Emmanuel Jal: A Peace Soldier Beating a Drum of War in South Sudan

Posted: May 18, 2015 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Commentary, Contributing Writers, Featured Articles

South Sudanese Musician Emmanuel Jal: “Peace Maker or Hate Speaker”

By Buk Arop, Edmonton, Canada

South sudanese muscian Emmanuel Jal: a warchild?

South Sudanese musician Emmanuel Jal: a war child?

May 18, 2015 (SSB)  —-  Emmanuel Jal is a self-proclaimed peace soldier beating South Sudanese war drums. While he is collecting peace awards in the West, he is effectively contributing to tearing South Sudan into pieces by preaching tribalism in South Sudan. Armed with celebrity status, his messages can have far-reaching impacts on the ongoing civil war in South Sudan. Acknowledging and amplifying the loss of civilian lives of one tribe in the conflict while turning a blind eye to the loss of civilian lives of another because of our political or tribal allegiance is an incitement of tribalism and subsequent violence; Jal is implicated in such malicious, cock-eyed shenanigans. This act is detrimental to society and only serves his shortsighted personal interests. I think it is a matter of time before Western media and institutions that are captivated by his story see the gap between his ferocious stance on South Sudanese conflict and his peace activist’s persona. One can only hope that Jal’s confidants are not blind to the fact that he is en route to self-destruct and needs to change course.

I became an instant fan of Jal in 2009 after listening to his TED Talk presentation entitled ‘The Music of a War Child’ in which he speaks of how his experiences made him hate all Muslims and Arabs. He later came to a realization that the war was driven by elites who use religion to control power for economic exploitation purposes and not by the Muslims and Arabs as he initially perceived it. Likewise, I am hopeful that Jal will one day come to a realization that that tribalism is not the epicenter of the current South Sudanese Civil War, but power and greed –that tribes are being used as political pawns. I became an instant fan because some aspects of his story resonated with mine. Like most lost boys, being born in a war era was a curse that robbed me of a normal childhood. My experiences include being conscripted as a child soldier in Pinyudo Refugee Camp in Ethiopia where I spent 4 years and another 8 years in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, before finding tranquility in Canada 15 years ago. My first encounter with Jal was in August of 2013 when he was brought to Edmonton by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights as a Keynote Speaker for their Global Youth Assembly. South Sudan Development Foundation coordinated with Gatwitch Records and the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights in hiring him to headline an event which was intended to raise funds for shipping textbooks to the Upper Nile University in Malakal, South Sudan. The fundraiser was unfortunately unsuccessful due to poor attendance; it was a big setback for South Sudan Development Foundation to say the least.

Any conscionable South Sudanese would attest to the cold fact that tribalism is a venomous element that is front and center in every aspect of South Sundanese life – including social, political and professional. One of my high school teachers in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Mr. Martino Atem Kunjok, once referred to tribalism as “South Sundanese HIV/AIDS” in one of his lectures. He made this reference at a time when the HIV/AIDS epidemic was unmercifully ripping families apart in East Africa. Almost every student in that classroom felt the validity of the comparison; we all wished that was not the case. Unfortunately, the unnerving realities of our experiences of tribal clashes in Kakuma Refugee Camp (i.e. Bor vs. Bahr el Ghazal; Dinka vs. Nuer) measure up to this epidemic beast. In a nutshell, tribalism is a volatile aspect of South Sudanese social fiber –hence, those who want to advance their political or personal interests often tap into it shamelessly. It is disgraceful enough that our politicians are culprits of this vindictive practice, and absolutely unacceptable for an internationally renowned peace activist like Jal – to be worsening epidemic of violence and divisiveness. In this context, I think Jal should be challenged by any peace loving individuals from any corner of the World.

