August 10, 2012 (NAIROBI) – A prominent U.S. media house and an international NGO on Friday strongly criticized South Sudan information minister, Baranaba Benjamin Marial, for labeling the former’s Africa correspondent as a paid agent of rival Sudan, demanding a retraction that the official refused to give but fell short of directly repeating the accusation.
- FILE PHOTO - South Sudan Minister of Information, Barnaba Marial Benjamin speaks to journalists in Nairobi, Kenya, Monday, April 2, 2012 (AP)
Marial made the serious charge while responding, in an interview carried by Sudan Radio Service on August 6, to a report in which Alan Boswell, who is the Africa correspondent of the California-based McClatchy Newspaper, quoted a former U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity as revealing that South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, had sent “an apology letter” to his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama explaining why he twice denied, during a meeting they held in December 2011 and a follow-up phone call weeks later, any knowledge of Juba’s support to the Sudanese rebel group the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N).
Boswell’s report, which was published by McClatchy on 2 August, one day ahead of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Juba, cited “multiple sources with knowledge of the events” as indicating that Kiir’s denial angered the White House which had “strong intelligence” linking South Sudan’s army known as SPLA to the SPLM-N which fought under its insignia during the second Sudanese civil war which ended in 2005 with a peace deal that paved the way for South Sudan secession in July last year.
In the alleged letter, Kiir wrote that he did know about his army’s support to the rebels but could not admit that to Obama because his advisers were in the room and they did not know he was aware of that support.
The South Sudanese minister, whose country maintains that it had severed all ties with its former comrades-in-arms, went to great lengths to deny the existence of such letter, accusing Boswell of being “in the pay of Khartoum”
“It’s Alan Boswell; this is a guy who is completely in the pay of Khartoum who is just campaigning against us. It is not true what he is writing. He has never written anything in favor of South Sudan. We know him. Now, where did he get the letter written by President Salva Kiir to President Obama apologizing to him and accepting that we are supporting guerillas in South Khordofan? There is nothing like that. What has happened is that President Obama wrote a letter to President Salva Kiir which was handed in by the Secretary of State Clinton, who came here to Juba and I was there watching. But the contents of the letter have not yet been released by the President,” Marial who also acts as the government’s official spokesman said.
A day later, Marial held a press conference in Juba where he distributed a press release reiterating denial of the letter and slamming Boswell as “an enemy of peace” diluting his earlier accusation.
The McClatchy, a giant media house operating 30 daily newspapers in the U.S., including McClatchy newspaper, on Friday sent a strongly worded letter to Marial excoriating him for making “a reckless, baseless and dangerous charge.”
The letter, which McClatchy forwarded to Sudan Tribune, accused Marial of trying to “intimidate” Boswell and “perhaps solicit violence against him” on account of what it described as an accusation amounting to “being a spy for the enemy” in South Sudan.
- Alan Boswell, Africa Correspondent of McClatchy
“Suggesting that Mr. Boswell is in the pay of the enemy risks his physical well being” the letter warned, stating at another point that Marial resorted to “a course that is beyond decency for an official of a government that claims to respect international norms”
The letter was keen to point out that no official whether South Sudanese or American has contacted McClatchy or Boswell to clarify the events cited in his report. It demanded that Marial retracts the charge against Boswell immediately.
For his part, the South Sudanese minister issued a mildly defiant response to McClatchy’s letter, accusing Boswell of waging a “pro-Khartoum campaign” against South Sudan but stopped short of directly saying that the reporter is being paid by Sudan.
“We have noted the continuous negative campaigns in which Mr. Alan Boswell has been targeting the people and the Republic of South Sudan in all his articles that reflect a pro-Khartoum campaign” Marial said in a reply of which he sent a copy to Sudan Tribune. He later added that South Sudan’s “constitution allows the freedom of the press with responsibility”
The minister accused Boswell of describing the leadership of South Sudan as “rotten to the core” and “a bunch of idiots”. Sudan Tribune notes, however, that the minister inaccurately attributed those lines to Boswell while in fact they were said by the French expert of East Africa and critic of Khartoum government, Gérard Prunier, when quoted in a Foreign Policy piece written by Boswell last month.
In that widely controversial piece, entitled “the failed state lobby”, Boswell criticized South Sudan’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), for its “dismal governance” of the country ever since it gained autonomous rule within Sudan in 2005 and until one year after full independence, citing the government’s own figure that its officials had stolen 4 billion US dollars during that period.
Boswell also accused certain NGOs, namely the Enough Project of John Prendergast, of being among the SPLM friends whose effective lobbying prevented Washington from taking a stance on the alleged corruption of South Sudan’s leadership.
Marials’ accusation against Boswell has also been condemned by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York advocacy group, whose East Africa reporter Tom Rhodes told Sudan Tribune on Friday that the government of South Sudan is often quick to discredit any critic as an agent of Khartoum.
“We have seen this before in Africa’s newest country – whenever a journalist criticizes the government of South Sudan they are accused of working with Khartoum” Rhodes said. “The government of South Sudan is so reactionary to criticism that journalists are often compelled into self-censorship”
Rhodes added that "anyone who has read the plethora of media reports that Alan has done in South Sudan would quickly see that this reporter could not be an agent of Khartoum —there are just too many reports critical of Sudan to make such an allegation completely implausible."
Similarly, Peter Martel, a former BBC correspondent in South Sudan, says the charge is hard to believe given his personal knowledge of Boswell.
“Alan Boswell is a fine journalist who I worked with closely. He checks his sources and he’s impartial based on the fact that you never see him showing any bias in favor of any side” Martel told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
Boswell himself, when contacted by Sudan Tribune on Friday to respond to Marial’s reply to the letter, said: “If the information minister chose to be responsible he would immediately retract the baseless charge against me. The report that they accused me of fabricating still stands as true and accurate. And as my newspaper wrote no official from any side has contacted us and demanded a retraction”