15 Dec 2018


Son Of Wek Ateny At Deep End Of Presidential Pool

"Nothing personal here, but I think, it were time the son of Wek Ateny wised up a bit in fitting attire or jump before being pushed further and further into the deep end of the presidential pool."

By Jacob J. Akol
When, in 1970s, journalist Arop Gatnyiel Madut Arop arrived in Juba from Khartoum with a letter of his appointment to the Presidency of the then High Executive Council, he had a conversation with the then Head of Civil Service, Ambrose Wol Dhal. Paraphrasing their short conversation, as related later by Arop himself:
“And what are you to do at the presidency?” enquired Wol Dhal, after taking a glance at the letter of appointment.
“Press Secretary to the President of the High Executive Council, of course,” said Arop, pointing a finger towards the appointment letter in the hand of the civil service chief.  Arop could have wondered if the chief was literate or not; but he dared not go there. 
Correctly or otherwise, Woldit Dhal had the reputation of being the first Dinka to graduate with a university degree. By 1970s, he was already universally acknowledged in our circles as the most accomplished diplomat, having had the guts to share a monkey head with Emperor Bokassa (?) of the Central African Republic, a delicacy over there but a nauseating thought for a Jieng!
So, he had to wait patiently while the civil service chief considered his appointment. “Come to see me in two days”, he said and closed the meeting.  Arop went off to celebrate with friends his new appointment.
However, on the appointed day with the chief, Arop was handed a ticket back to Khartoum with a letter: “Go back to Khartoum. I have requested that you be attached there with the staff in the presidency. Learn first how to be a press secretary to the president, then come back”.
I do not know how it all ended up, but it is possible that Arop never became Press Secretary to President of the High Executive Council. Suffices here though to state that those were the days when wiser heads protected abuse of office and higher institutions and guarded the inexperienced from being thrown into the deep end of their careers.      
With our current presidency, the job appeared easy enough: a university degree and few media criticisms, authored by prospective candidate and directed at the way the presidential media affairs were being handled at J1, seemed enough to propel him to such an exultant position.
But, have not so many in the government of South Sudan and in our public Service been thrown to the deep end of their carrier, from where they wreak havoc through trial and error and continue to cause wilful damage with impunity in public offices, even when weaknesses have become public knowledge?
It is possible that brother Ateny Wek Ateny celebrated his being decreed into J1 a few years ago as the president’s pressman. And why not? Such an appointment would be a great endorsement of ones achievements anywhere and indeed ought to have been celebrated.
However, such honour must be justified in due time by unblemished performance and service. Due time has elapsed and, no doubt Ateny Wek Ateny has tried his best, keeping afloat at the deep end of the presidential pool. But, while ignoring social media slings intended to undermine his character, a few incidents have indicated a man barely struggling to keep afloat.
One of them was his reported attempt to clear the name of his boss from accusations of corruption on the basis that “the president does not even have a bank account” or something to that effect. Such defence should never have been made by any sane press secretary – if indeed he made it – knowing that hundreds of millions of dollars had been reported stolen from president’s office safe, while the Central Bank was permanently short of foreign exchange. Such careless statements raise more questions and exact more damage to the presidency.
Another well publicised sign of a drowning press secretary was the article he wrote in the name of both President Kiir and his then returned former Vice President Riek Macar, indicating that both men would not honour a vital part in the Agreement for Resolution of Crisis in South Sudan (ARCISS), the part which would set up a hybrid court to investigate and punish those found responsible for atrocities in the war.
While it is possible that both men might have indicated in informal conversation that they would indeed oppose establishment of a meaningful hybrid court, the fact that both men disowned authorship of the publication publicly, when the international community got hot on it, and dumped the responsibility on the president’s press secretary as his own creation, left keen observers with nothing but to conclude that the son of Wek Ateny is at the end of his tethers.
And then there was the press secretary presenting degrees to university graduates, representing the president as Chancellor of Universities, PhD garb and all. Ridiculous, to say the least! If there are certain presidential functions, which may not be delegated to even ministers, leave alone press secretary, it is the awarding of university degrees. Ateny should have simply declined this task and advised the president to delegate it to the right person: the Vice Chancellor of the university.
Nothing personal here, but I think, it were time the son of Wek Ateny wised up a bit in fitting attire or jump before being pushed further and further into the deep end of the presidential pool.       

