Despite the heavily controlled media landscape and limited freedom of expression, politicians from both sides of the political divide, religious leaders, military factions’ heads, social interest groups, tribal leaders, rights activists and politicians are the public figures making the headlines in South Sudan. Opinion makers have used various platforms including religious gatherings and traditional functions such as weddings and sports events to voice their opinions.
The rise in popularity of social media has created an alternative space for expression. In recent years there has been a sharp rise of civil society groups which have continued to advocate for social justice through initiatives led by communities, groups of women and citizens, such as #AnaTaban and the South Sudan We Want campaign, to voice alternative views to the ones of the regime. Their voices have challenged the dominant narratives by the SPLM. In the diaspora, various groups have emerged such as professional associations and academics who use platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook groups to voice their opinions. These groups actively engage followers on social media, online news platforms and blogs, but access to national radio and television remains beyond their reach.
In 2019, some of the most popular South Sudanese opinion makers included: Michael Makuei Lueth (politician), Emmanuel Jal (author and musician), Mabior Garang (politician), Ateny Wek Ateny (president Salva Kiir’s spokesperson), Lul Ruai Koang (SPLA spokesperson), Lual Acuek Deng (author), Jok Madut Jok (co-founder of the Sudd Institute), Dr Majak D’Agot (former political detainee), Mading Ngor (journalist), Sisi Majok (blogger), Jacob Bul (activist), Edmond Yakani (activist), Ayak Chol Abyei (activist), Apuk Ayuel Mayen (writer and poet), Joseph Oduha (Journalist), and Akuch de Garang (team leader, Girls' Education South Sudan - GESS).
Religious leaders, however, have remained the most vocal and trusted opinion leaders especially in rural areas. Their voices are also getting inroads into media and policy makers. For instance, in 2016, Bishop Paul Yugusuk of the Anglican Church used various media platforms and religious gatherings to call for justice for the victims of the Kubi rape. His efforts led to the establishment of a military investigation task force which resulted in the trial of the soldiers who participated in the raping of women in Kubi.