22 Jul 2019

 

Tribute To Journalist Alfred Logune Taban

"Taban must have recognized his talent for words early in life but came to blossom at the right place and at the right time, from early 1980s to 2005."

By Jacob J Akol
 
Journalist Peter Martel captured the essence of the noble principle that made journalist Alfred Taban tick over the years in the following quote from his mouth:I was not created for nothing. I was created to play a role. To contribute something to my people. And until I do that I will not die. I will refuse to die.I fully subscribe to that sentiment.
 
Alfred Taban could have equally added that each of us is endowed by Nature/God with a gift or talent to utilize at a given time and place. Whether to squander that gift, by not recognizing it for what it is, and whether to use that gift for greater good, personal enrichment or even evil ends, is really up to the individual.
 
Taban must have recognized his talent for words early in life but came to blossom at the right place and at the right time, from early 1980s to 2005.  
 
The Khartoum in which Taban blossomed is fairly reflected in a feature, sarcastically titled: ThePrivilegedSudanese, published in my book,Burden of Nationality: Memoirs of an African Aidworker/Journalist, 1970s -1990s. It reads in parts:
 
In 1990, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, our President, decreed that certain privileges would be given to Sudanese working abroad Yet, I knew the Sudan well enough to suspect that reality could be something very different indeed. Parliament was dissolved and many politicians were languishing in squalid jails and ghost houses, where torture was the rule rather than the exception. Extreme Islamic Law, more oppressive than many good Sudanese Muslims could stomach, was introduced. A Holly Warwas very much on the cards against the rebels in the southern third of the country.
 
The Revolutionary Government had been in power for only twelve months; but the regime had already earned itself the dubious distinction of being easily the most feared and best hated of the many  Revolutionary Governmentssince independence in 1956. In spite of these presidential lures, I was not altogether looking forward to going back to Khartoum at that particular period in time
 
I was worried. For one thing, I was a journalist and journalists were not the most welcome guests of our President and his new regime. For another, I was a Sudanese journalist and that meant I was as much endangered as the Sudanese politician of the day, if not more so. I was also a journalist from Southern Sudan
 
Many foreign journalists, who dared entered the Sudan at that time, were either detained, then thrown out of the country, or just thrown out anyway. Nothing to it. The best thing that could happen to an enterprising Western journalist was to be imprisoned or thrown out by an unpopular African regime such as ours. It was certain to turn him into an instant celebrity and an expert in African affairs
 
For us, Sudanese journalists, we would rot in filthy jails as long as the General pleased; and for no better reason than we were journalists, worse still Sudanese journalists.
 
My “brave attempt at recording a shameful jostling of goats, dogs and humans – my own!- over a rubbish dump at Kusha in Khartoum North, ended in my unscheduled flight to Port Sudan and then out to then war-torn Eritrea, hoping I would be forgotten by the security men who aborted my continued photographing with parting fingers shaken at me: You will see! one of the threatened me .
 
I returned to the country and Khartoum two weeks later and somehow managed to get out of the country. But that is another story, told in full in the book. This is just snippets to paint the picture of the sort of media environment Alfred Taban was braving in those days. He was in and out of Kober prison more often than any one cared to count, for speaking for the voiceless.
 
Yet he never thought of leaving the country in all those years of conflict, no doubt because he believed he was in the right place at the right time to do what he was created to do in this world: be the voice for the voiceless.
 
Alfred and I walked the same path in journalism, much of the time in the same place but not at the same time. While I worked for Sudan TV, SudaNow (as Regional Editor) as well as stringing for the BBC and the Guardian, in Khartoum from 1980-1981, Alfred stepped into many of those roles when I left the country for a job at the end of 1981; and these included stringing for the BBC from Khartoum for a very long time, as well as establishing and running his own publication, Khartoum Monitor, inwhich he championed the cause of the South. It is possible to imagine the regime detested him as much as they detested John Garang; but could not very well disappear him for fear of negative publicity his popularity would generate through much of the Western world as well as in Africa. And he shouldered on, doing the same thing each time they released him. They simply could not tame him.
 
