Vol 28 No 4 (2019): Nordic Journal of African Studies
Articles Literature

Reading Emmanuel Jal’s War Child as spiritual autobiography

Nick Mdika Tembo
University of Malawi
Published December 31, 2019
  • Emmanuel Jal,
  • War Child,
  • Second Sudanese Civil War,
  • conversio narrative trope religious indoctrination,
  • spirituality


Emmanuel Jal’s War Child: A Boy Soldier’s Story picks up on the tail end of the politicisation of Sudan’s North/South ideological divisions. Its historical setting is the Second Sudanese Civil War, during which the southern part of Sudan fights to secede from the Khartoum-led government. In this paper, I focus my reading not on the reasons for the outbreak of the war, but on the ways in which Jal’s narrative is retrospectively predicated on the conversio narrative trope. I anchor my argument on what I term the text’s imagination of the transformation of all Sudanese people from a faulty ‘before’ self to an enlightened ‘after’ self, following Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson. I am particularly interested in how Jal inflects religion and spirituality in the text and how his own self-identity lends itself to what I term the text’s conversion narrative leitmotif. I also aim to show the sense in which Jal uses his change from the indoctrinated ‘bad’ child to someone who turns to God and uses religious hip hop music as a mode of preaching the message of love, peace and unity to his compatriots.