ANALYSIS: Re-appointment of James Gatdet, Another Missed Opportunity!

By Deng S. Elijah,

James Gatdek Dak, Machar's former spokesman speaks to media after his release in January 2019(Photo credit: supplied)

James Gatdek Dak, Machar’s former spokesman speaks to media after his release in January 2019(Photo credit: supplied)

May 5, 2020(Nyamilepedia) — This constructive analysis is meant to serve the best interest of Comrade James Gatdet Dak and many politicians in his position. In addition, it is written in the best interest of the SPLM/A in Opposition and that of the South Sudanese at large; however, the reasoning that is used in this article is highly classified and therefore, it is not meant to be an easy take for everyone including the subject, James Gatdet. Readers discretion is therefore advised!

The Position of the Press Secretary

First, the position of the press secretary is one of the most important positions in any organization. The press secretary is basically the mouth of the organization and for any organization to survive and thrive, it must have a mouthpiece. Without a spokesperson, the organization is like a teenager who is dumb but can perfectly hear and internalize pain of bullying and harassment. For the last three and half years, the SPLM/A in Opposition became a dumping site for propaganda, bullying, harassment and fake news from all other factions, defectors and foreign diplomats, who were seeking attention, most likely because there was no press secretary and also due to breakdown, lack of organization and motivation. 

The loophole was exacerbated by the breakdown in the chain of communication. While the Chairman, Dr. Machar, was in detention in Pretoria, South Africa, his late press secretary, Lam Kuei Lam, who had limited communication with the chairman, was arabic oriented with a very limited influence among the English speaking majority. On the other hand, the military spokesman, Brig. Gen. William Gatjiath Deng, had very little communication with his deputy, Col. Lam Paul Gabriel, who shouldered most of the responsibilities. Similarly, Comrade Mabior Garang de Mabior, who has been battling health issues, had little communication with his deputy, Cde. Manawa Peter Gatkuoth. Above all, the Secretary General, Hon. Tingo Peter, hardly addresses the media since he was appointed.  

This breakdown in the chain of communication within media secretariat of the SPLM/A (IO) was just a tip of an iceberg. Prior to defection of Brig. Gen. Lul Ruai Kong, the SPLM/A (IO) media secretariat was already melting down. While Capt. Mabior Garang and Brig. Lul Ruai, who were the heads of the two media departments, were already at each other’s throats, James Gatdet and Dickson Gatluak had their own scores to settle. The contention between Gatdet and Dickson Gatluak, on what is ethical and what should be published, when and where, reached many media houses but some outlets downplayed it and refused to publish their demeaning criticisms. Gatdet also had a thorny working relationship with Nyarji Jermlili Roman and this became a public knowledge when Nyarji began giving different versions of the events, especially on the July 8th dogfight, where Nyarji denied the reports that were later introduced as evidence in Gatdet’s case. 

The SPLM/A (IO) leadership did very little to contain such disparaging turmoil within such an important institution and this led to a series of defections. One after another, the spokesmen defected, Gatdet got arrested, his replacement succumbed to unintentional death and the rest of the spokesmen, who remained, lost their chain of command. The point here is that, not only should these have been among the top priorities that the SPLM/A (IO) should have resolved before or after the chairman was released, there is no hope that this institution would be reorganized anytime soon; however, it is important that one loophole has been filled. It is essential and necessary that this position has been filled but is James Gatdet the right person for the right job at the right time?

Can this Pull The Trigger?

Every time an official, who has been sanctioned by the United Nations, or any other superpowers, on either side of the conflict, gets promoted or re-appointed, the other side takes offense. They feel that it is a slap in the face given that such individuals deserve nothing but harsh punishment for the war crimes they have allegedly committed. In ideal worlds, such re-appointments may violate the peace agreement; otherwise, they may send mixed signals to the opponents. 

Similarly, for someone like James Gatdet, whom the government sentenced to death for “treason” and was only pardoned in exchange for Dr. Machar’s brave return to Juba on 31 December 2018 without proper security arrangement, his reappointment into the same position could be considered as a slap in the face by president Kiir and his inner circle.

