August in Sub-Saharan Africa: A free expression round up by IFEX’s Regional Editor Reyhana Masters, based on IFEX member reports and news from the region. An audio discussion about this piece is available here.
In Kenya’s largest informal settlement, a group of young artists have turned the streets of Kibera into a message board splattered with grafitti urging residents to maintain hygiene, keep their distance and wear masks. Their resourcefulness has extended to handing out gifts of soap in the neighbourhood.
Mbuthia Maina and his team of artists from the Masai Mbili Art Collective have shifted their profession to expressing themselves through murals and graffitis with information on how to combat the COVID-19 crisis. pic.twitter.com/3kHmASXE1s
— Stories from Kibera (@KiberaStories) August 30, 2020
The Masaai Mbili Artists Creative, also known as M2, are best known for their Art for Peace initiative triggered by the post-election violence marring Kenya’s electoral landscape. The group of young artists used their creativity to advocate for peace – livening the blackened buildings with splashes of colour and the message “Peace Wanted Alive”, boldly printed across.
They have also gained fame with a children’s project titled “Superheros of Kibera”, where they create their own locally relevant superheroes. According to the AKKA project: “The overall aim is to use art as a medium to identify and address issues of public concern. This awareness and deep knowledge will mould the young people’s perception of who they are and what they can be.”
M2 was established in 2001 by self-taught artist Kota Otieno and sign writer cum artist Gomba Otieno as a space for creative expression. The centre serves as a studio and gallery, and a platform for painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, poets and writers.
Staying with the trendy and creative – a difficult 2020 has been brightened by a catchy rendition of the song Jerusalema by South African House DJ Master KG and singer Nomcebo Zikode, featuring Nigerian giant Burna Boy. Successful when it was initially released in late 2019, the master stroke was having one of Africa’s successful music exports Burna Boy on the remix for the re-release this year.
New Month!! Good vibes!! @masakakids 🇺🇬 💃💃
Start your new month with positive vibes. Happy NEW month Fam❤️
Watch more our Videos
— Masaka Kids Africana (@masakakids) August 1, 2020
The song’s catchy gospel lyrics speak about Jerusalem being the singer’s home, pleading with God not to desert her. But it is the distinctive dance accompanying the song that has sparked the #JerusalemaDanceChallenge and gone viral with 100 million views on YouTube. It has unified millions of people from all walks of life in creative expression through flash mobs, choreographed viral videos and memes.
Lockdown restrictions unleash expression
COVID-19 regulations across Africa may have imposed numerous restrictions, from control of movement to limits on gatherings, but it has also had a secondary effect of giving citizens the impetus to push back against decisions relating to entrenchment of power.
Recent demonstrations in Ivory Coast – long considered one of the most stable countries in the region – revealed citizens’ anger and unwillingness to allow President Alassane Ouattara to go against constitutional guarantees and run for a third term in office.
President Ouattara announced his decision to run for a third term during celebrations of the country’s 60th anniversary of independence. He explained that he was forced to abandon his plans to “pass the torch” to devote his remaining time to the foundation he had set up, following the sudden death of his hand-picked successor and presidential candidate, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, in July. He went on to announce that he was willing to make a sacrifice by heeding the citizens’ call to lead the country once more.
Ouattara, along with the ruling party who endorsed his candidature, maintain that the 2016 Constitution empowers him to run for a third term in 2020, as it erases his previous tenures from 2010. Critics accuse him of having moulded the constitution-making process in 2016 to remove hurdles for his candidacy.
Removing hurdles was further strengthened by a decision made earlier in the year when the Ivory Coast withdrew from “the declaration of jurisdiction provided for in the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights”. The decision to withdraw followed an order from the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to suspend an arrest warrant against presidential hopeful Guillaume Soro.
Guinea follows suit
In a strikingly similar situation in neighbouring Guinea, President Alpha Condé finally confirmed his decision to run for a third term in elections to be held in October. Despite the outrage and widespread protests that have rocked the country since last year, Condé said he would be a candidate for young people and women. Following months of speculation, the 81-year-old leader filed his nomination papers on 3 August.
— media27 (@media277) September 4, 2020
One of his challengers in the presidential race could be former reggae singer Elie Kamano. Kamano who was arrested in 2017 and then again in 2019 is calling on supporters for financial support to pay the required fee set by the electoral commission for presidential candidates.
Power struggles in the DRC disempower critics
With the highest number of media violations in in sub-Saharan Africa, concern has been mounting at the level of press freedom violations and abuses against media workers in the DRC.
Reports by Journaliste en danger (JED) of the recent closure of Radio-Television Nationale Congolaise (RTCN), and the detention and assault of Radio Lusanganya journalist Hubert Djoko and radio technician Albert Lokongo on the instructions of a governor, highlight the detrimental impact of the abuse of power by provincial leaders. In this instance, Sankuru Provincial Governor Joseph Mukumadi accused RTCN and Radio Lusanganya of being used by former Communications Minister Lambert Mende – a political rival – to sabotage his political work.
In June, Reporters Without Borders expressed their concern at the dismissal of six journalists from two different radio stations, as well as the suspension of several other journalists from various radio stations in the northwestern province of Mongala – again, on instructions from provincial authorities.
Numerous attacks on peaceful critics, journalists, and political party members detailed in a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) point to provincial authorities clamping down on dissension and criticism.
Calls by JED on authorities to censure the governors and investigate the violations have been ignored.
Media fraternity protests Somalia’s amended media law
On 27 August, civil society activists joined editors, journalists, and media owners to stage a demonstration against Somalia’s long-awaited (and recently passed) amended 2016 Media Law.
