Voices Without Place
There is no democracy without proper representation. The main goal of any participatory democracy is not to enforce a rule of majority, nor allow for an excessive power of any minority but to establish and protect the rights of all citizens. That goal is also a key element in effective poverty fighting, achieving sustainable development and championing social justice. Proper channels for participating in governance must exist to reflect each public voice and allow for proper balancing of the democratic debate. One of the most important tools of the participatory governance is the institution of independent press. Citizens throughout the world, and very much in Africa, experience problems of lack of transparency, responsiveness and accountability of the people on the top of social, political and financial structures. Consequently, human and citizen rights are not fully acknowledged nor respected, and ordinary people become largely excluded from governance processes that directly affects their lives. One can be assured that any interference with the independence component of the press will always result in a gradual misappropriation of the democratic processes.
“It’s not the voting that’s democracy; it’s the counting”.
–Tom Stoppard, Jumpers
The latest optimistic results of the “2-month” Tunisian revolution, and the “2-week” Egyptian revolution, must be considered a triumph of the common folk; but, more realistically, must be also considered as a regrouping opportunity for the repressive apparatus, so firmly embedded in the socio-political system for a long time, and an attempt to skew the participatory process to maintain its own benefit. It is not accidental that the first target of oppressive governments are journalists and human rights activists. That was the case in Tunisia when the government was carrying out a wide range of repressive measures during the election year of 2009. It was no accident that access to online social networks was blocked in Egypt and that violence against journalists surged visibly in the beginning of February. As protests spread to other countries in the region, journalists have been targeted by security forces in Yemen, Iran, and Algeria.
A predominant trend, that seems to be used in justifying the repression, is the “patriotic card” all repressive forces typically play. That trend also strongly surfaced in various periods of US history, including a recent one in which any strong critic of the official governmental position was immediately labeled as “non-American” and hostile to the “voice of the majority”. Case in point: many events in the last several months, that relate to oppression of the free press in Africa, seem to use the old “patriotic card” in attempts to justify the suppression and criminalization of freedom of speech.
“These newspapers have to stop, willingly or else! That’s a promise I’m making you and it will happen. They have no right here, regardless of how the international community sees it or understands it. Let them believe whatever they want. And if they don’t like it, let them take those journalists in. They have no place here.”
–President Paul Kagame (translated from the BBC-Rwanda’s Kinyarwanda language broadcast)
The case of Rwanda, the suspension of the independent Kinyarwanda-language (spoken by some 12 million people in Rwanda) newspapers Umuseso and Umuvugizi, the killing of Umuvugizi’s journalist, the arrest of journalists of independent newspaper Umurabyo, consequent jail sentences and fines, and persecution of opposition parties’ members, are the classic examples of using the power of state for censorship, political harassment and killing with impunity. However harmful it can be to compare Paul Kagame to Adolf Hitler, the justification of the government-run mechanism to silence freedom of expression is usually an initial indicator of more serious problems to come. Not surprisingly, the 2010 arrests of the Umurabyo’s journalists happened just ahead of the elections. The story of the FBI and Martin Luther King is another well documented example of such a mechanism.
The rights of the independent press are outlined in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa. The overwhelming majority of African nations include related supportive clauses in their constitutions yet only seven African countries (South Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe) have legislated access of the public to government information. Even so, little information is actually given out, according to a Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) research. That apparent contradiction ought to be analyzed carefully during a democracy-building process such as the one facing Tunisia and Egypt today.
“Eritrea, Ethiopia and The Gambia are leaders among the few African nations accustomed to detaining members of the press incommunicado without charge or trial, without formal charges to fight or a trial in sight, prospects are grim for these journalists to gain freedom and for others to defy the chilling effect such imprisonments have.”
–Mohamed Keita (CPJ Africa advocacy coordinator)
From Cameroon to Kenya, and South Africa to Senegal, government reprisals of the freedom of speech and criminalization of investigative reporting have resulted in imprisonments, violence, threats, and legal harassment. African journalists continue to suffer for practicing their profession from various forms of violent repression in total impunity. With a death toll of 16 journalists in 2010 alone, 11 of whom were murdered in targeted attacks, the prospects of freedom of the press remain grim. You can download here the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Full Report on Journalists and Media Staff Killed in 2010 and read more about those tragic incidents on pages 8-13. Below is the summary of the 2010 deaths of African journalists:
ANGOLA: Togolese journalist Stanislas Ocloo, 35, sports reporter at the Télévision Togolaise (TVT) and press officer of the Togolese Football Association, was killed in the attack on the Togo national soccer team’s bus in the northwestern Angolan enclave of Cabinda. As many as three people were killed and nine wounded in the strike.