No doubt Taban and I kept track of each other through the long years of the war of liberation. When in 2003 he and journalist Nhial Bol Aken had the idea of calling a meeting of prominent South Sudanese journalists inside and outside the Sudan, they knew I was in the right place at the right time to organize such a meeting outside the Sudan and they did not hesitate to call on me.
 
Such a meeting led to the formation of an umbrella organization, the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), to encourage and promote establishment of media institutions such Media Development Institute (MDI), Union of journalists, Women in Journalism etcetera, as well as working for liberal legal environment for practice of journalism in South Sudan. With me as Chairman of AMDISS and Alfred as a director, we worked closely together with other media professionals during the Interim Period and thereafter, with international partners and the Government of South Sudan, to develop and lobby for the passing of the media laws. When I voluntarily stepped down from AMDISS Chairmanship in 2014, I had no hesitation in nominated Alfred, who was not even well enough to attend the meeting, as the right person to move the organization forward. He was unopposed, news of his election was passed to him at home and he warmly accepted the responsibility.
 
But I would be amiss if I overlook where I think Alfred got himself a little confused as to what significant role remained for him to do in an independent South Sudan. Whether he knew it or not, his decision to seek a political office as Governor of Central Equatoria State in 2010, marked a significant shift away from journalism into politics. He had a stroke while on elections campaign trail.
 
Looking back now, it could be deduced that the rigor of political campaign for a man who had survived numerous jail time in Khartoum over the years proved too much for his health. The stroke left him physically broken though he remained as mentally alert as ever.
 
He returned to journalism after elections, renamed Khartoum Monitor as Juba Monitor, based in Juba, and resumed the combative journalism he perfected in Khartoum. Corruption, nepotism and tribalism, the hallmarks of South Sudans administration, were natural targets for a combative journalist like Alfred Taban.
 
He was often summoned by security forces and questioned for hours and sometimes days for stories and opinions he published in Juba Monitor. Although he was often detained and questioned, he always told me that he was never tortured in Juba.
 
Even the security men who had little respect for most journalists had high respect for Alfred Tabans contribution to the liberation during the war.
 
But, while it is relatively easy for a journalist to migrate into politics, it is never easy for a journalist turned politician to migrate back into journalism. This is the trap Alfred Taban fell into in 2010. From then on, his impartiality as journalist, in a country where much politics is either tribalised, regionalized or both, was compromised by party politics.
 
When an opportunity came his way again, he got himself goaded into becoming a member of then newly established South Sudan National Dialogue. He officially stepped down from editor-in-chief of his publication, Juba Monitor, as well as from chairmanship of AMDISS. He further accepted nomination in to parliament to represent his home area, Kejokeji.  
 
We will never know now how much more he could have accomplished in politics for South Sudan if he lived a little longer. But, as a journalist, he has achieved more than anyone could hope for in a lifetime. Rest in peace my compatriot, my colleague, my friend, my brother. We will never forget your contribution. May your family be consoled by these heartfelt condolences from your compatriots.  
 
***
As the news of the demise of journalist Alfred Logune Taban broke on Saturday, April 27, 2019, the social media, frequented by South Sudanese at home and in the diaspora, became awash with messages of condolences to his family from across ethnic communities from all the regions of South Sudan, an affirmation Taban was not a tribal or regional icon but truly national. Below are a few selections from social media, which is of course not the only medium through which South Sudanese expressed their appreciation and celebration of Alfred Logune Taban’s life:
 