— Radio Risaala (@Radiorisaala) August 28, 2020
The Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) and the Somali Media Association (SOMA) believe that the “draconian media bill fails to comply with international standards on press freedom and freedom of expression.”
— Siyad Arts (@artssiyad) August 28, 2020
Prior to its passage, the two organisations had presented submissions which they say were not included in the amendments. Amnesty International lawyer and researcher Abdullahi Hassan pointed out contentious clauses which “enable authorities at both [the] Federal and State level to arbitrarily prosecute journalists and restrict freedom of expression and access to information” and flagged Article 5, which imposes unspecified fines on journalists who contravene the law.
It is unfortunate that the President has now signed the amendments into law and missed a golden opportunity to put forward a media law that respects, protects, promotes and fulfills the right to freedom of expression in #Somalia.
— Abdullahi Hassan (@abdullahisom1) August 29, 2020
An oral history of COVID-19: Africa
We have received numerous responses from members to our request to share their personal and professional reflections on life and work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the African continent we have received interesting responses from Association pour le Developpment Integré et la Solidarité Interactive – (ADISI-Cameroun), Africa Freedom of Information Centre – Uganda (AFIC), Center for Media Studies and Peace Building – Liberia (CEMESP), Freedom of Expression Institute – South Africa (FoXI), Human Rights for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda), and Media Institute of Southern Africa – Zimbabwe (MISA-Zimbabwe).
Here are reflections from a few members on how they have been impacted:
“It has changed me completely, I think what I have started drilling into my colleagues at MISA is to believe in the communities they are working with – the communities of interest, the communities of support, the communities of collaboration. I also tell them: ‘Put your whole self in terms of value systems, in terms of commitment, in terms of loyalty, because these communities come in handy when you least expect it. They come in handy to advance your value systems and your objectives when the chips are down.” Tabani Moyo, MISA-Zimbabwe Country Director
“What I will say is that the psychological impact should be considered more as a consequence of this pandemic. There were trips scheduled and meetings with partners that have been put on standby or cancelled. This has had a real impact on two fronts – psychologically and on the operations of our organization, because we had to review all of our strategies. We have to think about how to make the organization work while adapting to what COVID has imposed in terms of social distancing.” Paul-Joel Kamtchong, Executive Secretary of ADISI-Cameroun
“You know, the lockdown has had its own ups and downs – the good side and the bad side. The lockdown brought a lot of good – it allowed me to bond with family members, especially during the commencement of the lockdown – which was from 3pm in the afternoon to 6am the next day. Now I’m a person who would leave work very late. I used to leave work sometimes at 9 o’clock at night. But now I was getting home early and I had an opportunity to bond with my kids and to bond with family members. That was the good side of it.” Malcolm Joseph, the Executive Director of the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building
IFEX will begin publishing members’ responses in the coming weeks.
New & Noteworthy
To encourage the public in Zimbabwe to better understand their concerns over the recently gazetted Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill, MISA-Zimbabwe has produced a short audio defining the importance of cybersecurity and data protection and explaining why the Zimbabwe government should not conflate the issues into one proposed bill.
Young refugees are cycling around South Sudan’s Yida refugee camp, educating the community about COVID-19. They put up posters, going around the camp shouting out facts about the coronavirus over megaphones, and hand out bars of soap to the elderly. The young volunteers are committed to dispelling the fallacies people have about the coronavirus.
The Zambian chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa is compiling a series of podcasts aimed at raising awareness about Zambia’s Access to Information Bill. For over a decade, MISA-Zambia and civil organisations have been pushing for successive governments to legislate ATI. This series is focused on creating awareness on the benefits of ATI for citizens and key features of the ATI Bill.
On 17 August, Adisi-Cameroun virtually launched a documentary on the impact of the Anglophone crisis on young people in Cameroon.
A journey to look for people to share experiences of LGBTQI+ life across Africa, helped @OkayAfrica collate a wide array of stories from out and proud celebrities on the continent.
Zimbabwe journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was released on Z$10,000 bail (USD100) after 45 days in detention. Chin’ono was arrested on 20 July 2020 on allegations of incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence.
The state made a mistake by imprisoning us, we can now expose the things we saw in prison : Hopewell pic.twitter.com/gbcnOOmJ8c
— Samuel Takawira 🇿🇼 (@takawirasam) September 2, 2020
The Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority imposed a week-long suspension on Clouds TV and Clouds Radio – accusing both outlets of violating election coverage guidelines after they allegedly reported election nomination statistics without approval from the electoral commission.
To commemorate the International Day of Enforced Disappearances, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) featured Burundian Jean Bigirimana, Tanzanian Azory Gwanda and Mozambican Ibraimo Mbaruco – three missing journalists in sub-Saharan Africa.
#Mozambique: On April 7, journalist Ibraimo Mbaruco sent a text to a colleague saying that he was “surrounded by soldiers.”
— CPJ Africa (@CPJAfrica) August 30, 2020
The eSwatini Communications Commission cited the absence of a Broadcasting Act, the restrictions in the Broadcasting Guidelines of 2017 and COViD-19 lockdown restrictions as the reasons to turn down three applications for “temporal” community broadcasting licences. The eSwatini Broadcasting and Information Service (EBIS) has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the broadcasting landscape of eSwatini (Swaziland) for 56 years.
The appointment of Boubabacar Yacine Diallo as Guinea’s new head of Haute Autorité de la Communication (HAC), through a presidential decree is seen as a move to consolidate the government’s control of the media sector ahead of elections in October.
If you enjoyed reading this piece, check out the related episode of Africa Brief, our monthly audio discussion with IFEX Regional Editor Reyhana Masters about some of the key issues impacting Africa’s free expression landscape. We recorded this episode on Monday 14 September: