South Sudanese soldiers harass civilians with the intention of extorting money from them, says Kuech Deng Atem, 26. He hopes to disarm soldiers with jokes. Atem, commonly known by the stage name Wokil Jeesh Commando, became a soldier when he was 10 years old. He and other children were trained in Aweil and Mapel and later joined the fighting in Heglig and Abyei in 2006.
He says that in the beginning, child soldiers like him were mainly tasked with taking care of wounded soldiers and carrying ammunition. In 2008, his mother followed him to Mapel and brought him to Juba, where he finally returned to school. That’s where he started performing comedy, telling classmates stories about life in the barracks.
“They would laugh, and teachers would come in sometimes and get me and be like, ‘Tell me the story.’ I would tell them, and they would laugh. Then one of the teachers told me, ‘You could do this in the assembly and make people laugh.’ So I started doing this in the assembly, and people would laugh every morning. That’s when I discovered that I can do stand-up comedy,” Atem told VOA.