JUBA — South Sudanese are paying tribute to veteran journalist and politician Alfred Taban, who passed away over the weekend in Kampala, Uganda.
Journalists who worked with him described Taban, 62, as a tireless advocate for freedom of expression in Sudan and South Sudan.
In 2000, Taban launched Sudan’s first independent newspaper, the Khartoum Monitor, and later renamed it the Juba Monitor after South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011.
He was appointed a member of parliament for Kajokeji in the National Assembly in 2017, and unsuccessfully contested the governor’s seat of the former Central Equatoria in 2010.
South Sudanese commentators on social media remembered Taban as a freedom fighter, statesman, liberator and hero.
Called freedom fighter
His uncle, Professor Taban Lo Liyong, one of Africa’s most respected writers and poets, called his nephew a freedom fighter who criticized the government in Khartoum during the war, which led to South Sudan’s independence.
“He did help in the war, and he did fight the war in Khartoum. He even saved some journalists and other people who were caught by the system for having pointed out where the wrong things are done,” Lo Liyong said. “So, I am glad that Logune (Taban) had done his share of nation-building.”
Chaplain Kara Yokoju, head of development communications at the University of Juba, described Taban as a man who spoke for the voiceless.
“I remember him as being a fearless journalist who will tell the truth as it is, regardless of what the consequences (are). So, ever since he has been in Khartoum or even here (Juba), I used to come here and take pictures. Even when he was released from prison, I came here sometimes and had a chat with him. So, that is the memory that I will live with until the end.”
Taban was repeatedly detained by authorities in Khartoum for criticizing former President Omar al-Bashir. He was arrested in Juba in July 2016 for demanding President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar step down because, according to him, both leaders failed to implement the August 2015 peace agreement.
Anna Nimrano, editor-in-chief of the Juba Monitor, worked closely with Taban since the newspaper’s launch. She said his impact on the media in Sudan and South Sudan looms large.
“When he left (the) media, I really noticed that it is difficult to get somebody like him, because if there are other things going wrong in the country, there is nobody who stands strong like Alfred. Even the time when he was the chairperson of AMDISS (Association for Media Development in South Sudan), when anything happened to the media houses or journalists, you would see Alfred come immediately and put it in (the) media. But when we compare with the times now, many things happen to journalists.There is nobody coming forward like Alfred.”
Challenged other journalists
Irene Ayaa, an AMDISS official, fondly remembered the award-winning journalist.
“My favorite memory was when Alfred was having a meeting with AMDISS, and then he challenged us that we are cowards. He said for him, a journalist cannot be arrested and taken to jail and he is just enjoying his time at his home. He rather preferred him (Taban) to be arrested instead of a journalist.”
In 2006, Taban won theNational Endowment for Democracy Award, cited as “one of the leading nonviolent voices of Sudan’s dispossessed and marginalized communities, as well as an advocate for national reconciliation, human rights and democracy.”
He also won Britain’s House of Commons Press Gallery Speaker Abbot Award for “bravery in the face of personal risk, including torture, and for his commitment to bring to the wider world the horrors of Darfur.”
A social media campaign has been launched to raise money to pay Taban’s outstanding medical bills at the hospital in Kampala where he died, and to transport his body back to South Sudan for burial.