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South Sudanese Artists Call for Peace in Song

  • Jill Craig

FILE - A government soldier mans a vehicle-mounted machine gun in the oil-rich town of Malakal, South Sudan.

FILE - A government soldier mans a vehicle-mounted machine gun in the oil-rich town of Malakal, South Sudan.

Dedicated to "all South Sudanese and the people who lost a family member in this useless war," a group of South Sudanese musicians, artists and activists recently released a song and music video called "Ana Taban." In Arabic, it means "I am tired."

Being tired of the fighting that has ravaged their country is the primary motivation for the initiative, says singer and peace activist Manasseh Mathiang.

"Nobody's benefiting. Every South Sudanese right now is suffering because of this war,” Mathiang said. “So this is the voice of the entire population of South Sudan. It's either we are dying of starvation, we are dying of disease, or we are dying of bullets. We are all tired."

The group, which includes musicians, painters, poets, actors and activists from South Sudan and Kenya, met last week at Kenya's Lake Elmentaita for a peace conference and created the song.

Additionally, Mathiang says members of the group created an action plan to be a force of change in society, since the song was only part of the long-term initiative.

They can't push their message from outside South Sudan, Mathiang says, so the artists have now returned to their home country to continue their campaign for peace.

Years of violence

In 2013, President Salva Kiir fired his vice president, Riek Machar, amid coup accusations. Fighting broke out in Juba that December, setting off violence throughout the country and causing Machar to leave Juba.

A peace agreement was signed in August 2015, but Machar did not return to Juba until April of this year. Then last month, renewed fighting killed some 300 people in Juba, and Machar left again, prompting Kiir to appoint a new vice president.

Many are hoping the current cease-fire will deter further conflict.

"Our artists have personally experienced it. Most of the artists that recorded this song were in Juba when this violence happened,” Mathiang said. “And even one of us had his band members killed in this ongoing violence."

FILE - A U.N. truck drives past displaced South Sudanese families resting in a camp for internally displaced people in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound in Tomping, Juba, July 11, 2016.

FILE - A U.N. truck drives past displaced South Sudanese families resting in a camp for internally displaced people in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound in Tomping, Juba, July 11, 2016.

On Friday, the East African bloc IGAD released a communique urging deployment of a regional protection force and said that South Sudan agreed to the proposal. Such a force was one of Machar's demands, although Kiir has previously come out against having additional foreign troops in the country.

The proposed protection force would complement the U.N. Mission in South Sudan and report to its commander.

Future efforts

Calling himself a "raptivist," Lual D'Awol is another musician who collaborated on the project. He refuses to share his tribal identity, saying he's a South Sudanese first and foremost.

"Because we're not politically affiliated to anyone, we're just singing from the citizens' point of view about what is going on in South Sudan, about what we need to change," D'Awol said.

The artists say they will organize community dialogues and media campaigns, and work to involve the youth of South Sudan in ending the people's suffering.

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