Women crack glass ceilings, #FIFAfrica2021 conversations and continental #IDUAI celebrations

September 2021 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. There is also an audio discussion relating to this piece, featuring Gilbert Sendugwa of the Africa Freedom of Information Centre and Lamin Jahateh of the Gambia Press Union.

A protester holds a placard during a protest in front of Nigeria’s National Assembly against the Hate Speech Bill and Social Media Bill, in Abuja, 27 November 2019, KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images

Breaking through glass ceilings

September was a particularly rewarding month for women in the media and freedom of expression sector.

Nigerién journalist, blogger, and trainer Samira Sabou was awarded this year’s 2021 Freedom of Expression Award for Journalism at the Index on Censorship Awards. The honour is in recognition of her fight against censorship in a media-hostile Niger.

In June 2020, Sabou was arrested and detained for 47 days “following the defamation complaint filed against her by Sani Mahamadou Issoufou, son of President Mamadou Issoufou and deputy director of the President’s cabinet.” Authorities charged her with defamation by a means of electronic communication under Article 29 of the Niger’s cybercrime law, following a third-party comment on the journalist’s Facebook post relating to financial embezzlement in the Ministry of Defence around military material procurement. She was freed in July 2020 after a court dismissed the charges.

South African investigative journalist Khadija Patel was elected chairperson of the International Press Institute (IPI)’s executive board. Patel — the former editor-in-chief of South Africa’s Mail and Guardian and current head of programmes for the International Fund for Public Interest Media — achieved a number of firsts: the first woman, the first non-European/American, and the first Muslim to chair the global organization.

Describing herself as someone who “pushes words on street corners” she insists that “just as we continue to reckon with how a lack of diversity in newsrooms affects the way newsrooms see the world, it is imperative that we conceive of media development differently.”

Zoe Titus, director of the Namibia Media Trust and an ardent advocate for media rights, freedom of expression, access to information and digital rights, was elected chairperson of the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) executive committee, during the General Assembly held at Tirana, Albania, on 30 September 2021.

Other Africans taking on significant roles with the GFMD are include Vusumuzi Sifile, the executive director of Panos Institute Southern Africa from Zambia, elected to the executive committee, and Tabani Moyo, MISA’s acting regional director and IFEX Council Member, as topical and policy member.

The International Day for Universal Access to Information

As expected, the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) saw a hive of activity on the continent that birthed it, with IFEX members playing a prominent role.

We produced a special edition of our Africa Brief podcast, featuring Gilbert Sendugwa, executive director of IFEX member the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), and Lamin Jahateh, programme manager of IFEX member the Gambia Press Union (GPU). Jahateh emphasized the need to include vulnerable and marginalized groups from the start, as they are “hardly represented round the table, but we think we can think for them, that we know what they need and that we have captured it in the law.”

Highlighting how lack of information exacerbates gender-based inequality, Sendugwa pointed out: “public procurement is where African governments spend over 65% of their national budgets, and yet women-owned enterprises take less than 1% of these contracts” and asked the critical question: “How can you fight inequality when a significant part of the population are not benefitting from this money?”

Ahead of the 28 September celebrations, IFEX member the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) launched a report that assesses in detail the challenges the public face getting local government bodies to process and respond to right to information requests. It highlights the experiences of citizens who have requested information from their local assembly officials under the RTI law, and how those realities conform to, or contrast with, the intentions of the RTI Act passed in 2019.

A webinar organised by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information Commissioner Jamesina King focused on a review of the contents of the revised 2019 Declaration of the Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to information.

In Nigeria, IFEX member Media Rights Agenda and their civic society coalition partners continued their long-established practice of ranking government ministries, departments and agencies on their compliance with the country’s Freedom of Information Act. Ironically, the Ministry of Information received a low ranking in the 2021 National FOI Ranking, while the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council came first.

MISA-Zimbabwe’s #IDUAI statement paid tribute to the Zimbabwean government for awarding eight community radio licences, noting that “this will enhance access to information and exchange of ideas on issues that affect marginalised communities.”

The newly-launched freedom of expression iSpeak platform shared their interactive map which carries detailed information on FOI/ATI laws in individual countries along with information on countries with pending legislation.

