Former child soldier talks about Sudan

(CNN) - ... Southern Sudan's official referendum results, due to be announced this Sunday, are likely to show an overwhelming majority in favor of separating from the predominantly Arab north. Jal, who once supported a unified Sudan, wrestled with his own decision about the vote.
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"You have a government that declared jihad against the people in Southern Sudan and has set up a system based on wrong foundations. A first-class citizen is a Muslim Arab and a second-class citizen is his wife, a third-class citizen is an African who has converted to Islam and a fourth-class citizen is his wife. A fifth-class citizen is a non-believer and a sixth class citizen is his wife.

"I voted for separation because I want to be a first-class citizen in my own country."

With Southern Sudan on the cusp of nationhood, China is now the focus of its hopes and Hong Kong's fabled Chungking Mansions, a labyrinth-like building in Kowloon filled with cheap guesthouses and mobile phone dealers, the perfect metaphor for the future of both Africa and China.

"The Chinese don't influence our politics," says Jal. "They don't comment on it, and what they want, they pay for -- sometimes double the amount. This tends to make all Africans happy -- from the dictators to the democrats," he adds wryly.

"There isn't a party in Africa that doesn't like them. Even if you're a rebel movement and you say to them you can secure gold, the Chinese will simply say they want to buy it.

"The only foreign policy advice I heard from China was when they said to Sudan, 'Don't go back to war.' That's all they said. They didn't push anything else."
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Solid advice for a country that has barely known peace throughout the 31-year-old rapper's life. Jal says he's too young to remember peace in Sudan.

"I saw my home burned down. At the age of 5 I saw my aunt raped in front of me. All my aunties died in the war, including my mum. All my uncles died in the war except two. I saw my mother beaten in front of me and racially abused," he says.

Eventually sent to Ethiopia ostensibly to be schooled -- a terrifying journey in which the ferry in which he was traveling capsized killing hundreds of other similarly displaced children -- Jal was soon recruited by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

"When I made it to Ethiopia, I was given the opportunity to train as a child soldier, and I didn't think twice," he says. "I wanted revenge for my family. I wanted to know who killed my mother."

Fighting in four major battles between the ages of 7 and 12, Jal's only true companion was an AK-47.
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Whether the referendum will bring lasting peace to Southern Sudan still remains to be seen and Jal says that while he voted for separation, it's too early to start celebrating.

The only way forward, he says, is through education. His Gua Africa charity -- a foundation which he established three years ago to help Sudanese communities overcome the effects of war and poverty -- has just completed its first school project; a labor of love in which the former child soldier vowed to eat just one meal a day until the project was completed.

"I don't know anywhere where the people are hungrier for education than South Sudan," he says.

Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/02/02/sudan.jal/index.html?hpt=C1