On February 10 and 11, 2022, a team from the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), a member of the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) network, was caught up in a bloody armed conflict that nearly resulted in their death.
The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), condemns the violent clashes between the Agok and Abyei communities, in the Western Bahr el Ghazal State, some 800 kilometers from the capital, Juba, and urges that the South Sudan authorities ensure the protection and safety of journalists and media defense organisations in the country.
The AMDISS team led by Michael Duku, was in the area to deliver capacity building training to the media and journalists when they were caught in the crossfire during the bloody clashes.
According to media reports, the conflict erupted between youths from neighboring Twic County of Warrap State over ownership of the Aneet market located between Twic and Abyei areas. Six persons were reported killed, and several others injured.
Narrating his ordeal, AMDISS Executive Director, Michael Duku said that his team was trapped in the conflict zone and had to take refuge until they were rescued by the United Nations Forces, called UNHAS stationed in Abyei. The victims were seized with panic and trauma.
”It started as skirmishes nearby, but little did we know that it could suddenly develop into a serious armed conflict where houses and markets were razed down, people were killed and heavy artillery fired. We got ourselves caught up in that situation but thank God the UN rescued us later and evacuated us to Juba, said Duku to an IFEX staff.
The ill-fated incident that happened to Duku and his team, is not, however, an isolated case. It underlines the difficult and insecure sociopolitical context in which media and journalists find themselves while carrying out the work of public information in South Sudan.
South Sudan has a volatile security environment and the country is engulfed in lingering instability, as it tries to recover from a devastating civil war, amidst frequent inter-communal clashes.
In an unrelated incident that happened on the same February 10, thousands of miles from South Sudan, the head of another IFEX member organisation was harassed by security forces. Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director of the International Press Centre, in Nigeria, was unlawfully detained and harassed by the State Security Service (SSS) upon his arrival at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, in Lagos. Arogundade had returned from Banjul, The Gambia where he had delivered training to journalists. The security agencies detained and interrogated him for two hours about his work.
The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) condemns any armed conflict and the one that nearly took the life of the AMDISS team.
We call on the authorities of South Sudan to ensure the safety of journalists and media organisations that are working to strengthen the capacity of the media and journalists in South Sudan.
This call is important in view of the vital role of the media in the transitional process in the country, and in the consolidation of peace and democracy in the country.