I received yesterday this message from someone I trust. This person stated in these clear terms:
“I was in "Gogrial" area (you will know why I put Gogrial in quotation marks) and my observation is that markets were empty, even in Wau, and no signs that the harvest from this past year would sustain people, not to speak to the already messed up Equatoria and Upper Nile.
"Much worse is the fact that town populations are relocating to rural areas, sharing the meager resources with their rural kin, quickly diminishing these resources in a climate where there will be nowhere to buy food even if one had a cow to sell.
"It is a very dangerous storm gathering and there is hypocrisy among the leadership, empty pride not to be seen as incapable of taking care of people. It is exactly the 1983/84 Nimeiri denial of famine in Darfur and in Ethiopia you have observed. I shudder to think that we have leaders. Best regards.”
I was also in "Gogrial" area in March/April 1998. "Threatened famine" was the term being used by Operation Lifeline Sudan from January up to that time. I thought what I had already seen north of Thiet and eastside of River Jur was very close to "famine" as I witnessed earlier in Ethiopia and Somalia.
But the SPLA Commander, then station at Luonyaker, informed me of the worst situation west of River Jur.
When I returned to Loki and spoke of what the commander told me, then Head of UNICEP there (a Nigerian) showed me a short video he shot a few days back at Pakor at Twich/Awan Mou border.
I flew back to Pakor village the following day and returned to Kenya the next day with a more revealing video, showing a dire situation where children were dying of malnutrition and related diseases.
I intended to hand over copies of the video to my usual media contacts in Nairobi, including the BBC and CNN; but I realised on my way to Nairobi that they would all have gone to cover Bill Clinton, who was then in Kampala.
I made many copies, wrote a press release and got on a flight to Kampala the same evening I returned from Loki. I met quite a number of them in Kampala that evening. They read the release and advised me to leave the video for them in their offices in Nairobi, that they would attend to it after Clinton.
I left a copy of the video with a sister of Museveni's Press Secretary. My hope was that M7 would see the video and mentioned the situation in South Sudan to Clinton.
I have no idea if M7 did anything about it; but US officials travelling with Clinton came back through Nairobi and met members of the SPLM. Dr Yac, to whom I gave a copy, told me later they had shown them the video and they were greatly appalled.
By then I had gone back to South Sudan with WVI Relief Director, Bruce Menser, and went through villages from Paanacier, to Lietnhom, Malwalawien and all the way to Alek and back.
But every evening we were there, I put on a satphone (then a large heavy metal box operated on batteries) and the Relief Director spoke, life, to BBC Focus on Africa of what we had witnessed that day. The famine was not just "a threat", it was real.
By the time we got back to Loki, Operation Lifeline Sudan had changed their language to actually call it "famine". Food drops increased overnight throughout "Gogrial" area.
SPLAM/A was supporting what we were doing and saying. John Warrabek of the movement's relief wing was our guide throughout, so for us to avoid driving over landmines. No doubt many lives were saved by the action.
But now I wonder: Is President Kiir behaving like Col Mangistu of Ethiopia of 1994/5 and not like the SPLM/A of 1998? Why is there no emergency declaration for what is likely to turn into worst famine ever in South Sudan by April/May and June if not much earlier?
*Jacob J Akol is Chief Editor of Gurtong Media.