By Ateny Wek Ateny
On 30th December 2019, a friend of mine forwarded to me on WhatsApp an article that was circulating, purportedly written by Dr. Sunday de John a commentary belittling my role as Presidential Press Secretary, mocking my person and intellectual competencies, and accusing me of being anti-peace. This is not only unprovoked, it is equally appalling, as Dr. Sunday grossly misrepresented my views on peace and the deliberations I had with the Mundari intellectuals. This Response clarifies this misrepresentation to the South Sudanese and the international community alike, presenting exactly how the two events unfolded and how I addressed them as a designate of the President.
First, the Mundrai intellectuals’ meeting I chaired came as a result of the Governor of Terekeka State seeking an engagement with the Office of the President (OOP). The Governor wanted an official from the OOP to meet the chiefs, youth, and the intellectuals from Terekeka to deliberate on an assortment of local and national matters. In response, our President designated me on his behalf. My specific job was to listen and take notes on behalf of the President. I clearly stated this as a disclaimer to the attendance. In attendance was Terekeka’s community leader, Hon. Clement Konga, who is also a Presidential Advisor. However, Hon. Konga attended in his capacity as chair of the Terekeka community, not as an official from the Presidency. Had he elected to wear both hats, Hon. Konga would have become a de facto chair of the meeting. Understandably, Hon. Konga did not want to burden himself with both roles, enabling him to advocate more for his constituency. Since this was a meeting organized by the Presidency and with only two officials from the Presidency in attendance, with the most senior relinquishing his role, I became a de facto chair.
While chairing, I reiterated to the attendance that my role was largely to have their messages delivered to the President. Similarly, I told them that I could not respond to all of their demands or concerns, given that I came as President’s messenger only.
Second, during the meeting, I only responded to two questions, of course, making sure I did not contradict the President. The sitting presented a land (Mongalla) contest between Terekeka and Jubek, which has notably stirred conflicts more recently. Fittingly, Mongalla now faces ownership contest following the creation of the 32 states. My response to this concern was that all land or boundary disputes are a prerogative of the Independent Boundaries Commission (IBC), an institutional mechanism stipulated in the Revitalized Agreement and whose operations have, in fact, commenced. Here, I was pointing the Terekeka community to an institutional framework that could address their problems, as opposed to the usual resort to violence. This advice, I thought, promotes peace, not conflict.
The above discussion led us to the creation of the 32 states, arguably the trigger of this particular land dispute. Of significance for the Terekeka community was the President’s response to the Opposition’s relentless demand to reverse this policy, possibly returning to the 10 states. On this point, my response, again in line with the President’s policy position, was that this is a no-go-area for the President, as the reversal requires the people’s participation through the referendum. I also noted that ‘no power under the sun would force the President to revoke the states without returning to the people.’
In both cases, I was stating a policy stand of the President, which Dr. Sunday misconstrued as a call for war. A call for war would outright contradict the President’s commitment to peace, evident by his actions and statements.
Third, I did not sit in the seat of the President. Instead, I used another chair and sat in the same position the President often sits when conducting meetings, that way I directly faced the attendance. I also made sure the flag and the coat of arms were relocated, again in respect of our President. Thus, Dr. Sunday ought to know that I did the needful as a professional and an official spokesperson of the President.
Lastly, let it be known to the public that the writer, who speaks for a rebel outfit led by Gen. Paul Malong Awan, did not publish his commentary in good faith. Over the years, Dr. Sunday made numerous attempts to become the spokesperson of the President, the same position I currently hold. While there is nothing wrong with another South Sudanese, including Dr. Sunday, vying for this public office, this should be done with the utmost professionalism. His false remark about me using the seat of the head of state, an incitement to have me fired, readily exposes the absence of such professionalism.
The writer is a Press Secretary in the Office of the President.