DRC: Floribert Chibeya, a Congolese journalist and cameraman, was shot dead by men in military fatigues in front of his house in the northeastern town of Beni. Chibeya, 35, worked for Radio Television Nationale Congolaise (RTVN)
SOUTH AFRICA: Journalist Thabo Kgongoana, Télévision Togolaise (TVT) press officer of the Togolese Football Association, was shot dead during an armed robbery at a hotel and casino in Mafikeng from close range with an AK-47 rifle. Although what could have led to this killing is not yet known, it is suspected that the assailants realized he had a camera on him.
NIGERIA: In the city of Jos, journalists have been targeted amid recent deadly outbreaks of sectarian violence in the area. A mob of rioters reacting to the discovery of an allegedly Muslim corpse found near a church killed Deputy Editor, Nathan S. Dabak, and reporter, Gyang Bwede, of Church of Christ in Nigeria-owned monthly The Light Bearer.
NIGERIA: Two unidentified gunmen shot dead the Judiciary Correspondent of The Nation newspaper, Edo Sule-Ugbagwu, in his Lagos residence. His killing came seven months after the former Assistant News Editor of The Guardian, Mr. Bayo Ohu, was killed by unknown gunmen in Lagos. Two senior journalists with ThisDay newspaper, Godwin Agbroko and Abayomi Ogundeji, were shot in similar circumstances in 2006 and 2008.
SOMALIA: Gunmen killed a Somali journalist, Sheik Mohamad Abkey, working for the country’s state-run radio station after abducting him on his way back home from work in Mogadishu and torturing him.
RWANDA: A journalist, the acting editor of the independent Umuvugizi newspaper, Jean Leonard Rugambage, has been shot dead in front of his house in the Rwandan capital. The Rwandan authorities had recently suspended the paper, prompting it to start publishing online instead.
UGANDA: Broadcast journalist, Stephen Tinka, was among those killed in the blasts that rocked Kampala city during the screening of the World Cup final match. Tinka, who had a night program and hosted a Saturday morning magazine show died the following day, after spending the night in a critical condition.
TOGO: Radji, a journalist with Golfe Info was mortally injured in a car accident on 6 August and died three days later.
SOMALIA: Veteran radio journalist, Barkhat Awale, was killed by crossfire in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Awale, director of the community radio station Hurma Radio, was on the roof of the station assisting a technician in fixing the station’s transmitter when a stray bullet hit him in the stomach. His colleagues rushed him to Madina Hospital, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival.
SOMALIA: Abdulahi Omar Gedi, was attacked as he left the newsroom by unidentified assailants who stabbed him at the chest and the legs in Garsoor village. He died from his wounds on his way to the General Hospital of Galkayo. Gedi, 25, was newscaster and reporter and worked for Radio Daljir branch in Galkayo.
ANGOLA: Alberto Graves Chakussanga, a radio journalist with a station critical of the ruling MPLA government, was found lying in a corridor of his home in Luanda’s Viana district. He had been the presenter of a weekly, Umbundu-language news call-in program on private Radio Despertar and a lecturer at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Agostinho Neto state university and at the Angolan police academy.
UGANDA: Commercial motor cyclists locally known as bodabodas in Rakai district have beaten a Top radio correspondent Paul Kiggundu to death. Kiggundu joined the Masaka based Top Radio eight months ago as an area for Rakai district in Southern Buganda. Despite his efforts to identify himself as a journalist, they beat Kiggundu into comma that ended in death.
UGANDA: Unidentified assailants beat and killed news presenter Dickson Ssentongo who was awaiting a bus in Nantabulirirwa village, 43 miles (70 kilometers) from the Kireka-based Prime Radio station. Assailants beat Ssentongo with metal bars and dragged him into a nearby field. Ssentongo, 29, had worked as Lugandan news presenter for Prime Radio for two years and a part-time court assessor for the Mukono High Court.
NIGERIA: Member of the Plateau State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Augustine Sindyi, an experienced photo journalist with Nigeria Standard Newspapers was killed in the bomb explosion in Jos, the state capital.
The previous AR post dealing with deaths of African journalists is located here.