AOL: A Former Child Soldier Fights to Save His Homeland

December 20th, 2010

AOL News

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Dec 20, 2010 – 1:20 PM

By Chris Epting

“My country is on the brink of war. On Jan. 9, Southern Sudan will vote for its independence to be free from a government who has slaughtered and displaced our people for 43 years. The time to prevent genocide is now.”

So explained Emmanuel Jal, a 21-year-old Sudanese musician and former child soldier, less than a month before people in his homeland will cast critical votes that will decide the future of Southern Sudan.

Looking at his early life, it’s easy to understand what inspires his attitudes.

Jal was born in the village of Tonj in Southern Sudan. Civil war broke out when he was a youngster, his mother was killed in battle and his father fought as part of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Jal fled to Ethiopia with many other “war children” in search of an education.

However, once he arrived he was recruited as a soldier and for five years he fought in the war until returning to his home in the Sudan. At 11, Jal was adopted and smuggled to Kenya where his studies were allowed to begin in earnest.

Soon, he’d be making music.

Jal, in an interview with AOL News, explained the current dire political situation. “Southern Sudan must become independent from the North. They are corrupt. They simply want control of all the oil in the South. They are vicious. Think of all the times in history that we could have prevented genocide but didn’t. Well now we have a little bit of time, a few weeks to realize what is happening and to make a difference.”

And making a difference he is. Last week, Jal launched a campaign in the form of a song and video called “We Want Peace.” The gloriously upbeat, infectious anthem features string arrangements by Peter Gabriel, who was immediately moved by Jal’s efforts.

“He loved the song,” Jal said with a laugh. “Can you imagine? A man of this magnitude getting involved. It was awesome. He became so involved. Obviously this is a cause he understands and cares about. He shows amazing conviction.”

Recently, Gabriel was quoted as saying, “I was enormously impressed meeting Emmanuel Jal. He is an extraordinary artist, led by the heart. A man on a mission who I am sure will eventually affect an enormous number of people in Africa at first, and then around the world. I felt I was meeting a man with the potential of a young Bob Marley. There is a generosity and compassion in his approach to the world that is an inspiration to me, and I am sure will be to many others.”

Once the song was recorded, Gabriel’s daughter, Anna, got involved and ended up directing the promotional video. The piece features myriad high-profile supporters, including George Clooney (who recently visited Southern Sudan), Alicia Keys, Richard Branson, Kofi Annan, former President Jimmy Carter and Anna’s father.

The “We Want Peace” campaign is designed to act as a catalyst, providing opportunities for organizations to get involved with the campaign at varying levels. For instance, they can post links to the song and even arrange live performances by Jal at targeted, high-profile events.

To date, Emmanuel has released three studio albums: “Gua,” “Ceasefire” and “Warchild.” His music can also be heard alongside Coldplay, Gorillaz and Radiohead on the fundraising “Warchild — Help a Day in the Life” album, in the National Geographic documentary “God Grew Tired of Us” and in the feature film “Blood Diamonds” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. He is also featured on “John Lennon’s Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur,” along with U2, REM and Lenny Kravitz.

Jal has also performed many notable live shows, including Live 8 and Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday concert.

As well, he founded Gua Africa, a charity that allows him to work with individuals, families and communities to help them overcome the effects of war and poverty.

But today, he says passionately and fervently that his primary goal is to create awareness through the “We Want Peace” campaign.

“The idea of the song and video is to put light in the darkness. When you put light in the darkness, evil will not perform. When people become aware, people will pressure the government. We need to protect the innocent. We need to stop genocide. This is our moment. This is our movement.”

Watch Jal’s Music Video for We Want Peace Here