  From Arop's own  mouth:

It was in 1978 when one evening I heard news over Radio Juba that I have been appointed as the press secretary to the regional president. Naturally I celebrated my appointment. The next day I reported to the High Executive council with the letter of my appointment. At the corridor of the High Executive Council, I saw Hon Ambassador Ambrose Wol Dhal, the government secretary general, going to the office of the President. Instead of asking him to arrange an appointment for me to meet him in his office, I told him that I was the new press secretary to the president of the High Executive Council. Woldit gave me a glance which speaks volumes and went his way. On his way back apparently to his office he passed by me again. Without the usual courtesy I told him once more that I was the new press secretary. Woldit,  without stopping and answer my question, continued with his journey to his office. I was dumfounded. One of the thoughts that readily came to my mind was that; may be Woldit did not like me or perhaps he did not appreciate my appointment as the press secretary. I then took a chair from one of the messengers and sat at the corridor thinking what to do next. Suddenly I saw Woldit advancing toward me with dignity and  great air of authority. I got up as sign of respect and greeted him and the following conversations followed; which I hope will interest you and perhaps add flavour to what you have already said about the son of Ateny Wek.


Woldit: I understand that you are the new press secretary to the President of the High Executive Council, am I right?

Arop:   Yes sir. I am reporting for assignment

Woldit.  Go back to your place of work; at the ministry of information.

Arop:     Why Sir. You do not want to give me assignment?

Woldit. You are crude to serve at the office the president.

Arop: So I go back to my ministry and never come back?

Woldit: You come back to me in my office tomorrow, looking at his watch; at 10 am.

Arop. Thank you sir and left for the ministry of information where I have been working as assistant Director.


The next day, I reported to his office exactly at one minute to the hour.

Woldit. Beautiful. Keeping time is one of qualification for a press man,

Arop: Thank you sir, I appreciate that

Woldit. Take a seat please. Look here, he continued; I am sending you to the Presidential Palace in Khartoum for three months on the job training in the office of the President of the Republic. Here is some money for your subsistence in Khartoum. And here is the return air ticket and a letter to the Presidential Palace to be trained, polished and coached, how the office of the president is run. Now go.

So I went to the presidential palace in Khartoum where I was trained for three months. When I arrived back to Juba and met Woldit in his office. He welcome. Yes you can now serve in the office of the president. He gave me the following assignments, which included: arranging press conferences for the president; monitor daily news over Radio, nationally, regionally and internationally overnight and make synopsis to the president everyday at 8.00am before the president starts his officialdom. Secondly, you are to attend important meetings of the president with important people and make a press statement and distribute it to the media. The third assignment is to receive complaints from the general public to the president and answer them after full investigation. When you write particularly to ministers you write........I have been directed by HE the president to inform you that your case has been referred to the concerned authorities for comment. The other assignment is to go ahead of any presidential visit, monitor public opinion there and brief the president on arrival, what he would say in his keynote address. The most difficult job is to advise and direct security guards accompanying the president whenever there is a security lapse. Finally, you are not a minister or presidential advisor but a civil a servant and must be disciplined. As such you must not talk publicly about the operations of the president. Following the fateful reshuffle, which brought the rein of Joseph Lagu to an end, Woldit and I were removed from our position in the High Executive Council


This is the gist of what exactly occurred between me and my boss Hon Ambassador Woldit, a seasoned diplomat and a highly educated intellectual with five Bachelor degrees: in Economics (Egypt) in Law (India), international relations (USA) and MA in international journalism (Boston). I think there a need to write on individuals who made the regional government ticked.



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