Growing up conscious of the brutal wrath of conflict, Barnabas Samuel, a South Sudanese singer, activist and project planning graduate was engaged in music and community development activities before he was forced into a refugee camp which only amplified his passions.
Lofty dreams before war
A young man beaming with purpose; crafting educative and soothing music in the world’s second biggest refugee camp and leading a community-based organization, one might mistake Barnabas Samuel simply for a motivated community worker with a job description to deliver.
Far from it, Barnabas never imagined living in a refugee camp but turned that into something positive, sharing his gift with the communities at Bidi Refugee Settlement, Yumbe District, North Western Uganda, that according to UNHCR hosts 270,000 refugees, most of whom have fled the violence and upheaval in South Sudan.
A resident of the refugee camp since 2016, Barnabas says he was quite a jack of many trades nibbling his hands in business management, community activism and church-related activities before the conflict forced him out of South Sudan.
The various activities he engaged in, like fate had it, would be of great value in Bidi Bidi.
Barnabas, like many musicians was first introduced to singing in church. A young Barnabas would later grown into a key figure in church activities engaging in church outreach activities before he founded his own ministry, the Bible Truth Sowers Ministries in 2007. From then, he served as programs manager for Sudanese Educational and Development Organization, a non-for-profit organization.
This effectively exposed Barnabas to the real challenges of the community.
“I was planning to set up a school in 2016 then the war broke out. This (the civil war) affected everything. I lost my businesses and escaped to Uganda with only one red t-shirt, a short a small bag with my academic documents”, he explains.
With the experience he gained, Barnabas founded Community Development Centre, a community-based organization dedicated to welfare of communities, poverty mitigation, empowerment initiatives, and educational programs.
Music in refugee camp
To amplify his actions further, Barnabas turned to the microphone and turned his passion for music to creating messages that resonated with the needs of his people.
Barnabas sings in Arabic, Kakwa, and English fusing afrobeat, reggae, zouk, rumba, RnB, and dancehall.
In songs like Sambara, Sejerina, Stakalu, Sabella, Manga, Masire, Barnabas sings about the realities of war and the hopes of his people who have fled their ancestral homes.
“I believe music has the power to prevent conflict and promote peace. I sing anti-war and peace songs. I have songs about displacements, power struggles in South Sudan, and the struggles of our people. In my music I paint a hope of a peaceful future”, he says.
In September 2021, he released an album titled ‘Sambara’. He says the album imagines the life without war.
“Sambara is a wheel or a tyre, our kids use for playing. It’s a source of happiness for them. I want to confront political injustices, and awake public consciences, in my music I want to talk about the issues that affects our people and bring them to the forefront”, he adds.
Barnabas says he is proud of his contribution to the refugee settlement.
“My work helps to increase understanding on conflict causes, strengthening communities to facilitate dialogue and manage tensions. Also promoting sustainable natural resource management and climate change adaptation”, he adds.
He says he founded Community Development Centre, a non-government organisation that has been actively involved in dispelling fake news and rumours in refugee camps.
“Rumours and misinformation escalate conflict and through a project code named Hagiga Wahid, we have been able to address that”.