One of the highlights of this year’s IDUAI was the opening of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) three-day Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2021 (#FIFAfrica2021). In addition to virtual events, the hybrid event had in-person events in five countries — the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The event kicked off with a keynote discussion on digital rights and how to make a safe and inclusive internet for the continent. This discussion featured CIPESA’s Lillian Nalwoga, journalist Samira Sawlani, Tadej Rupel from the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and lawyers Donald Deya and Michele Sonia Ndoki. In his presentation, Rupel emphasised the importance of collaboration between Africa and Europe on digital rights and cyber security. An expert panel, which included Facebook’s head of public policy for southern Africa Nomonde Gongxeka-Seopa and Ugandan High Court judge Justice David Batema, unpacked online gender-based violence (OGBV) against women, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gongxeka-Seopa spoke to his organisation’s commitment to curbing hate speech on the Facebook platform and working with reviewers and digital rights groups to make the social media platform safer. Justice Batema bemoaned the lack of understanding of OGBV by judges and law enforcement agencies.

Jamesina King took part in a discussion on encryption trends and digital rights in Africa. She stressed the importance of the effective use of encryption to ensure that freedom of expression and privacy rights are enjoyed on the continent.

Topics including internet shutdowns, the increased use of African languages online, disinformation, technology and disability were among those discussed at the conference. Constant reference was made to the impact of COVID-19 on digital rights on the continent, with particular emphasis on the increase in rights violations by governments implementing COVID-19 measures.

Head of Ethiopia’s HRC honoured

In what is being criticised by some as a poor decision, the German Africa Foundation (DAS) unanimously voted to grant its highest award to lawyer, activist, and head of Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Dr Daniel Bekele. The German Africa Prize noted “his unceasing commitment to monitoring and speaking out against injustice.”

When the human rights defender first took up his position as head of the country’s EHRC in July 2019, the country was still in the throes of celebrating Prime Minister Abiy Ahmid’s transformational leadership from a previously authoritarian State. Three years into a leadership that has failed to thoughtfully and judiciously manage ethnic conflicts and risings, Bekele has had to navigate an evolving political landscape while vociferously speaking out against human rights violations in different parts of the country.

As Bekele admits: “it’s not an easy ride for us. We get a lot of heat.”

In brief

MRA’s Executive director Edetaen Ojo was honoured with a 10thanniversary award for work on Open Government Partnerships and access to information from BudgIT — a civic organisation that “uses an array of tech tools to simplify the budget and matters of public spending for citizens, with the primary aim of raising standard of transparency and accountability in government.”

A Liberian judge ordered the arrest of Rodney Sieh, the publisher and editor-in-chief of FrontPage Africa, for allegedly failing and refusing to sign for and receive a writ of summons. In a statement, the media outlet said there was no one in authority at the office when the summons was delivered. The summons relates to their coverage of the country’s former defense minister Brownie Samukai’s conviction in a corruption case.

While investigating artisanal mining issues for Radio Milo based in the Siguiri Prefecture, Ghanaian freelance journalist Djanko Dansoko was attacked by a group of young artisanal gold miners armed with hunting rifles and knives. An intervention by the founder of Radio Milo saved him from further injury.

Also in Ghana, a High Court ordered the National Communications Authority to immediately halt the collection of personal information of mobile phone subscribers and to delete data already collected. The judgement was in response to a legal challenge bought by private legal practitioner, Francis Kwarteng Arthur, who argued that the collection of personal data was a breach of the country’s Data Protection Act.

On the eve of Guinea’s military coup, the national newspaper Horoya and two other public media institutions were attacked, and computers, equipment and furniture were stolen. MFWA is calling on authorities to investigate, arrest and punish the perpetrators of these criminal acts.

The internet and telecommunications blackout in the conflict ridden Tigray region of Ethiopia makes it difficult for journalists and rights activists to document atrocities being committed in the ongoing conflict. A collection of reports through Access Now’s Shutdown Stories Project shows that in addition to concealing crimes against civilians, the blackout has cut off family members from one another and disrupted livelihoods.

Originally published at https://ifex.org on October 6, 2021.

IFEX is a global network of organisations that defend and promote the right to freedom of expression and information. Email: info@ifex.org

IFEX is a global network of organisations that defend and promote the right to freedom of expression and information. Email: info@ifex.org