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  • on 13.11.2013
  • at 03:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Africa’s media wars: a tough operating environment from Uganda to Angola 0

It has been a bruising year for African media. In May, Ugandan police seized the offices of two newspapers after they published a leaked letter alleging that President Yoweri Museveni was grooming his son to succeed him.

In August, editor of Liberian media house FrontPageAfrica, Rodney Sieh, was detained for failing to pay libel damages following accusations that a government minister had embezzled funds. Late September saw the closure of Mwananchi, a newspaper in Tanzania, for running ‘seditious’ stories, and another paper was banned for three months. The silencing of Kenya’s press has gotten tougher after local media reported the members of the army had looted Westgate after the massacre. Throughout the year, South Africa’s media industry has been up in arms about a secrecy law which could hamper their ability to expose government corruption.

And these are the more liberal environments. Reporters without Borders – an NGO which defends the freedom to be informed and to inform others throughout the world – has flagged Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo as critical trouble zones, citing the situation in Angola as also deteriorating. Human Rights Watch issued a report in August calling on the attorney general to drop a cluster of criminal defamation cases against an investigative journalist, Rafael Marques de Morais, whose blog exposed high-level corruption cases and human rights violations. Ethiopia, meanwhile, ranks 137th out of 179 countries in the 2013 index, and critics say that a 2009 anti-terrorism law has been invoked to justify the detention of journalists critical of the government.

Despite this, two things are worth stating. First, continentally Africa has performed well when it comes to media freedom to date. In the Reporters Without BordersFreedom of the Press Index for 2013, Ghana ranks higher than the US, Namibia beats Canada and Botswana surpasses Japan. South and East Asia appear much more troubled regions, with the likes of Vietnam, China and Pakistan ranking much lower than the bulk of the African continent. Only a handful of Africa’s most troubled states – Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan – are in the bottom 10 globally.

Secondly, it’s not only the wealthier African countries which are doing well. Niger is a strong performer, especially since 2011. Over forty private newspapers compete with a state-run daily, and three private television stations operate alongside two state run stations. A June decree decriminalised so called media offenses. No reports have surfaced of the government trying to inhibit foreign journalists when covering sensitive events in the north.

Media houses have achieved real gains on tiny budgets. Mabvuto Banda, a Malawian journalist writing for the Nation newspaper, unearthed evidence that a former education minister used public funds for his wedding. He became the first cabinet minister to be dismissed in the country’s history.  Kenya’s Anglo Leasing scandal has played out in depth in national newspapers. Ghana’s legal review of President John Dramani Mahama’s contested presidency was publicly broadcast, and in Liberia, a local media NGO tracked and reported on the progress of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government’s “150 day” plan after the 2011 elections.

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