I thought highly of Jal up until he unleashed the tribal monster in him in the ensuing months after the former Vice President (now rebel leader) was removed from his elected office in July 2013 by President Salva Kiir. In one of his Facebook posts in August 2013, Jal wrote: “The Current Government in South Sudan is promoting tribalism First class citizen is a Dinka second class citizen is Nuer (naath) 3rd class is any other tribe.” Clearly, this claim has no basis –it is absolutely has not roots in South Sudanese polity. Jal’s intention on such claims is to instigate tribalism. His incitement of tribalism and violence peaked in December 2013 when he posted graphic images of dead bodies from atrocities committed in other African countries on social media and attempting to make them pass for evidence of the government’s atrocities against Nuer in Juba, South Sudan. Emmanuel eventually bowed to pressure of the public outcry – he deleted the post, apologized and stated that he will be more careful in the future about posting unverified material. Jal subsequently deleted the apology as well – for reasons only known to him. One can argue that it is honorable of him to have retracted the post and issued an apology; after all we are human beings and susceptible to making honest mistakes. Unfortunately this delinquency was not an isolated incident, but part of his explicit tribal and partisan propaganda illustrated by his peculiar statements in mainstream and social media that are inconsistent with political realities in South Sudan.

Given that things are often misconstrued and/or taken out of context on social media, I had not challenged Jal on all his distortion of facts in relation to South Sudanese conflict on social media since he went on a roll. A vast majority of individuals who had challenged him on Facebook had generally done so with a strong sense of anger; as a result, their key message was generally buried as it was overshadowed by the negative tone that came across as personal, partisan or tribal. I can see how Emmanuel Jal can easily dismiss these individuals as his haters. So I held back from challenging him on Facebook because I didn’t want my constructive critique to be misconstrued –after all I am his fan!

My second and most recent encounter with Jal was in March 2015, when he was in Edmonton as part of ‘This is Our Canada’ Alberta Tour organized by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. In this most recent encounter, having become fully aware of Jal’s rigid one-sided view on South Sudanese politics, I was at first hesitant to engage on South Sudanese politics with him and so I kept redirecting our conversation to topics unrelated to South Sudanese politics, but Jal persistently kept looping back to South Sudanese politics. I eventually decided to accept the challenge in the hope that the face-to-face dialogue may be somewhat productive in contrast to social media setting. As we engaged in discussing South Sudanese politics, I pointed out the gap between his peace activist’s persona vis-à-vis his incitement of tribalism in South Sudan.

I went on to offer Jal friendly advice to live up to his peace activist’s image when addressing South Sudanese political issues. I pleaded with him to use his influence for the greater societal good –that his messages have the potential to take or save lives and that he needs to be responsible about what he says in the media. I emphasized that he should choose to be the voice of reason for the voiceless South Sudanese facing despicable political atrocities in South Sudan. I reminded him that he should choose to be on the side of peace –that he should be on the side of innocent civilians that are paying the ultimate price irrespective of their tribal backgrounds. I also spoke to Emmanuel about the fact that he is being referred to as a young Nelson Mandela. I think Jal should be inspired by Mandela’s legacy of fighting for freedom, justice and equality for all, reconciliation and forgiveness. On the contrary, Jal’s messages and public façade exemplifies an anathema of Mandela’s spirit and works.

It is unfortunate that Jal was generally dismissive to my counsel –he would smile and respond with bizarre tribal statements (that are not fit to be mentioned in this article) and kept telling me “you don’t get it”. I truly wish Jal was right on this assertion –that he is doing the right things that contribute to a peaceful South Sudan and that I am the one who is not getting it. Even though he was dismissive and obviously oblivious of the merit and good intentions of my advice and private constructive critique of his peace activist’s persona, I was still optimistic that Jal would go and think about our conversation and reconsider his destructive stance on South Sudanese polity. Unfortunately, he went on singing the same old songs in his interviews on 630 CHED and CBC Radio among other media outlets. I felt obligated to finally go public – hence my March 21, 2015 tweet: “Emmanuel Jal, a peace soldier beating South Sudanese war drums, is Ban Ki-moon aware?” I was making reference to the UN peace award presented to Jal by Ban Ki-moon in December 2013. Jal had also collected The Dresden Peace Prize, Mattie J. T. Stepanek Peacemaker Award, The Calgary Peace Prize and South Sudan Development Foundation’s Peacemaker recognition –which I personally presented to Emmanuel Jal in August 2013.

