CAIRO (Sudanow) - April 27 marks one long year after the departure of a symbol of national journalism, one of its pioneers, the late Alfred Taban Logune.
Alfred Taban died in the Ugandan Capital City Kampala aged 62 after a long, bitter struggle against illness. His departure has left a profound sorrow among the Southern Sudanese people, the media community in particular.
When we write about him today, we write about a man who sun of truth had glowed in his soul and decided without any fear to speak this truth while he was in the den of the wild beasts. We write about a man who carried the cause of his people in his soul, sacrificing his entire life for it, speaking about it in all forums.
The story of Alfred Taban, Sirs, will remain as a story of a revolutionary journalist, who revolted through his thought and his pen and worked for the liberation of the Sudanese people, especially in Southern Sudan, Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, from marginalization, repression, violations and atrocities, using his thought and his pen with a far-reaching look that represented his ideas and positions. For this, he paid a high price in the face of a regime which he fought in its own yard.
Alfred Taban’s struggle from within the Sudan was far more hazardous than that of others who rebelled and fought in the jungle. He fought against a regime led by fierce, bloodsucking persons, the fiercest regime Sudan’s modern history had seen.
Alfred Taban was born in 1957 in his hometown Kajo Keji and finished his schooling in the same town before joining the University of Khartoum to study laboratory sciences. In Khartoum he headed the Kajo Keji students union and was active in the University’s politics, a matter that put him in continuous trouble with the authorities until he was dismissed from the University by the end of third year, though he was an outstanding student.
After his dismissal from the University, Alfred received training courses from British media organizations in the domains of journalism and creative writing, acquiring vast capabilities and qualifications.
This training had qualified him as a journalist. In this profession Alfred was known for his daring writing and his strong words, a matter that won him public attention. He managed to influence public opinion and inflamed the spirit of revolution in the people.
His heroic attitudes had won him internal and external respect. As a result he received two awards: the British Speaker Abbot Award in July 2005 in recognition of his work exposing the slaughter in Darfur. This award is awarded to the journalist who has made the greatest contribution internationally to the "protection, promotion and perpetuation of parliamentary democracy". In 2006, Taban was one of three recipients to be presented with the National Endowment for Democracy award by US President George W. Bush.
Alfred Taban had started his journalistic career in Sudanow Magazine in the 1970s. Then he worked for the journal The Nile Mirror, covering limitless events in the Sudan. This vast activity had solidified his professional abilities. As a journalist he was known for his activity and for his love for his profession. He acquired a wide expertise in news reporting and editing and the conduction of investigative reporting on issues of public interest, writing articles and commentaries in keeping with the morals of the profession.
Alfred Taban also served as Khartoum correspondent of the BBC, reporting on the country’s developments in general and the Southern Sudanese affairs in particular, their politicians, their activists, the conditions of the Southern IDPs in Northern Sudan and the atrocities they were subjected to. He also wrote about the Darfur issue.
His BBC service had set him in big trouble with the Khartoum authorities, often arrested, beaten, humiliated and his credibility as a journalist questioned by the authorities. Nevertheless, he did not yield.
Alfred Taban then in 2000 launched the daily newspaper Khartoum Monitor with some Southern Sudanese journalists, after they received assistance from the Christian Aid and the Norwegian Church Aid. The paper continued to publish for ten years until when it was banned in January 2011 after the Southern Sudanese voted for independence.
He had said in a TV interview that he and his colleagues in Khartoum Monitor had aimed to create a forum where Southern Sudanese could express their thoughts on Sudanese politics. The Khartoum Monitor was Sudan’s only English language newspaper at the time, giving an independent coverage of the Sudanese events.
Alfred Taban’s political views had led him into many problems with the security in Khartoum, repeatedly put under arrest at the state security, at one point incarcerated in jail for six months.
About this period in jail, Alfred says in a TV interview, that it was the best because it allowed him to stay with Northern politicians, including former Premier Sadik Almahdi and the late Islamist leader Hassan Alturabi with whom he exchanged views on the politics of the country. The group of detainees also included Southern Sudanese politician Toby Maduot and Joseph Okel.
Taban said (in the TV interview also) that his political views and positions were in harmony with the Northern Sudanese politicians he lived with in jail, especially the communists who believed that the Bashir regime should be changed because its policies had put the Sudanese apart in the South and Darfur.
The most serious confrontation was when Alfred said the government as an Islamic authority dislikes the Southern Sudanese because they are Christians, a matter that put Khartoum in conflict with many world bodies. The government reaction was to arrest Alfred, subject him to torture and force him to confess he was lying in what he writes. He used to get out of jail quite exhausted, but more determined to continue writing on the cause of his people who were crushed by the war one year after the other.
He remembers that he was once taken outside the jail and forced to sing a song they wrote for him that says: I am a liar..I am a liar.. otherwise he would be subjected to severe beating. He was forced to repeat this under the sun from the morning to the evening. As a result he lost much of his eyesight, a situation that continued with him until his death.
I came to know Alfred through his column “Let Us Speak Out”. I became fond of what he used to write because it was a translation of our cause. I was a student in his revolutionary and intellectual school. For seven years I used to read for him 2000-2007. Then I shifted from reading to become a writer in the same paper Khartoum Monitor.
Alfred had used to read and admire what I wrote. I had no knowledge of that until I met him and he encouraged me to keep writing, saying” you will continue journalism if something happens to us.”
Alfred officially joined the SPLM in 2007. He announced this through his newspaper column, explaining to his readers his convictions which drove him to join the SPLM. He said he believed in the idea of the New Sudan and was in support of the SPLM.
In the late 2009 Alfred announced his candidacy for the office of the Governor of central Equatoria state in the April 2010 general elections. But the SPLM Politburo nominated Clement Wani Konga for the post. Despite his disappointment over this move, Alfred refused to run for the post as an independent candidate.
After the Southern Sudan independence, Alfred continued his work as a journalist and renamed his paper Juba Monitor and chaired its board. But the SPLM as a ruling body disappointed him when many brave journalists and writers used to be arrested, beaten, jailed and thrown in cemeteries. Some of them disappeared in obscure circumstances.
Alfred had defended the freedom of expression in our nascent republic as he used to do in our old republic. From his vantage point as a prominent journalist and Chairman of The Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) he was very disappointed to see the policies he fought in Khartoum practiced in Juba, contrary to his belief that the new state would live up to the theme of the new Sudan that vanished after the death of John Garang.
After the battle for the state house in Juba between the SPLM and the SPLM In Opposition (SPLM-IO) Alfred wrote a column in his paper in which held Both Salva Kiir and his first Vice President Riek Machar responsible for their failure to maintain security and peace. He said the two men had moved the war from the jungle to the Capital, Juba, and urged both of them to step down immediately. He was arrested on the spot and stayed in jail for 13 days in what is known as the Blue House.
In 2017 Alfred became MP for Kajo Keji Constituency, a seat belonging to the SPLM-IO, faction of Taban Deng Gai. He remained as MP in the transitional parliament and member of national dialogue steering committee until his death.
God rest his noble soul in peace.
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