Born to Love: Trained to Kill


Former Sudanese child-soldier opts to “Stand Up for Peace” Internationally-acclaimed…

Georgia (Mar 29, 2012)Former Sudanese child-soldier opts to “Stand Up for Peace”

Internationally-acclaimed hip-hop recording artist and peace activist Emmanuel Jal, a former child-soldier in one of Africa’s bloodiest civil wars, came to Kennesaw State University March 27 to participate in “Stand Up for Peace,” sponsored by KSU’s American Democracy Project and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The event includes an attempt to break the record for the world’s largest human peace sign on March 31.

             Accompanied by the guttural thump of African rhythms, Jal leapt catlike around the stage, his long dreadlocks flying, as images of war and famine flashed on a screen behind him. His sing-song rap told the mostly student audience how he survived nearly four years of forced conscription as a child-soldier, brutal close-combat battles and a desperate four-month trek to freedom that only a handful survived.

            "Left home at the age of seven, one year later I'm carryin’ a
 AK-47 by my side.

            Slept with one eye open wide. Duck down, play dead and hide.”

            Jal was a very young boy when war divided Sudan along tribal and religious lines in the 1980s.The seven-year-old watched helplessly as Muslim government soldiers raided his village in the rebellious Christian south and killed many in his family. Soon he was conscripted by therebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)and taken to military training camps where he was taught to kill people.

            “The training camps were terrible,” Jal said. “Some kids died during the training. Several times I wanted to run away but the thing that kept me there was the pain and bitterness of what happened in my village. I wanted to finish the training so I could kill as many Muslims as possible.”

            As the war intensified, more than 400 child-soldiers, including Jal, fled the battlefield for the relative safety of the desert. But only 16 survived the grueling four-month trek — many succumbing to starvation, dehydration and animal attacks. Near the end of his journey, Jal met Emma McCune, a British aid worker who adopted him and smuggled him to Kenya.           

“Emma McCune rescued more than 150 child-soldiers,” he said. “One of them happened to be me. It’s because of her that I’m here today. She’s an angel to me.”      

            But Jal’s story took yet another tragic turn when McCune died in an auto accident a few months later.

            He was 11 years old and alone in a foreign country.

            Some of McCune’s Kenyan friends found Jal and rescued him. Exposed for the first time to American hip-hop on Nairobi radio stations, Jal tried to ease his own anguish by singing his stories in a unique style that teeters between lilting spoken words and conventional rap. He became increasingly involved in making music and formed several groups. His first single, “All We Need Is Jesus,” was a hit in Kenya and received airplay in England.

            Jal has shared his message on three albums — Gua, Ceasefire and his signature work, WarChild, which he performed along with an all-star lineup of musicians for Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebration in London’s Hyde Park — and a book and documentary film, both titled “WarChild.”

            Despite his musical accomplishments, Jal's biggest passion is for Gua Africa, a charity he founded to build schools, called “Emma Academies” in honor of Emma McCune and provide scholarships for Sudanese war survivors.

            Jal ended his appearance as he often does, with a song for McCune.

            This one goes to Emma McCune. Angel to the rescue one afternoon.

            I'm here because you rescued me. I´m proud to be a part of your legacy

            What would I be? If Emma never rescued me?  What would I be?

            Another starving refugee?


Jal will perform at the “Stand Up for Peace” rally on March 31 from noon to 5:30 pm on the Campus Green.


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