August Mayai: Gone too early! Alfred Taban, the bravest of our time, who fought the regimes in Khartoum with a pen, has gone too early. He was the SPLA/M General of the Enlightened. For his sacrifices and service to the nation, Alfred Taban's passing should excite a national holiday. He and his family deserve such an honor. Hopefully, Cde James Hoth Mai considers this. RIP hero!!...Abraham Awolich: It was a great honor to work with Hon. Alfred Taban. A man who proudly fought and served his country with valor and gallantry. While he is no more, his legacy as a freedom fighter and a fearless defender of human rights shall live on. Rest In Peace champ!...Irena Irene: My former boss, my mentor, my friend, my dad, Hon. Alfred Logune Taban, veteran Journalist, the most courageous man I have ever known. You have gone so soon. We haven't finished the struggle yet. You will be remembered for your courage in defending press freedom in South Sudan, the region and the world at large. May your soul rest in peace. We mourn for you Alfred, we mourn for you….Daniel Abushery Daniel OMG. the pragmatic journalist of all times. Ustaz Alfred Taban. My heartfelt condolences goes to his family, colleagues, and South Sudanese People's. May almighty God rest his soul in Peace.!...Raphael Abiem A great loss indeed. Alfred Taban and I served as journalists with SudaNow in 1979. Even back then, his potential as a journalist of substance was evident to all. I was just a novice journalist, so did not fully realize the importance of his contributions to society. Veteran journalist, Jacob Jiel Akol, is best placed to comment. I can only say, he was a source of pride for me. May his soul Rest In Peace….Mawan Muortat This is deeply sad news. Alfred Taban was a shining star of South Sudanese journalism and a powerful voice for our struggle over many decades, notably during the darkest days of the Bashir and Turabi' regime….Reech Malual-Akumric It is hard to believe, but it has happened, so no retreat. Uncle Alfred Taban had always been a great inspiration to both old and young journalists in the Sudan and lately the republic of South Sudan. I can remember well uncle Alfred Taban standing up strongly against the will of his donor who needed international consultants instead of nationals to help train journalists and employees at Juba Monitor Newspaper in 2016, HIRACA consultancy which i was part of its team was the winner, indeed uncle Alfred believed in our capabilities. When Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) produced code of ethics 2013, uncle Alfred went to all media houses in Juba and also states and briefed them individually…Baker Batte Lule I'm saddened by the death of Alfred Taban Logune, a veteran journalist of The Sudans...my heartfelt condolences to the media fraternity of the Sudan and South Sudan and to all those who knew and loved him!!! Him and Nhial Bol Aken are the bravest journalists I've ever known.”…Santino Aniek It is with a heavy heart and a deep sense of loss that we have learned today of the death of our brother and our veteran journalist Alfred Taban. Those who know him where myself is included will attest that the late Alfred was a great journalist of substance who devoted his life to the service of our people. His unwavering loyalty and service is exemplary and self-evident. In addition, his devotion to our national cause and values will forever remain etched in our minds. South Sudanese will always be grateful for the crucial role Alfred played particularly in the media. Alfred was largely generous, cheerful, and friendly. To everyone who knew and had the opportunity to interact with him, he was a person of enormous influence and outstanding ability. Many in South Sudan will miss his wise voice in the media and as we mourn and pay respect to our brother Alfred, let us also celebrate his life and achievements…Jok Madut Jok The passing of Alfred Taban is a big loss to the profession of journalism, to South Sudan. We celebrate you, we salute you for a fight well fought for South Sudan. May the Almighty rest you well and comfort your family and help them come to terms with this great loss. We are consoled by the fact that you lived long enough to witness the independence of South Sudan, a goal you endeavored long and hard to make possible. As a school boy, hearing Alfred Taban on BBC inspired me so much and I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. You have done your part my elder. May the Gods of our land rest you in eternal peace...Victor LugalaSouth Sudan's media giant has fallen. Alfred Taban is no more. His uncle confirmed to me. He was a very brave journalist who fought with his pen up to the end. The media fraternity will miss him greatly, for he contributed more than any one of us. Rest in Eternal Peace, Logune!
 

    

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