All-women radio in Somalia, a radio breakthrough in Guinea-Bissau, and a shocking sentence for a humanist
April 2022 in Africa: A free expression round up produced by IFEX’s regional editor Reyhana Masters, based on IFEX member reports and news from the region.
Guinea-Bissau’s radios stations can ride the waves again
In a major breakthrough, authorities in Guinea-Bissau agreed to allow 77 out of the 79 radio stations back on air, following negotiations with the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and its partners — the journalists’ union SINJOTECS and the association of community broadcasters RENARC.
According to a statement from the Ministry of Social Communication, the radio stations were taken off air after they failed to regularise their broadcast licences, subsequent to a 72 hour deadline after their licenses expired. Minister Fernando Mendonça’s ultimatum had initially targeted 88 radio stations but nine of them — mostly religious channels — managed to meet the deadline. Radio Cidade and Rádio Capital FM remain closed, for now.
In their meeting with the minister’s chief secretary Germánia Fadul, the six-member delegation requested authorities to review their decision, considering the challenges faced by the media sector. As MFWA explained — in a country where many broadcasting stations are unable to foot their monthly staff bill. . . “the USD450 to renew a radio broadcast license in Guinea-Bissau, is a lot of money in a media sector beset with a number of daunting challenges including technical, capacity and financial problems.”
Only two stations, Radio Cidade and Rádio Capital FM, remain off air for now as the result of a failure to reach an agreement on a payment plan.
All-women radio launched in Somalia
Somalia is widely considered to be the most dangerous country for journalists to operate in, in Africa. The recent launch of Bilan, an all-women radio station in Somalia, is a massive feat.
Editor-in-chief, Nasrin, and her team — Fathi, Farhio, Kiin, Naciima and Shukri — are focused on changing the narrative and perception of women in Somali society. Bilan, meaning bright and pure in Somali, aspires to give agency to those missing voices, in a country where war-related rape and domestic violence are widespread, and “serious abuses against children, including killings, maiming, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and attacks on schools” are committed by both Somali federal and regional security forces, according to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2022.
Describing herself as a strong woman who enjoys playing soccer and riding motorbikes, Nasrin talks of the prejudice she and many other women journalists face. In an interview with The Guardian, she points out that “female journalists have many other challenges, starting with their families, who often believe journalism is a shameful profession for women. They face sexual harassment in the office and abuse in the streets. The youngest member of our team comes from a rural clan. It tried to force her not to become a journalist, but she has courage, and has left home for the first time to join Bilan.”
Bilan will file reports and craft content for television, radio, print and online and will also provide training for young upcoming journalists from two tertiary institutions in Somalia.
Ugandan LGBTQI+ champion receives award
Frank Mugisha — a human rights champion and one of the few openly LGBTQI+ activists in Uganda — was awarded the Civil Rights Defenders of the Year Award 2022 alongside Xheni Karaj from Albania.
In 2004, while still at college, Mugisha established Icebreakers Uganda to support LGBTQ+ students coming out to their families, “by providing housing, and offering ways to help make the difficult and personal revelation less stressful.”
Mugisha’s work around defending the human and legal rights of the LGBTQI+ community intensified soon after the murder of his friend and fellow colleague David Kato. Mugisha has repeatedly been threatened, intimidated, and arrested, but it has not deterred him from legally challenging Uganda’s strict anti- LGBTQI+ laws. As he explains: “For me, it is about standing out and speaking in an environment where you are not sure if you will survive the next day.”
Punitive sentencing for Nigerian humanist
After spending two years in detention, Nigerian humanist and activist Bala Mubarak was sentenced to a further 24 years, for blasphemy. “Bala, a former Muslim and the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested in April 2020 for what authorities said were social media posts blasphemous toward Islam,” as reported by DW.
“Despite northern Nigeria’s history of similar blasphemy cases, and given the high-profile campaign for Bala’s release, the sentencing of the activist has shocked many in the human rights and freedom of expression circles,” reports MFWA.
Humanists UK staged a protest on 28 April outside the Nigerian High Commission, timed to coincide with the second anniversary of Bala’s initial arrest.
Malawian investigative unit attacked
It was a stressful month for Malawian online investigative journalism news outlet Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ), which found itself on the receiving end of police harassment and a cyber attack, after publishing an article that the country’s Attorney General (AG) Thabo Chakaka-Nyirenda had allegedly allowed Malawi’s Police Service to sign a lucrative contract with a businessman already under investigation for corruption.
The AG confronted PIJ’s managing director Gregory Gondwe, demanding he name the source of the offending article — he refused. Days later, police deceived Gondwe’s sister into luring him out of hiding, which led to his arrest on 4 April 2022. While in detention, Gondwe was questioned about his source. He was released on bail, six hours later. Gondwe’s cellphone and laptop, which had been confiscated during his arrest, were only returned a day after his release — an indication that his messages and emails may have been accessed.
The Malawi chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa condemned Gondwe’s arbitrary arrest, and met with the AG over the issue. He has since apologised,. and claims that he was not aware of the actions the police had taken.
Nine days later on 14 April, PIJ’s website was hacked, and readers were unable to access it. MISA-Malawi expressed their concern: “that the police officers who must be in the forefront to combat cybersecurity risks of Malawians and others in the country were directly involved in actions that qualify them as prime suspects in this cyber attack.” The statement describes the hacking as a direct attack on media freedom, and the right to access information, and a criminal offence under the Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act of 2016.
The Gambia: dangerous post-election rhetoric
The Gambia’s progress as a fledgling democracy seems to be on the rise, after it peacefully held its second parliamentary elections since former dictator Yahya Jammeh had to be forcibly ousted out of power following his electoral defeat in 2016. Since the departure of Jammeh the country has seen vast improvements in its press freedom index.
In the 9 April 2022 poll, President Adama Barrow’s recently formed National People’s Party won 19 of the 53 parliamentary seats that were contested.
In the aftermath of the election, main opposition leader Ousainou Darboe launched a scathing verbal attack on radio journalist Pa Nderry Touray, accusing him of bias and tribalism. Darboe’s United Democratic Party lost its numerical majority in parliament in the April poll. The Gambia Press Union (GPU) condemned Darboe’s rhetoric:
“The GPU condemns in the strongest terms the actions of the UDP leader. Darboe and all other politicians are being urged to desist from such rhetoric targeted at journalists because they incite their supporters to either physically or verbally assault journalists.”
In the lead-up to the election, GPU facilitated a forum for the media sector and political parties to encourage a safe electioneering period for journalists. The forum emphasized the responsibility of politicians to protect and promote journalists, who are exposed to verbal and physical harm during polls. As a precautionary measure, the GPU launched safety hotlines for journalists, in case reporters found themselves in challenging situations.
Somalian journalist Abdisalan Ahmed Awad is being detained in an undisclosed location in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Somaliland, over his post about being attacked by supporters of the region’s president.
Sévérin Tchounkeu, the director of Cameroon’s most popular television station Equinoxe, was suspended along with presenter Cédric Noufele and the programme “Droit de Réponse” (Right of Reply) for a month for “‘failing to manage’ a guest whose comments were ‘liable to amplify a potentially explosive social demand’.”