In addition, Gatdet has been engaged in a deadly media warfare with Ateny Wek and his group that include Garang John, Buay Malek and others. These individuals celebrated Gatdet’s incarnation when he was in jail and became the first to threaten him when he resumed writing on social media. It might be politically correct and soothing for Ateny and Gatdet to smile on camera again but deep down in their hearts, the bitter truth remains untouched.

To create an enabling atmosphere and better working relationship in the presidency, appointments of new faces and perhaps different genders (male and female) could have sublimed any bitterness over the past conflicts. Specifically, a better working relationship between the spokespersons could have enhanced better working relationships between the principles, otherwise, the re-appointment of Gatdet to the presidency serves to raise temperatures that were already being managed at the boiling point!

A Potential Vulnerability and an Exploit

One fundamental role of detention or correctional centers, as they are known in some jurisdictions, is to be the last peppercorn that breaks the camel’s back. The purpose of prison or jail is not only to keep the “bad guys” away from the public but also to break down their confidence or ego in committing “crimes”. In African countries, the regular prisoners are inhumanely tortured over petty mischiefs just to send a strong signal that this would be their last chance. If they survive the torture and get released, the superiors who pardon them never expect them to return; otherwise, their subsequent returns to prison are perceived as disrespect, negligence or recklessness, and therefore they earn severe punishments or longer jail terms even for the same offences for which others may get away with far more less consequences.

For senior political prisoners and military officers, the level of punishment could be even higher. In the worst case scenario, and especially for senior officials who are captured from the enemy’s side, the punishment may involve very highly disrespectful acts or punishment that are considered to be “taboos” in that society, just to break their confidence and also for the enemy to hold on such evidence as padlocks to monitor their activities for the rest of their lives. These acts may include sodomization and other forms of punishment that may diminish the accused’s self-esteems or destroy their career if exposed to public. These evidence can also be used as bargaining tools should the opponent or the enemy need classified data from such individuals or their superiors. In the world of technology it would be like inserting a microchip into an enemy’s computer to track and monitor their activities, and to gain access to useful data from the enemy’s computer whenever necessary.

So what exactly is this supposed to insinuate? This should be very straightforward; however, if anything were to be clarified the simplest explanation would be that Comrade James Gatdet could be a potential exploit or a vulnerability from the security spectrum. This has nothing to do with his experiences and capabilities but security and safety!

A Wealth of Experience

Notwithstanding his wealth of experience and long-term dedication, James Gatdet is a noble gentleman of glaring leadership potentials. He is humble, kind and forgiving, and given the torture and humiliation that he has endured, Gatdet should have been highly rewarded. A significant number of supporters believe that he is more qualified and competent than the SPLM/A(IO) cabinet ministers and their deputies, who were recently appointed, and therefore many supporters failed to understand how he was left out of ministerial appointments;

This author wrote and submitted a very well argued recommendation on behalf of eleven elders from British Columbia, Canada in 2016, calling on Dr. Machar to appoint Mr. James Gatdet as a Minister or a member of parliament. One among those elders argued that James Gatdet should not be a “press secretary for life” and another elder, who is a respected gentleman and an ordained elder in one of the South Sudanese Churches in BC, Canada, politely recommended that “we should submit a recommendation to Dr. Machar” explaining their concerns. I had no objection, so I did. Despites, we never heard back from Dr. Machar and Gatdet was not appointed. Should this have surprised anybody? Of course, no!

Can James Gatdet fight for himself?

