Sudan

Former child soldier Emmanuel Jal is now a hip hop star with a message of peace

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/2008/Marin
Emmanuel Jal performs during a panel discussion on children affected by conflict at the United Nations headquarters in New York, on 15 July 2008.

By Ticiana Maloney and Elizabeth Njinga

NEW YORK, USA, 25 August 2008 – Over a decade has passed since Sudanese hip hop star Emmanuel Jal was a child soldier. He survived to tell his story and is now an acclaimed international musician with a message of peace.

“Each album of mine always has a theme,” he says. “'War Child' is about my story, my experience, what I have seen from the war and what I want to change. I want to make a difference.”

When Emmanuel was seven years old, he was recruited by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. He was one of thousands of children forcibly conscripted by the fighting forces. Many of those children did not survive.

Emmanuel, however, was lucky. When he was 13, he met an aid worker who took him to Kenya, where he was enrolled in school and found his way to a new life. “I was educated,” he recalls. “It happened that I was helped.”

Advocate for peace and reconciliation

For Emmanuel, education was the invitation to expand his identity, not trade it for a new one. “I feel a responsibility. I was once one of them and I know a lot of child soldiers in the same position,” he says.

UNICEF Image
© 2008/Cary Hammond
In his newest album, 'War Child', Emmanuel Jal uses hip hop to spread a message of peace and reconciliation.

Emmanuel has a profound understanding of the conditions that led to his becoming a child soldier and he is determined to use his own skills and talent to share his experiences with the world. He uses hip hop to spread a powerful message of peace and reconciliation.

“I survived to tell a story,” he says. “I tell my story through the music. I want to inspire people.”

Worldwide acclaim

Emmanuel’s message has been broadcast on a wide variety of outlets, including CNN and MTV. A documentary about Emmanuel called 'War Child' recently won the Cadillac Audience Award at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival. His autobiography is due to be published by St. Martin’s press in 2009.

Today, Emmanuel divides his time between London and Nairobi, but he has not forgotten his native Sudan.

While still living full-time in Kenya, he founded the non-profit organization Gua Africa, which is dedicated to educating children affected by war and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Its main aim is to build a school in Leer, Southern Sudan, where Emmanuel is from, and which has the highest number of child soldiers in the area.

The word 'gua' means 'peace' in Nuer, a language of Sudan.

Kyria Abrahams contributed to this story from New York.


 

 

Audio

13 August 2008: Acclaimed musician Emmanuel Jal talks about growing up as a child soldier in Sudan – and about the power of hip hop.
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