It’s always painful to lose a colleague in the line of duty, but rarely does one find a remembrance like this one that at once carries on the work of that colleague while examining the factors that contributed to the tragedy — including the author’s. In this case, journalist Christopher Allen died while following rebel soldiers in South Sudan and fellow journalist Simona Foltyn recounts his journey:
Allen was killed in the early hours of August 26, while covering a rebel offensive in the town of Kaya, located near South Sudan’s border with Uganda. The aftermath of his death was marred by confusion and controversy, the full extent of which I only began to grasp days later, when I returned to cell coverage in northern Uganda and found my phone inundated with messages about the incident. The sequence of events that led to Allen’s final moments remained blurry and subject to conflicting statements. The South Sudanese government, believed responsible for firing the fatal shot, labeled him a “white rebel” and threatened other journalists who traveled to rebel areas with similar consequences. The rebels, in turn, deployed a carefully crafted narrative aimed at diverting attention from their own failures to protect the journalist.
Questions of what went wrong, and whether Allen’s death could have been prevented, echoed among the small community of journalists who reported on South Sudan. When a journalist dies, such questions, while on everyone’s mind, are often asked in a whisper amid fears of upsetting grieving relatives or tarnishing the legacy of the deceased. But not searching for answers, I felt, would be to fall short of my journalistic duties to establish what, exactly, had happened. It would also mean foregoing an opportunity to draw important, albeit painful, lessons for other journalists and editors covering South Sudan’s war.