Horn of Africa. Sport, in many ways, is diplomacy by other means. It clears the way for sustainable peace and delegates the process of peace building to the people.
Returning to the football match, the official result is hardly what mattered. The most important thing is that the two countries were able to come together and bring a smile to the faces of their people. However, the match certainly was entertaining. Both teams showed great promise and players from both sides demonstrated great potential. The physical fitness of the South Sudanese team was neutralized by the speed, individual skills, and teamwork of the Eritrean team. Eritrea won the match 3-0, scoring some impressive goals. The first and third, in particular, were breathtaking. Although the South Sudanese attackers were talented, they had a difficult time breaking Eritrea’s defense. Regardless of the final score, both teams shared the spoils.