Last month, I had the honor of presenting my friend and talented musician Emmanuel Jal with a 2011 Common Ground Award at the annual Search for Common Ground awards ceremony, where he performed his hit song “We Want Peace” that brought the entire crowd to its feet.
In early 2010, the outlook for South Sudan looked bleak. Experts all over the world were predicting that an upcoming referendum for South Sudan's independence in January 2011 would turn into a bloodbath. But Emmanuel Jal refused to accept the inevitability of war.
He traveled all over the U.S. and around the world, performing his popular and infectious music, while campaigning for the international community to not turn its back at South Sudan's moment of greatest danger and opportunity. Emmanuel, along with thousands and thousands of activists, raised their voices for peace in South Sudan, and they were heard.
The newest country in the world was born in July of this year, and Emmanuel made a massive contribution to that birth. This is an extraordinary success story of conflict prevention in which common ground was actually found. Emmanuel paid a heavy price, having been recruited as a child soldier early in life and having seen things that no child should ever have to witness. But he continues to give his heart and soul to the ongoing peace efforts. There couldn't be a more deserving recipient of this Search for Common Ground award than Emmanuel Jal.
Photo: Emmanuel Jal and John Prendergast at the Search for Common Ground awards ceremony (Search for Common Ground)