Tribute to Alfred Taban
By Victor Lugala
With the death of veteran journalist Alfred Taban on 27 April, South Sudan has been robbed of a great journalist and media activist.
Better known to his close associates and friends as Logune, or son of Gune his mother, Taban’s long career in journalism was phenomenal.
In the mid-1980s and throughout the 1990s, the name Alfred Taban was associated with the BBC Focus on Africa current affairs programme which, in the time of Afrophile broadcasters like Chris Bickerton and Robin White, was the darling of freedom fighters and pro-democracy opposition politicians and activists in Africa.
At the time when most African countries had single state-owned/controlled broadcasters, the BBC Focus on Africa was the main and reliable source of balanced news about Africa.
And Logune was indeed a star journalist. He loved his reporting job with all the risks involved, especially during the regime of the National Congress Party of former president Omar Al Bashir.
Because of his factual reporting, to counter government propaganda, especially at the height of the SPLA war of liberation, he was a thorn in the flesh of the NCP regime.
Here’s one individual whose crusading journalism in his opinion pieces made him the only South Sudanese journalist to be detained in Khartoum as well as Juba many times. Psychologically tortured, and not physically though, made the late even more defiant and resilient in his work which was risky in a repressive system.
Detention never silenced him. And self-censorship never existed in the man’s DNA. Each time he was released from detention he rushed to his desk to pen yet another stinging commentary about his detention and why, in his opinion, it was wrong.
He used to joke about it by saying the security had warned him not to write about his experience in detention. He was fearless and went against the grain, for better or worse!
Fearlessness and stubbornness marked him out among his peers. Oftentimes it seemed he adopted the western tabloid attitude of “publish and get damned,” which, unfortunately, proved too expensive for rookie imitators.
He was very outspoken against injustice and human rights abuse. His documentation and reporting about the crisis in Darfur won him the British Abbot Award.
He survived the wrath of repressive systems because he had made a name as a correspondent for the Reuters News Agency and BBC Focus on Africa.
The late Logune switched to journalism after being bored with his first choice of studying laboratory science in the University of Khartoum, a decision which paid off.
Starting as a reporter with the then prestigious Sudanow magazine, whose Editor-in-Chief was none other than the veteran journalist and retired politician, and now imminent Jieng elder, Bona Malwal, who was then national State Minister of information. Bona had a policy of employing young native English speakers as staff writers, some of whom proceeded to have illustrative careers in the international media and academia.
The Sudanow experience, his rubbing shoulders with international correspondents widened the late’s social network which enabled him to advance in his career.
Success as a high-riding and award-winning journalist did not come easily to the late Logune. He toiled and worked very hard. One of his co-founders of the Khartoum Monitor newspaper, which was founded in late 2000, recall the late as a workaholic, who sometimes slept on his bare desk after working late into the night to produce the daily copy of the newspaper.
The Khartoum Monitor newspaper was a daily English newspaper in Khartoum, which would have been swamped by dozens of Arabic dailies. But instead it stood out as the only Southern voice in the face of adversity.
Championing the cause of Southern Sudan through opinions, commentaries and analysis, before independence, made the newspaper to be regarded by NCP stalwarts as a fifth column mouthpiece.
With hard work and success he also rewarded himself handsomely. He was a man of the people, a great conversationalist who struck rapport with people easily, characteristic of a good journalist.
As a journalist who didn’t fear to ruffle feathers he was not meant to please people who did bad things in society. He wrote opinion pieces as he saw things, and he was caustic when he attacked the establishment. You could say he was a media warrior whose pen never ran out of ink.
Perhaps having been in journalism for too long, and having realized that journalism cannot change the world, he started warming up to politics. In 2010 during the general elections preceding South Sudan’s referendum on the people’s right to self-determination, which paved way for a smooth secession, the late attempted to run for the Central Equatoria gubernatorial position.
But before the conduct of the elections, the late suffered a stroke. And if his colleagues thought he would retire and live a quiet, stress-free life, he stunned them with a come-back to run the Juba Monitor. He didn’t slow down, and if anything, he worked like a normal journalist, writing his acerbic column, “Let’s Speak Out”.
He also had other executive responsibilities at the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS).
When he finally joined politics after being nominated to the National Legislative Assembly to represent Kajo Keji, he also doubled up as head of Information and Communication in the National Dialogue.
During his last days, the late Logune lay comatose in the intensive Care Unit in a Kampala hospital. It was too bad that as a newsman, he was not able to receive the news that his nemesis, Omar Al Bashir, was no longer the President.Contrary to the meaning of his name Taban, the late never tired from hard work until death took him at the age of 62. Rest in eternal peace, Logune.