A trending image of a campaign on social media calling for immediate release of Ex-Machar's spokesman, James Gatdet Dak, who has been sentenced to death by Salva Kiir's regime(Photo: file)

A trending image of a campaign on social media calling for immediate release of Ex-Machar’s spokesman, James Gatdet Dak, who has been sentenced to death by Salva Kiir’s regime(Photo: file)

For those of us, who have navigated the western systems in search of better opportunities, blue collar jobs and education of which some of us have prevailed and others never lost hopes in trying, it is nearly impossible to understand how a western scholar who has navigated systems that were built on inequality and racism failed to progress in a country his father and uncles fought for and continue to fight for. It is out of proportion to comprehend how James Gatdet remained in one position for over 20 years in a land where men and women without basic education can be appointed ministers or promoted to the highest ranks possible overnight. Is it lack of ambition or lack of purpose from the side of James Gatdet? Is it a lack of ambition in Dr. Machar to develop other leaders? Has Gatdet utilized the opportunities he had working for Dr. Machar for 20 plus years? How many books or other tangible content did he produce so far? Has James Gatdet kept records or databases of his work? Does the public want to hear from the same spokesman for more than two decades?

Some of these questions may sound rhetoric but one innate characteristic of humans is the ability to have vision and ambition. Just like a child grows, an adult should never stop growing until death comes along. If you can’t change one position for five years, change the job or change the manager. The incentive to do good is promotion, otherwise, why would you wake up every morning to do the same damn thing over and over for 20 years?

 Note, this is not a call for James Gatdet to defect from the SPLM/A(IO) or to stop being loyal or of service to Dr. Machar but a reminder that he can still serve the SPLM/A(IO) or Dr. Machar’s office but from a different position. Gatdet should have been appointed, for example, to the office manager in the office of the First Vice President. Alternatively, he could have unapologetically submitted his resume to Hon. Puot Kang or any of the eleven ministers demanding for any higher position he deemed fit for himself and I’m sure he would never have been turned down by all these ministers. Better yet, Gatdet would have had the opportunity to fight for a ministerial position in the Upper Nile state government and perhaps he would have secured his dream ministerial position. 

Importance of Counseling;

In developed countries, where there are enough resources, people get counselled even for a small quarrel that may never cause any significant mental and physical damage. They find no justification in taking chances when one has enough resources at his or her disposal.

In Africa, there is a stigma associated with counselling. People tend to believe that counselling is only meant for people with serious cognitive disabilities or for people who are mentally retarded; however, this is not true and Comrade James Gatdet, who has lived in the United States, should never have underscored the importance of counselling. 

Instead of going back to the same front-line, even before visiting his own family in Europe, Gatdet should have sought counselling, and if not for himself but at least for his children. His children might not have been physically arrested but they were psychologically tortured. The trauma that they were put through by his arrest can only be healed if he sat down with them and helped them understand whatever happened to him, and tries to assure them that he is okay and he will be okay. This is exactly what those of Peter Biar and Kerbino Wol, who might not have been tortured as harshly as he was tortured, did after their release. They are now being nursed by their families while keeping a low profile. How soon will they be healed? That depends on individuals and their health status!

On the other hand, if this could explain why Dr. Machar did not appoint him into ministerial position, then he could have strongly encouraged James Gatdet to seek counselling and take at least six months leave. Leaders care!

Assuming that James is the most competent spokesman available in the SPLM/A(IO), an acting spokesperson would have been appointed to reserve the position for Gatdet while he takes his time off. This is critically important, not only for his health but also for the quality of work he will produce once re-appointed. As a leader, who cares for his employees and colleagues – their health and wealth – and also as a leader who protects public interest, this should have been the right thing Dr. Machar should have done!

It is important to serve but it is more important to serve the greater good in good health and sound mind!

The author, Deng Elijah, is the Executive Director of Nyamilepedia; however, the views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Nyamilepedia Press and its management. For more information, you can reach the author through his email at dengsimon2000 at yahoo dot com or through his social media: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn


The statements, comments, or opinions published by Nyamilepedia are solely those of their respective authors, which do not necessarily represent the views held by the moderators of Nyamilepedia. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the writer(s), and not the staff and the management of Nyamilepedia.

Nyamilepdeia reserves the right to moderate, publish or delete a post without warning or consultation with the author(s). To publish your article, contact our editorial team at info@nyamile.com or at nyamileeditors@gmail.com

Leave a Reply