John Gatluak Manguet Nhial is one of four journalists from South Sudan visiting the US as part of the US-Africa Leaders Summit.
Based at Naath FM in Leer, Unity State, Station Coordinator John Gatluak found that his station was at the center of events as fighting spread from Juba into the states. Leer is the town of former vice president Riek Macher and Unity State is home to the strategically-important oil fields.
Staff from Naath FM witnessed and reported on fighting in Bentiu and the movement of IDPs south towards Leer. As the fighting intensified, John and his team faced intimidation from the opposition forces; the rebel troops were consolidating positions in and around Leer and viewed the community radio station as a threat to their security. Rebel officers tried to control what was being broadcast, and tried to demand to use the station to make announcements. At one point John and his colleagues had to mediate when a rebel officer threatened to shoot a Naath FM reporter.
As Government forces moved towards Leer, the station remained on air in order to keep the local civilian population informed. John and his reporters moved their families to safety in the surrounding countryside, before returning each day to keep the station on air. When Government forces took the town there was widespread looting. Shortly after, John and his team fled into the bush and the radio station was destroyed.
For the next two months John and his colleagues lived in the bush, with only wild plants and occasionally fish for food. They lived in the wetlands surrounding the river Nile in order to avoid detection by soldiers from both sides. Eventually the team walked many days to an airstrip, where they were flown to Juba. At the moment, they are working as reporters in the Juba IDP camps, on the Internews humanitarian information project. However they are making plans to return to Leer as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended decades of civil war between north and south Sudan, John was educated in Kenya as part of a UNHCR refugee program where he passed his Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education; he then worked for students’ associations and as UNIDO Education Coordinator. Since joining Internews in 2009, John says he’s learned to maintain balance and impartiality in news and current affairs and that he has a duty to strive for accuracy. He recognizes that he’s a watchdog in his community, informing the listeners about what people in power are doing and how their actions are affecting local citizens. He says the Internews stations have played a significant role by promoting a spirit of development and encouraging and educating people for the need to work.