George Clooney has been using his celebrity to bring attention to the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan for years. Along with his dad, newsman Nick Clooney, he filmed the 2008 TV special "A Journey to Darfur" and now Clooney has teamed with an international coalition of stars to star in a music video for the "We Want Peace" global initiative.
The effort, led by Sudanese hip-hop artist, activist and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal, benefits the Global Initiative for Sudan and also features cameos from Alicia Keys, Peter Gabriel, billionaire philanthropist Richard Branson, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former U.N. Secretary General and Nobel laureate Kofi Annan.
"The issue has been there for a while, but we're trying to gather support to raise awareness," said Jal about the fears of another genocide and civil war in the country. A teaser for the video features Keys calling out to the "whole wide world" to scream out for peace. The clip features children holding up signs making the plea "We Want Peace," and Jal said it was actually students who were instrumental in helping to alert the world to the genocide in his country.
"If the students [in the anti-genocide coalition] STAND and George Clooney never went down there to bring it up to the public, it would have been worse," he said of the effort launched in 2005 by students at Georgetown University to shed light on the problem of genocide in Darfur. "They made a lot of noise and put pressure on [then] President George Bush, and he announced that there was a genocide [in Darfur]."
Jal said the key is making the public aware of the dire situation in his country, because, he believes, "If people know, they will do something."
With a booming drum track behind him, Jal raps, "We can send mankind to the moon/ And we can reach to the bottom of the sea/ That's why it really kind of baffles me that we cannot end wars and bring peace," calling on the world to scream and shout for peace. Jal, 30, has seen the devastation of the Darfur conflict first hand. He was born into the life of a child soldier, taking up arms at age 7, and then lost his mother during Sudan's first civil war.
But he rose up from those dire circumstances and became a spokesperson for Refugees United, Amnesty International and Oxfam and has performed at Live 8 and Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday concert, while his music has been featured on three "ER" episodes, the National Geographic documentary "God Grew Tired of Us" and the film "Blood Diamond."
Jal said the song was not exactly inspired by his country's strife, but that it sprang from him in reaction to the situation. "There's nothing to be inspired about," he said. "It's in my heart; my people are dying every day. Sometimes I feel like I want to move fast, but it's slow, like I'm stuck in traffic. Having this moment and the frustration I have is what actually brings it out. You don't need inspiration to come up with a song like that, it's in you; it's a desire."
If you are interested in helping, call the 1-800-GENOCIDE hotline to get involved and donate. A four-song EP featuring the tune, as well as vocal and instrumental tracks available for remixing, is available on iTunes now.
Clooney and Jal are urging action now because of fears of the outcome of an upcoming referendum slated for January 9, 2011, in which the people of Southern Sudan and the region of Abyei will participate in a vote that Jal said could determine the country's fate. It is believed that the North will once again launch a civil war if it loses control over the oil-rich southern region of the country. The last civil war, in 1983, lasted 20 years and claimed more than two million lives.
"I've never had peace; I was born in war," Jal said. "I'm still at war because people who died years ago are coming back into my life every morning. Whenever I try to run away, the voices are still echoing. I'm only at peace when I am speaking."
For more information on the issue, visit the site for Jal's charity, Gua-Africa.org.