Former Child Soldier on a Mission to Promote Peace

December 3rd, 2010

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Wangui Maina

3 December 2010

As Southern Sudan prepares to hold a referendum that threatens to split Africa’s largest country, Emmanuel Jal, one of its sons, is using his talent to preach peace.

Displaying dye on his left hand index finger – an indication that he has registered to vote in the January 9 referendum – Jal said he was in Nairobi to organise a two-day youth conference followed by a music concert that will preach peace – under the Gatwich Festival banner.

The internationally acclaimed musician, author, and actor has brought together various young artistes, designers and authors to speak at the conference that is meant to turn youths into peace advocates.

Jal’s mission is to spread peace both in his home country and the continent. “As the youth, we need to rebrand Africa. We are using this platform to preach about peace, especially in Sudan, ahead of the vote and to empower the African youth,” he said at a press conference held at a Nairobi hotel during the Gatwich Festival launch.

Along with organising the festival, Jal has been in the country shooting a video of his new song, We Want Peace. The song, to be released on December 13, is part of a worldwide campaign calling on young people and leaders to support the upcoming referendum.

Southern Sudanese will vote in a referendum to decide if they will split from the north and form their own country. The poll will be the culmination of decades of a liberation struggle that resulted in two million deaths.

The referendum is part fulfilment of the 2005 peace agreement that was signed in Kenya and is considered a make or break event for the country.

As a young boy growing up in southern Sudan, Jal was separated from his family and ended up a child solder. Young men caught up in the conflict and displaced, just like him, are referred to as the “lost boys” of Southern Sudan. The name was coined by aid organisations who worked to resettle many of them in various countries of the West.

Jal’s struggles have been well documented in the international media, a documentary, a best seller book, and his music. The publicity of his struggles and survival as a child soldier has seen him perform in global concerts such as the Live 8 concert organised by Bob Geldof to raise awareness on global poverty, and the 4668 concert celebrating former South Africa president and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday.

This Saturday, Jal will headline the Gatwich Festival at Nairobi’s Makini School grounds along with other local artists including Juliani, Atemi, Harry Kimani, Abbi, Winyo, and Dan Chizi Aceda.

Also participating at the conference will be Ishmael Beah, a former Sierra Leone child solder who is a UNICEF advocate on children affected by war. Beah’s book, A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, is a New York Times best seller.

Kenya’s Jeffrey Kimathi who is behind Jamhuriwear, a fashion label that has dressed international stars, will also participate in the conference. Three documentaries; Togetherness Supreme, Cultures of Resistance, and Mr Jal’s Warchild will be showcased at the conference. Gatwich Festival is only one of the many events lined up this holiday season. The Nairobi National Museum will also this weekend host the Tandawaza festival that will feature dance, music and martial arts.

The event is part of recognising various talents in the country and will raise funds towards building a community hall in Huruma, Nairobi.”We want this even to grow to be an annual thing that will support various causes in the country,” said Priya Chana, one of the organisers.

Capoeira Masters will grace the event. Capoeira is an Afro-Brazillian art that combines elements of martial art, music, and dance which was created by African slaves.

Various artistes including Kaz, Eric Wainaina, Kanji, Kidum and Sauti Sol are expected to perform at the festival. To celebrate Jamhuri Day, Nairobi will also host the Kikwetu Festival at Impala grounds on Ngong Road. The event will bring together various artistes