By Joseph Deng Garang
Omaha, January 19, 2013 (SSNA) -- On January 5, 2013, a certain idiosyncratic character by the name of Elhag Paul wrote an opinion piece that was published in SouthSudanNation.com in which he criticized me and our news organization, The New Sudan Vision, over a portion of the commentary I wrote on December 17, 2012, under the title “South Sudan needs steady leadership to save it from collapse.” In that piece I stated how we as South Sudanese risk losing the young republic to corruption and intolerance. In the piece I also identified three schools of thought (the governing party rocked by anemic leadership, the failure of the old guards to nurture the next generation of leaders, and a bunch of weak opposition parties and/or the hijacking and trivializing of political discourse sometimes by writers with anti-Dinka attitudes) as the likely reasons for national paralysis. Mr. Elhag Paul, by his own admission, said he liked the majority of what I wrote, calling it ‘interesting’. But for some reason, he took issue with my calling the late John Garang the founding father and also the fact that I cited anti-Dinka attitudes held by writers. His paranoia legendary, Mr. Elhag Paul tried another thinly-veiled attack and made it appear like our news organization failed to publish his article, as if we failed to report news involving other tribes, and as if we are a mouth of piece for the government.
So here I write to set the record straight. What I will not do in this piece though is pointlessly try to prove to someone who vehemently denies Dr. Garang deserves being called the father of the nation because doing so will be like teaching important historical lessons to someone with feeble understanding or appreciation of history and society. Doing so will be making mockery of history. The second thing I will not do in this piece also is try to convince Elhag Paul as to whether there are anti-Dinka attitudes because all he can do is hear himself whenever he writes or reread his past writings which have earned him internet notoriety for the coining of such terms as ‘Dinkocracy’—a non-word that he has been employing as a code or a pejorative to tarnish all Dinka people and their representatives serving in the government as if all Dinkas agree or walk in virtual lock step on every single issue. Mr. Paul is also known for his mocking of the SPLM as the Oyee party, when the official name of the party is SPLM. Oyee as people know it though is not a bad thing. In fact it was a rallying cry used during the war of liberation for morale boost. But the last time I checked, it was not part of the official political party.
But what I’m going to do is take readers inside the curious case of disinformation by Elhag Paul through falsehoods and distortions he has hurled against our website. First, I came to know his attack on me and my news organization through text message from a friend. He did not send his recent article to us for publication. So this is a pure lie.
Second, his assertion that we did not publish his article which was a rebuttal against Deng Dekuek’s article is incorrect. Here is why. We published the article on Monday, November 14, 2011 under the following title “Dekuek: Shooting his SPLM/A clients,” with the link: http://www.newsudanvision.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2490:dekuek-shooting-his-splma-clients&catid=14:articles-&Itemid=44.
Below are also a series of emails we exchanged with Mr. Elhag Paul prior to publishing his article.
On Thursday October 20, 2011 at 11:38 am, Mr. Elhag Paul wrote to us:
You have published a commentary by Dekuek rebutting my article. I responded to the rebuttal and requested you to publish it for fair representation but so far you have failed to publish it. In light of this, I am seriously thinking about exposing your biased website by writing an article which I shall circulate to other website. It is unbelievable that a website like yours should deny others defending themselves. Shame on you.
On the following day, 10/21/11, we replied to Mr. Paul in the email below:
Dear Mr. Paul:
First, sorry! Your rebuttal to Deng Dekuek did not come to our attention until now because our opinion editor through which you sent the article was not available.
Second, we run a policy of exclusivity, which means that if a contributor wants an article published here, he/she should agree that it would not appear anywhere else. This is just to let you know in case you send us an article in the future. However, we do not apply it to an article in response/rebuttal to an article published on our website. Therefore your article deserves to be published here. What we normally do as you can see on the website is that we publish articles with the pictures of the authors. So we request you to send us a half size picture to be published with your article. You can also create a user account or author's account using "register" button" on the website because this can allow us to publish the article under the columnist section with a picture.We can still publish it without a picture but it will not be well exposed like Deng Dekuek's article and so we think this won't be fair.
Third, you owe us an apology for jumping to a conclusion by accusing us of being biased without confirming first what happened. We do not expect you to give us a threat and accusation without knowing our decision. You would not expect us to do the same to you without a confirmation and verification.
