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BY David Mayen Dengdit - 1 Apr 2018

Let That Great Tree Grow: Free James Gatdet Dak

I read news in the media that my good friend James Gatdet Dak is sick in detention in Juba. This news touched me because I remember how Gatdet offered his assistance to me when I was appointed as Press Secretary in the Office of the then incoming Vice President H.E. James Wani Igga. He talked to me and we exchanged emails where he sent me formats of the various documents that I would need to write or prepare. His civility, graciousness, and willingness to help me put my feet into the big boots he left behind were amazing. In the country that is South Sudan of today it is rare to find an outgoing officer helping the one who is taking his office and the immense privileges therein – at least at that time.

From my exchanges with brother Gatdet I came to a conclusion that I was talking to a man who was more educated, more experience, and more nationalist than I was. Even though we may be of the same age bracket, I honestly appreciated his demeanor and nationalist spirit and listened to his advice as I would with an older leader.

Having read the news about Gatdet’s sickness in detention, I just decided to strike my keyboard and say something about such a potentially great leader of South Sudan who is being made to carry a heavy cross which is not for his crucifixion.  Who does not know that Gatdet’s cross is for his boss, Dr. Riek Machar Teny who is now in exile.

Whatever he wrote or said, whether he fully agreed with its content or not, were written and said in his official capacity as Press Secretary of Dr. Riek. That is the nature of what Press Secretaries do. They are sometimes ordered to respond to a criticism of their boss even when that criticism might be right. They are not fully masters of their thinking or decisions to respond.

It is therefore not right for Gatdet, who was trying to work according to his job description and, thus, argue for the benefit of his boss, to face a death sentence for what he said, not what he did- there is a big difference between the two. To me, Gatdet strikes me as more nationalist and far more educated and articulate than his boss, Dr. Riek, yet was forced to do what he did (bad or good). If incitement to violence was a crime, then so many people should face the death sentence before Gatdet.

The war in South Sudan was a power struggle between H.E. President Salva and H.E. Dr. Riek, Cde. Ateny Wek and  Cde. James Gatdet are mere associates of both men and should not be made to carry those crosses. I cannot imagine that an argument (a legal one for that matter) is out there claiming that the abrogation of the peace agreement through the J1 dog fight of July 2016 was a consequence of Gatdet’s writing on Facebook. The fault was in the “Security Arrangements” that brought two antagonistic forces together before genuine peace was achieved. To turn it around and claim that the fault was Gatdet’s is an absurdity and travesty of justice which I have never come across throughout my study of law, not even in cases of serious miscarriages of justice.

Please, please, please take responsibility for the deaths and destruction in South Sudan. My brother and friend James Gatdet Dak is a patriot, a potentially great nationalist leader whose time to be blamed for anything has not come yet. Let that great tree grow.

David Mayen Dengdit is a South Sudanese commentator who can be reached at

 The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.