Minister Faust, a friend and host of MF Galaxy who was among those who had interviewed Jal while he was in Edmonton in March 2015, expressed an interest to interview me upon seeing my tweet about Emmanuel Jal, for which I am grateful. This was an opportunity to challenge some absurd claims that Jal had made in his interviews on MF Galaxy, 630 CHED and CBC Radio among others – not to mention on social media. You can access my interview as well as Jal’s with Minister Faust at http://ministerfaust.blogspot.ca/ . On the weekend before the interview was aired I posted the following tweet: “I responded to some of Emmanuel Jal’s claims about South Sudan on MF Galaxy, stay tuned for my interview with Minister Faust coming up on Monday!” And literally within seconds Emmanuel Jal responded with the following tweet: “Good luck with the interview the truth is out President has destroyed South Sudan the evidence is all over.” This was a typical one-sided Jal’s hypothesis that everything wrong about South Sudan is to be exclusively blamed on President Salva Kiir. In respond I tweeted: “Emmanuel Jal there’re evidences from neutral sources showing both Kiir & Machar have targeted civilians, why exclude Machar in your equation?” As I expected, our decorated peace activist had no answer to such a balanced question that holds both leaders accountable for atrocities committed against civilians by their respective forces (as noted by neutral sources such as the Amnesty International, Human Right Watch and United Nations among others).

It is very unfortunate that mainstream media in the West has the tendency of anointing individuals with celebrity status like Jal as experts and that any erroneous thing they say about any subject matter is packaged as the truth and sold to society. Hence, the West is misinformed and remains in the dark about the true nature of despicable atrocities in places like South Sudan! In this context, I applaud Minister Faust for the interview opportunity on MF Galaxy. I think it had set a new benchmark and so now there are potential other media outlets will take note and incorporate the voices of average citizens who speak the truth from a non-partisan and non-tribal perspective.

The dilemma is that the foreign media is wooed and blindfolded by Jal’s extraordinary story, so they are more emotional than rational when interviewing him –hence, there is zero fact-checking done on his claims. So, what baffles me is that South Sudanese journalists who are better equipped to see through Jal have not shown any interest in interviewing him to address questions such as why he deviates from his international peace advocate persona when it comes to South Sudanese polity. To the best of my knowledge, The Independent, a Juba-based newspaper, is the only South Sudanese media outlet that has challenged Jal’s peace activist’s image –the headline on the front page of its April 10, 2014 issue read “Peace Maker or Hate Speaker” and featured a photo of Jal being presented a peace award by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. In a nutshell, Jal is exploiting the emotional susceptibility of Western media and public apathy prevalent in South Sudan at the moment. Jal is also successfully exploiting the non-challenging nature of South Sudanese –so the Western media is not hearing any challenge to Jal’s fabrications.

In his interview on MF Galaxy, Jal talks of being considered a rebel and getting death threats from the Government of South Sudan for being an activist, for speaking out for freedom, justice and equality for all. First of all, those who are cognizant of South Sudanese politics and Jal’s talking points on South Sudan would attest to the fact that Jal doesn’t speak out for freedom, justice and equality for all as he claims –particularly on South Sudan. So this is simply laughable. Secondly, as I am obviously not a government spokesman, I am not going to comment on whether he is getting death threats or not. However, my hypothesis is that if Jal is indeed getting death threats from President Kiir’s government, it is more likely for his personal, partisan and tribal views such as: i) All the name calling he has unleashed on President Kiir (i.e. he has been making claims in the media that Kiir is possessed by demons, an alcoholic, a crackhead, a tribal leader etc.); ii) Highlighting the government’s killing of Nuer civilians while being willfully ignorant of the rebels’ killing of Dinka civilians; iii) His incitement of tribalism and violence through social media; iv) That President Kiir had united all the South Sudanese tribes and armies of neighboring countries to orchestrate an ethnic cleansing against Nuer; and v) That President Kiir sold a portion of South Sudan’s land to Brazil.

All these and many other claims by Jal are extremely speculative at best, or blatant and reckless fabrications with violent consequences. In his interview with Moses Mutabaruka in The African Perspective Magazine in February 2014, Jal addressed the question of being criticized for defending Dr. Riek Machar’s side by saying: “My mom is Dinka, my dad is Nuer, I have a child whose mom is Dinka, so why should I choose to hate one side and love one side?” Evidently, Jal had publicly chosen a side and I couldn’t have posed a better question than the one he had posed himself. So tell your country Jal, why choose a side when you have blood connection on either side? In response to whether he would speak out against Dr. Riek Machar, Jal said: “Yes of course, why would I keep quiet, because if he’s doing that and he’s killing other people and I keep quiet, that’s destroying the country because it’s not going to bring any peace.” Again, a self-incriminating statement because the reality is that Jal had not been speaking out against atrocities committed by rebel leader, Dr. Riek Machar; subsequently, he is destroying the country as he rightfully stated in his own words.

