Emmanuel Jal will not give up on the people of Sudan. (Photo: Jairo Criollo)
On January 9, 2011, Southern Sudan will vote on whether or not to secede from the North and become its own country.
The hope is that the referendum will bring peace and freedom to Southern Sudan; the fear is it will ignite another civil war.
Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier turned recording artist, is on the front lines of the fight for the people of Southern Sudan.
Having survived a civil war that claimed the lives of 2 million people, including his mother, Jal has turned to music, activism and raising funds to build schools for the war children of Sudan.
His global initiative, We Want Peace, is calling for the international community to help protect the country from another genocide. He has a new single, also titled “We Want Peace,” that includes appearances by peace advocates George Clooney and Alicia Keys. A teaser to the music video is below.
Jal talked to TakePart about the January vote: “We don’t want what happened in Rwanda to take place. We want the international community to put their eyes into the situation. What I always believe in is, A thief would not steal when people are screaming.“
If enough people are screaming, the thief will run away, Jal says.
He adds, “If we have more eyes into Sudan, its going to be hard for the government led by Omar al-Bashir to actually commit genocide.”
Al-Bashir is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court for three counts of genocide in Darfur.
As Jal says, the situation in Sudan is all about economics. In this case, 80 percent of the country’s oil is in the South, making secession, despite the vote, dangerous to achieve.
Jal (far left) at a refugee camp in Ethiopia before becoming a child soldier. (Photo: Susan Blond Inc)
People in the South are standing their ground, determined to vote for their freedom. When Jal was a child soldier, he could never have imagined such a vote taking place.
At 8 years old, Jal was armed with an AK-47 by the Sudan Peopleʼs Liberation Army and told to consider his family. His mother was killed and his aunt and sister were raped during the war.
For five years, he was a child soldier, witnessing more bloodshed than anyone, especially a child, ever should. He was rescued by “an angel,” British aid worker, Emma McCune.
He says, “I met Emma McCune on a journey where there were 400 young people mixed with others and only 16 survived. When I met Emma, I was really skinny and my AK-47 was longer than me.”
McCune smuggled Jal into Kenya and put him into school. Without her, he likely would not have survived.
In Kenya, Jal says he had a lot of bitterness. “I wanted to kill as many Muslims and Arabs as possible. When she took me in, I thought I was going to go to white people country, be a pilot, join the army or air force, steal a plane and come back to war.”
Jal being tutored by Emma McCune. (Photo: Susan Blond Inc.)
School changed that. He started to understand the economic forces behind the war in his country and how other people around the world were suffering too.
He learned about Ghandi and Martin Luther King and says, “When you have information and you are educated, it can help you with your healing process.”
Unfortunately, Emma McCune was killed in a car crash just six months after rescuing Jal.
Jal kept going with his education in Kenya and eventually found a way to heal through music. One of his songs is called “Emma,” and he is in the midst of raising funds with his charity, Gua Africa, for the Emma Academy, a school in Southern Sudan.
Jal came to the West and continued to make music. Today he has received worldwide acclaim for his unique style of hip hop with its message of peace and reconciliation born out of personal experiences. He also wrote a book, War Child: A Child Soldier’s Story, and tours the world telling his tale.
Jal performs at a concert celebrating Nelson Mandela. (Photo: Getty Images)
“What is so difficult for me is I can’t run away,” he says. Jal says if he does nothing, he’ll betray all those who were killed, his mother, his aunt and sister who were raped, and the 5- and 6-year-olds who had to bury their families.
“Sometimes when you are a survivor or a witness, you have the witness guilt. You know you cannot rest when you try to rest. That’s when it becomes difficult.”
Jal isn’t fighting back with guns or anger. He’s fighting with music, education and an outcry for peace.
Here is a teaser to his music video, “We Want Peace.”
Jal urges all of you to share the video and spread the word about the referendum on your Facebook, Twitter and Myspace pages. The song is available for download here.