One of the goals of the NewSudanVision.com is to promote constructive, fair and responsible debate on issues affecting our society.
On Tuesday, October 25, 2011, Paul wrote:
Thanks for finally responding to me. Appreciated.
However, I am still not convinced by your argument re publishing on your website. Take for example, the rebuttal of Dekuek first was published on your website and then in other websites like South Sudan Nation. How true then is your claim that "we run a policy of exclusivity, which means that if a contributor wants an article published here, he/she should agree that it would not appear anywhere else." If this policy of exclusivity is operational, why then is Dekuek violating it by publishing same material in other websites. Unless there is a good answer, it seems your policy has double standards.
I still insist that for fairness sake, you should publish my response to Dekuek without my photo as the rules allows so that your audience has a chance of knowing the other side of the story.
On 10/27/11, we responded as follows.
Dear Mr. Paul:
Thanks for your question. Dekuek's article was published here first and then he later sent it to other websites where your article was published. We would have not published it if it was published first on other websites. Like mentioned early, our policy has an exception for rebuttals, and that is why we are going to publish your article on our website.
In addition, do you have any problem to publish your article with your picture? We think it is better to have your picture published with your article under the columnist section as most of our contributors do. However, if you choose not to do so, we can publish it without a picture and it will be under opinion/commentary section. So long as you want a "publication without an author's picture" option, we have no problem.
As you can see in the above emails, Mr. Elhag Paul jumped to conclusion without finding out why his article did not appear immediately on our website. We responded to him with kindness and explained the situation and even offered him the opportunity to create a column account under which his future articles could appear but he declined. So how do the likes of Paul want their voices to be represented on our website when they decline an offer to contribute? We have been welcoming contributors from across South Sudan regardless of political and ethnic backgrounds. The only thing we do not do is to force anyone to be our contributor.
Regarding all other allegations, let it be emphatically said that we are not a mouth piece for government of South Sudan or SPLM party and Mr. Paul should know better. We are an independent news organization devoted to bridging the information gap among South Sudanese at home and in the Diaspora and leveraging the role of media as one of the fundamental tenets of a free, democratic, peaceful, prosperous and well-governed society.
Regarding ethnic violence in Jonglei state, one would need to just look up the articles both news and opinions on our website, to judge for themselves. We have news articles reporting the situation as is and opinion articles providing nuanced and common-sense solutions to the problem in a fair way.
We have published editorials in which we have been critical of the SPLM/government, calling it out during the CPA era or during elections of 2010, on financial scandals involving corruption, insecurity and well into the post independent period. Here are some of our editorials for readers to judge whether we are what Paul call us or a constructive critics who are championing the young generation’s progressive way of addressing issues: During the 2010 elections, we called out the SPLM in an editorial titled “ In disowning independents, SPLM is no longer wedded to a better way of solving its own crises,” under the link: http://www.newsudanvision.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2026:editorial-in-disowning-independents-splm-is-no-longer-wedded-to-a-better-way-of-solving-its-own-crises&catid=4:editorials&Itemid=12. During the formation of the first cabinet following the independence, we wrote another editorial titled “ Perspective on the first government of an independent South Sudan”, with the link: http://www.newsudanvision.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2422:-perspective-on-the-first-government-of-an-independent-south-sudan&catid=1:sudan-news-stories&Itemid=6. The third editorial was titled “South Sudan parliament must pass anti-corruption bill,” under the web link: http://www.newsudanvision.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2479:editorial-south-sudan-parliament-must-pass-anticorruption-law&catid=1:sudan-news-stories&Itemid=6. Finally, we ran this editorial http://www.newsudanvision.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2396:editorial-the-meaning-behind-declaration-of-south-sudan-independence&catid=1:sudan-news-stories&Itemid=6, on “The meaning behind declaration of South Sudan independence.” Those are just but few of the examples.
Being an independent media website means we can applaud good decisions and criticize bad ones. This criticism is not the first time we are doing it as you can see in the editorials.
We aspire to provide coverage about all issues regardless of ethnicity and political backgrounds. Currently, we do not have reporters on the ground that can provide news coverage due to lack of resources. However, we are working on getting resources to hire reporters in all corners of South Sudan to serve our country as enshrined in our mission.