I don’t know of any South Sudanese who is not a political pundit –any South Sudanese social gathering (including weddings and funerals) of two or more individuals involves talking politics. So every South Sudanese has an opinion on any subject matter related to South Sudanese politics – which is captivating but sometimes debilitating when some individuals present their opinions as the gospel. Nevertheless, one can easily ignore such individuals in those “fifteen minutes of fame” small talk in social settings. What we as a society cannot afford to ignore are celebrities like Jal who are using their status to publicize their biased version of reality to the ignorant media that had anointed them. That is why I am challenging Jal to live up to his peace activist persona by acknowledging and preaching the truth.

The starting point for the truth is the various neutral sources out there –which have confirmed targeting of civilians by both parties to the conflict. In a 100 page report, Human Rights Watch stated that: “Government and SPLA/M-in Opposition forces have, together with allied forces, since December 2013 committed extraordinary acts of cruelty that amount to war crimes and in some cases potential crimes against humanity. These forces have pillaged and destroyed civilian property including homes, humanitarian infrastructure like the cars and offices of aid agencies, and medical facilities, including key hospitals. Both sides have ruthlessly targeted places of refuge, including churches, hospitals, and UN bases.” One would expect to hear a peace activist like Jal to echo such non-partisan message. Unfortunately, in the gospel according to Jal, President Kiir is the dictatorial crackhead alcoholic tribal leader possessed by demons who had united all the South Sudanese tribes and foreign armies to orchestrate an ethnic cleansing against Nuer; and the World is turning a blind eye.

For the record, I am still a fan of Jal. So hopefully this article is not misconstrued as a personal attack; I have nothing personal against him. What I am against is his distortion of facts which instigates tribalism and subsequent violence in South Sudan. As African wisdom puts it ‘a good friend is he/she who tells you on your that you wrong when you are’. Because it is from such audacious counsel that we grow into better individuals. I am skeptically hopeful that he can change and be on the right side of history. However, until Jal lives up to his peace activist’s persona, peace loving individuals (including friends and fans) have moral obligations to challenge him. I think it is reprehensible for noble organizations and institutions to be bestowing peace awards on Jal when even a cursory investigation into his claims would reveal the hollowness of his peace posturing. I can’t speak for other organizations from which Jal has collected peace awards. However, in my capacity as President of South Sudan Development Foundation, it is relevant to state in this article that I will be proposing to the board that the Peacemaker honor bestowed on Emmanuel Jal be revoked immediately.

In conclusion and last but evidently not least, I would like to see a scenario in which Jal is truly a peace activist who is tirelessly advocating for peace in South Sudan. He can use his celebrity status to establish a diplomatic working relationship with President Salva Kiir and the rebel leader Dr. Riek Machar; he could then diplomatically continue to consistently and persistently pressure both men to compromise and end the dreadful atrocities through a peacefully negotiated political settlement. By being a non-tribal, non-partisan peace activist that toils for no-violence resolution and the greater good of South Sudan, Jal could do peace concert tours in all the 10 states of South Sudan in collaboration with artists from various South Sudanese tribes. Such a robust peace activism would have a tangible impact in the pursuit of a prosperous, peaceful and democratic South Sudan. By embracing an action-oriented peace advocacy of this calibre, Jal would foster an atmosphere of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness among South Sudanese. In doing so, Jal would be contributing to the eradication of the “South Sudanese HIV/AIDS”. In achieving such a noble and monumental threshold, Jal would incontrovertibly be deserving of his current collection of peace awards, worthy of being compared to Nelson Mandela, and potentially a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Buk Arop is the President of South Sudan Development Foundation; you can reach him through his email: bukarop@gmail.com or on Twitter @bukarop

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made are the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. SSB do reserve the right to edit the material before publication. Please include your full name, email address and the country you are writing from.

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