The current crisis in Libya seems to have overshadowed the Bahrain crackdown. And while the gaze of world public opinion is keeping watch on events in northern Africa, dictators in sub-Saharan Africa – and there are many still left – are ruthlessly nipping in the bud any protest, and focussing in particular on journalists. In Cameroon, President Paul Biya, who has been in power for 28 years, sent his thugs in uniform to crush protesters asking for free and fair elections in Douala and the country’s capital Yaounde. They also systematically assaulted journalists. Among them were Assongmo Necdem, reporter for the daily Le Jour, Warren Nzedou cameraman for Equinoxe TV, Jules Domche journalist at Vox Africa, Polycarpe Essomba RFI correspondent. Alain Tchakounte reporting for Cameroon Tribune, freelance journalists Aron Agien Nyangkwe and AFP correspondent Reinier Kaze.
In Zimbabwe, Robert Muagabe celebrated his 87 birthday last week with a lavish party but this was not enough to make him scale down his clampdown on journalists, media workers and even newspapers vendors. The spate of arrests last winter of journalists included our affiliate ZUJ’s president Dumisani Sibanda, Nqobani Ndlovu from The Standard newspaper, Nevanji Madanhire, editor of The Standard, and freelance journalists Andrison Manyere and Nkosana Dhlamini. Despite the signing of the Global Political Agreement, the authorities are still determined to gag and intimidate journalists through harassment, physical attacks, arbitrary arrests, illegal detention and heavy-handed interrogation by the Central Intelligence Organization. Our affiliate, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, is at the forefront of the calls for government to declare zero tolerance against attacks of journalists and media workers conducting their work professionally and ethically during upcoming referendum and elections.
The election of Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni to another term in office, extending his 25 years in power, was another nightmare for journalists. Six journalists were reported to be brutally assaulted by men alleged to be supporters of the ruling National Resistance Movement, while covering local and mayoral elections held a few days after the presidential ones. Lydia Nabazziwa and Florence Nabukeera of Bukedde FM, Brian Nsimbe and cameraman Nixon Bbaale of Channel 44TV, Jane Anyango reporting for Uganda Broadcasting Corporation TV and Christine Namatumbwe of Metro FM were among the journalists attacked.
2011 is an important year for Africa. Elections are scheduled in more than 20 countries across the continent, including Zimbabwe and Nigeria. African journalists will undoubtedly continue to play more and more of a central role in the process of democratisation in their countries. This is why they’ll continue to run the gauntlet of the dictators.
We should be prepared to defend every one of them.