AFRICANGLOBE – Emmanuel Jal knows something about war. At less than ten years old, as a brutal civil conflict raged in Sudan, his mother was killed and his sisters were raped by Arab militiamen. Taken from his family home, he was beaten, brainwashed and trained as a child soldier by rebels fighting for independence. It was years before he was able to make an epic escape across the country during which, exhausted and starving, he was adopted by a British aid worker.
Today Mr Jal is an acclaimed hip hop artist in the UK and a peace campaigner. Meanwhile his country has fallen back on hard times. He has lost much of his remaining family in the past two months to brutal fighting between government and rebel forces in newly independent South Sudan.
The soft-spoken musician, whose adoptive mother, Emma McCune, was married the rebel leader and former vice-president Riek Machar, says, “When Bentiu [a major city] was recaptured by the government this month my brother decided not to run. He stayed because he thought the government was going to come and make the situation better.”
That was a mistake. Mr Jal’s family are ethnic Nuers, whose rebel troops loyal to Mr Machar have been pitted against the mostly Dinka forces fighting with President Salva Kiir. When government soldiers captured his brother they held him at gunpoint and forced him to call his family.
Mr Jal is quietly resolved as he describes what happened next, “He called my small brother, and when he picked up the phone it was the soldiers who spoke. They told him: ‘We are going to kill your brother.’ So they shot him, while my other brother was on the phone, and then they told him, ‘Now we are looking for you’.”
The musician says he doesn’t know where his youngest brother, the recipient of the phone call, is now. His stepmother is also missing in Bentiu, suspected dead.
The capital of oil-producing Unity State, or what’s left of it, has been one of the bloodiest battlefields since Mr. Kiir accused Mr. Machar of attempting a coup on December 15th. Mr. Jal claims the ills inflicted now are worse than any he saw as a child. “Even in the civil war nothing like this was ever experienced; to burn down every house, everything. It is worse than what the Arabs have ever done.”
He blames the onset of fighting on government soldiers, who he claims drove the country over the edge with ethnic killings in Juba, the capital. Kang JJ, a music producer, is a survivor of one of the early attacks. During a Skype call from a Juban UN compound he says he was rounded up by government troops on the second day of fighting, beaten and held at gunpoint — but saved by local Dinka civilians. Next to him sits a man, he says, who he is the sole survivour of an army attack on 70 locals.
A fiery debate on who is to blame is in full swing. A Human Rights Watch report says that armed forces loyal to Mr. Kiir slaughtered hundreds of men in Juba between December 15th and 19th, but it says Dinka civilians were also targeted by rebel forces. International observers believe that each faction has been responsible for widespread rights violations and both are reportedly recruiting child soldiers once again.