The Nation (Nairobi)

2 July 2011

Kenya: Southern Sudan's Shining Stars Usher in a New Era

After lowering the Sudanese flag, the Republic of South Sudan raises its flag during its independence celebrations. ( Resource: South Sudan Raises Its Flag

Nairobi — How some things change. The boys who used to cause untold suffering to millions in the early 90's as child soldiers are now the ones who are helping curve a new direction for South Sudan.

They put down their guns, which dwarfed them back in the day and forced millions to flee their homes before they too took off to save their own lives.

Both the victim and the aggressor went on to become major celebrities across the world and now traverse the world preaching peace.

And come July 9, they will witness the rise of a nation many never thought would gain independence after decades of civil war.

Among the boys who left home to escape a pillaged Sudan and went on to become ambassadors of peace are renowned UK-based musician and peace activist Emmanuel Jal and UN-HABITAT Messenger of Truth representative of South Sudan Lam Tungwar, who is also an artiste and a businessman who has since returned home from Kenya and is based in Juba.

Survived war

Lam and Jal lead hundreds of former child-soldiers, whom after fighting for many years in the bush, survived the war and became refugees in both Kenya and Uganda.

As they celebrate the birth of the nation they fought so hard for, they also celebrate the fact that they were able to put their guns down, and made the bold move of picking up microphones to spread the message of peace, through music and poetry.

For the past six years, they have worked with lots of artistes in and out of South Sudan, and created a successful showbiz industry.

While in the UK, Jal has been spreading word about South Sudan through his music and motivational speaking, putting the country on the international map.

With his Gua Africa Initiative, he has been trying to get well-wishers lend a helping hand to the people in South Sudan, by organising concerts in universities and other institutions.

His latest song 'We want Peace' has featured international stars like Alicia Keys, Peter Gabriel and George Clooney.

Jal also performed at the Nelson Mandela birthday party in London two years ago, alongside other international stars.

Back home in South Sudan, Lam has created a showbiz industry from scratch, with the help of other Sudanese artistes.

As the chairman of South Sudanese Artistes Association (SSAA), he has constantly organised different events to suit different youths.

Miss Malaika

Besides music South Sudanese have also embraced beauty pageants and fashion shows.

The annual Miss Malaika South Sudan, organised by SSAA, makes sure that they are on the international platform as far as modelling is concerned with dreams of following in the footprints of Alek Wek.

In fact, some of the former winners in this pageant have participated in international contests.

Last year, Atong de Mach, who was the winner in Miss Malaika 2009, represented the country in the Miss Earth beauty pageant, held in Vietnam.

"We are proud that within a very short time our showbiz industry has grown so fast. We are going to use it to reach out to the people world wide," says Jal.

The government

Lam thanks the government of South Sudan for recognising the efforts of the youth.

"We have not done it alone, the government, just by believing in us, has come in handy," he says.

And lots of artistes have come forward to put the industry together. Among them is Manase Mathiang, who has now started an events management and marketing company in South Sudan.

Musician Nyapal Lul, who has had thousands of hits on YouTube through her music videos, has also put South Sudan's showbiz industry on the map.

Other big artistes moving the South Sudanese industry include Yezeh Giel, Coozos Clan, Dinka Boyz, PNC, Yolks, Dogg G, Freedom Boyz, Unique Arafat, Kang JJ, Gordon Kong and JKP.

In radio, Maal Maker is among the most listened to presenters as far as the youths are concerned in his shows on Miraya FM.

However, their television and movie industry is growing at a very slow pace and other than cable television, they only have one local station, the South Sudanese Television (SSTV).

"My worry now is the expectations of the people, now that we have independence," observes Lam. Jal echoes his comments. "I think this is the beginning of building a nation and all it's sectors," says Jal.

Rest of East Africa

Industry players believe that in the next five years, South Sudanese showbiz industry will be on the same level with the rest of East Africa.

Among South Sudan's most famous children are NBA's Chicago Bulls star Luol Deng and fashion super model Alek Wek who use their celebrity status to preach peace and help their fellow citizens.

Deng has been noted for his work on behalf of the Lost Boys of Sudan and other refugees. He is also a spokesperson for the World Food Programme.

As for Wek, she is a member of the US Committee for Refugees' Advisory Council and helps raise awareness about the situation in Sudan, as well as the plight of refugees worldwide.

She is a missionary for World Vision, an organisation which combats AIDS, an ambassador for Doctors Without Borders in Sudan, and devotes time to UNICEF.

In 2007, she released an autobiography, entitled Alek: From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel, documenting her journey from a childhood of poverty in Sudan to the catwalks of Europe.

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