It is unfortunate for Mr. Elhag Paul to use this lack of news updates on our website as a way to further his agenda of disinformation. Mr. Paul either chose to intentionally mislead the readers or he forgot that we reported the killing of “Equatorian police officers and a doctor.” In a shamelessly audacious move, Mr. Paul doubled down by alleging promotion of Dinka domination by our website, which is baseless and absurd. How could he feign such a degree of outrage at the mere mention of anti-Dinka attitudes only to implicate himself in every other sentence of the article that became riddled with Dinkocracy?
Mr. Paul even employed sarcasm, calling my criticism of the SPLM “welcome development” as if I Just woke up in December 2012 and decided to take on the government. The SPLM is a people’s movement. It has been and always will be. And for some of us, we have been doing the criticizing while offering possible solutions because history and experience have long taught us that it is better to improve what has already been built. How about Mr. Elhag Paul? What have you built? Or will he be known only for tearing down things with his contrarian views? What articles has he ever written that say constructive things about the way forward for our nation?
In conclusion, the lessons to be learned from this exchange are many. It was the 16th president of the United States Abraham Lincoln who once remarked that “sometimes it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubts.” When Mr. Elhag Paul wrote that piece last Saturday, insulting the intelligence of many readers by intentionally misleading them, including in his article what he called our ‘failure to publish his article in October 2011 when he and Deng Dekuek went toe to toe over the rightful and historical place for Dr. Garang, SPLM and the question of unity, I have no qualms but to conclude that he succeeded in removing all doubts about what kind of writer he has become. It is now clear that Mr. Elhag Paul was blinded by envy and jealousy. All the tantrums he threw at me and our website prove he has been seething with jealousy and anger at the kind of professionalism our website is known. All these times he had not found a way to maliciously attack our website until he stumbled on the recent article I wrote in which my only sin was that I called the problem in South Sudan as it is. The tribal psyche Mr. Paul has been subscribing to showed through in his article on January 5, 2013 and it has morphed into an agenda he now uses to mislead the public on purpose. Well, he has not been that smart to lie this time. Not when everything he has just said against me or our website failed to stand up to scrutiny.
When freedom finally came to South Sudan eight years ago, one of the rights that became bestowed upon fellow citizens was the right to freely express oneself through opinion writing. But that right has been abused by the likes of Elhag Paul who think that they will use words to intentionally mislead and hope that no one gets it. We know South Sudan doesn’t have media ombudsmen yet and even when it has, the likes of Elhag Paul will be the last to be taken as serious arbiters. I have to thank him though for trying hard to make himself into a self-proclaimed media ombudsman who professes love for Dinka. Nice try for him but the problem is the electronic communications we exchanged and all the blatant lies in his article have exposed him for the writer he has always been: a merchant of hate and disinformation who is out to mislead readers on purpose. Mr. Paul must realize that the thing we need most in South Sudan is not the ability to write scathing articles full of code words for the so-called Dinka domination and then profess love when one is called out for it. We need the courage and conviction to be courteous and respectful to all our ethnic groups without pitting the rest against the other because all tribes are equal and indispensable in the eye of the law.
From here I leave it to the readers to decide who is biased or unfair: Is it Mr. Elhag Paul who jumped to conclusion in his first email by threatening us that “I am seriously thinking about exposing your biased website by writing an article which I shall circulate to other website,” or is it those of us who acted with absolute professionalism by giving him all the facts and then publishing his article, which he now claims was not published?
We at The New Sudan Vision believe very strongly that South Sudan will get on its track through promotion of democracy, accountability, rule of law and good governance. We believe these bedrock principles and tenets can thrive through an independent free press, which is precisely why we are here as news organization. Accountability should not be achieved through sweep generalizations and tarnishing of tribes as preferred by the likes of Paul but through holding of the individuals in leadership accountable. The moment one generalizes with dubious terms such as Dinkocracy, one runs the risk of losing allies, which is why Paul’s writings are nothing but futile pursuit that can lead to only one destination: that of the politics of fear and intolerance. We need change agents—people who can change the course of history by rallying citizens against an autocratic leadership that has sacrificed the future of South Sudan for some short term financial gains, a leadership that has become known for oppressing the citizens regardless of tribes.