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World Press Freedom Review
Overview of Africa
TOUCHED BY THE HAND OF WAR
By David Dadge
As much of the world adjusts to an uncertain world where terrorism can reach directly into the heart of a country reaping destruction at will, the African continent continues in much the same way as always. Today, in Western societies, the question of whether to dilute freedoms in order to have greater security is a hotly debated topic, and one that many ordinary citizens feel they have an active contribution to make.
However, the majority of Africans believe they have little to contribute to this topic, feeling, as they have for many years, that there are few freedoms to renounce. Moreover, nor do Africans feel that their lack of freedom has made them any safer. Although their Western counterparts can point to a degree of continuity in both their lives and in their governments, Africans often live under the heel of corrupt regimes, where political longevity at the helm is achieved by sacrificing all attempts at democracy.
Any security that Africans might once have felt has also been stripped away from them as war, lit by the twin matches of post-colonial fighting and Marxist insurgency, has ravaged the continent. Snuffed out in one region by a largely uncaring international fire-fighting force, war quickly reappears in another. While it might be expected that African leaders would have the greatest interest in joining the fire fighting, greed, expansionism, double-dealing, insularity and sheer adventurism, have seen successive African leaders spurn opportunities to bring about lasting peace.
The situation is such that while African leaders move their military forces around the various battlefields of Africa, their own citizens are the ones paying the price. Indeed, the price is two-fold – African populations not only pay because of the financial hardship that see governments choose weapons over food but they also pay because it is these citizens that pay the terrible price of war fought in their midst. The burnt-out villages, the round-ups, the imprisonments, the murders, the rapes, and the beatings are all the consequences of governments who have lost the ability, if it ever existed, to think and act on behalf of their own citizenry.
The result is a series governments strung out across Africa – totally inured to the suffering of their own people.
And what of the media? Valued and esteemed in other parts of the world, the African media – like many Africans – have been silenced by governments who wish to accommodate no other voice than that of their own. Where scepticism and criticism of government are acceptable in many countries, it is almost universally condemned across Africa. Even in countries where democracy has gained a cautious toehold, criticism brings an angry response. Worse, in repressive countries on the continent, it brings about excessive and cruel retribution.
The signal failure among most African countries is the inability to accept that it is the right of the citizens and the media to criticise the government of the day. Such an ability is the hall mark of any democratic society and yet it is roundly rejected by many African leaders. Like Narcissus, a number of African leaders only wish to see their own beliefs and viewpoints reflected in their various political pools.
Such a viewpoint has been reinforced by the wish of some leaders to remain in office for as long as possible. Once willing to change, these obdurate leaders now see new ideas as a threat and because, often, these ideas are represented in the media, journalists have become identified with the threat. The messenger has become indistinguishable from the message. Furthermore, in order to remain in office, leaders such as President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, have fashioned political parties in their own likeness and created repressive security services which can reach deep into society to strangle dissent.
And who is the loser? The biggest loser through the wars, the poverty, the recalcitrant leaders, the lone-party political systems, the heavy-handed police and security services, and the cowed media are the African people. Who, in many countries, are no nearer to hearing the truth than they were twenty years ago.
Regarding wars in Africa, the media have continued to struggle in Angola where the death of UNITA rebel leader Dr. Jonas Savimbi has not lessened the impact of war and it has not reduced the appetite of guerrilla leaders to win something from the peace process. Confronted by guerrilla groups, the government has reacted harshly when criticised. The Angolan government continues to apply outdated colonial laws to muzzle the media in the country.
Journalist Rafael Marques was ordered by the provincial court of Luanda to pay the sum of US $950 to President dos Santos. According to the court, Marques was found guilty of slandering and defaming and injuring President Dos Santos. The case is related to an article he published on 3 July 1999. Marques ran into trouble when his article titled "The Lipstick of Dictatorship", was published in the Agora newspaper in which he refers to President Dos Santos as a dictator "responsible for the destruction of the country and the promotion of corruption".
In the Democratic Republic of Congo decades of misrule have left the country destitute. While negotiations for peace continue, the intransigence amongst those who would have the most to gain from a peaceful settlement is almost tangible. With different armed forces slowly bleeding the country dry, there are heavy reporting restrictions.
On 22 July, government officials in the rebel-controlled area of the DRC banned Arnaud Zajtman, the BBC's correspondent. The Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), controls the eastern region of Kivu. RCD troops are currently fighting Commander Patrick Masunzu’s troops in the region and presumably banned the journalist for his earlier reporting.
Though Zajtman had obtained verbal permission from the RCD’s secretary-general and its information officer to go to the rebel area to report, he received an e-mail from the head of the information department on 16 July forbidding him to do so. In part, the e-mail read, "Your offensive references to our president and the contempt and disrespect you have shown for our leadership oblige me to withdraw my permission."
Elections have also been a highlight of this year. With perhaps the greatest victory for democracy occurring in Kenya where the attempt by President Moi to deliver victory into the hands of his chosen replacement, failed spectacularly. The election showed that the Kenyan people were not prepared to endure Moi’s continued presidency by proxy.
Victory was also achieved despite claims of television bias. The opposition threat followed complaints that KBC was giving undue preference to Moi’s chosen presidential candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of late Kenya president Jumo Kenyatta. KBC was accused of biased political reporting, in contravention of the country’s Inter-Party Parliamentary Group reforms on election coverage that requires KBC to give political parties equal airtime during elections.
In Madagascar, there was a resolution to another long running dispute over who was governing the country. After going to the polls in December 2001, the country ended up with the winner, Marc Ravolomanana, having to force the loser, President Didier Ratsiraka, who had been in power since 1975, from power. This was only achieved after a long standoff between the two.
During that period there was considerable pressure on the media. On 23 February, four radio stations were attacked and destroyed as violence escalated in Antananarivo over the disputed presidential election results. Reportedly, supporters of former President Didier Ratsiraka attacked the offices of the Madagascar Broadcasting Service's (MBS) radio station owned by Marc Ravalomanana in Fianarantsoa, about 90 miles south of Antananarivo.
Another crisis in Africa is Aids which is blighting the continent and destroying the fragile health care systems and the work forces of many countries. With an inability to pay for expensive health care products, many governments are struggling to cope. Believing that they might help, NGO have turned to the media in the hope that they can assist in the education of Africans about the danger of the disease.
Just such a scheme was set up in the Central African Republic (CAR). In early September, 50 radio and television reporters received training on HIV/AIDS and the techniques of educating the population in CAR. Reportedly, they are members of Reseau des Communicateurs de Lutte contre le Sida (CNLS); a journalists’ network which campaigns against the disease.
The UN Development Programme financed the five-days seminar. Rene Madeka, a reporter for Radio Notre Dame and secretary general of the journalists’ network said, "As a network of journalists, we feel it is our duty to take action against HIV/AIDS both in urban and rural areas".
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