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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – a month of accolades, reparation, arrests, shutdowns and an unsolved death (Demo)

Family, friends and colleagues from the media fraternity in South Africa were shocked by the news that journalist Junior Bonase’s bruised and battered body had been found on the N1 highway on 21 May. In a report in the Bloemfontein Courant his brother, Mohau Leile, said that the family was still reeling from shock.

A week before his demise, the award winning veteran journalist had been elected chairperson of Free State Media Cooperative Ltd, an organisation working on developing small print media in the province. The police are investigating his death. Khayalethu Mtsantsa, spokesperson for the Free State Media Cooperative, said that “the media fraternity had lost a great advocate for the development of media in the province.”

In a positive development, 20 years after the first draft, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has finally assented to the Right to Information (RTI) Act in Ghana, which was passed by Parliament earlier this year.

According to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) “the RTI Bill was first drafted in 1999, but was only presented to Parliament in 2010 after a series of reviews. It took another nine years of back-and-forth before it was passed in March 2019.”

MFWA is encouraging the Ghanian government to ensure that the implementation of the RTI Act is as vigorous as was the enthusiasm around the campaigns that led to the passage of the Bill on 26 March, 2019.

Internet shutdowns in May

With growing discontent over the lack of political reform in Eritrea – a one-party state ruled by President Isaias Afwerki since independence in 1993 – there were rumours that citizens were planning protests to disrupt Independence Day celebrations on May 24. Based on these rumours, Eritrean authorities decided to block social media services.

Malawi joined the list of African countries that experienced a disrupted internet a day after the polls closed. As results from the general election trickled in on 21 May, numerous internet services were interrupted for up to six hours. The suspension came after a tight election in which Peter Mutharika won the ballot for his second term with 38.57% of the vote, against former evangelist Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) with 35.41% –a gap of just 159,000 votes.

Justice for journalists in The Gambia

The Gambia’s commitment to shake off the repressive impact of former president Yahya Jammeh’s rule is being evidenced by the committed follow through on judgements made against the former regime.

Earlier in May, four journalists: Fatou Camara, Lamin Fatty, Alhagie Jobe and Fatou Jaw Manneh, each received USD 25,000 compensation, based on a landmark ruling made by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice in February 2018.

During the brutal and autocratic rule of Jammeh, the four journalists had been convicted on charges of sedition, criminal defamation, false publication on the internet and false publication and broadcasting. All four were forced into exile.

Fatau Jaw Manneh and Alhagie Jobe said that they were tortured while in the custody of the National Intelligence Agency. This included beatings, detention in poor conditions, and electric shocks. Their testimony was corroborated by independent medical evidence provided by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims.

The Court ruled that their arrest and detention amounted to violations of their rights to freedom of expression, liberty and freedom of movement, and awarded them compensation as a result.

In considering the “root” cause of the claims brought before it – namely the Gambian criminal laws on libel, sedition and false news – the Court also called for the immediate repeal or amendment of legislation impacting negatively on media freedom.

Kenya: the great, the sad and the ugly

Tributes from all over the world poured in for Kenyan author and gay rights activist Binyavanga Wainaina.

Author, publisher, journalist, commentator and activist, Wainaina was seen as one of the more prominent and important voices in African literature. Never afraid to shy away from controversy, his stinging tongue in cheek essay “How to Write About Africa” took a dig at foreign journalists’ and authors’ stereotypical narratives of the continent. But it was his coming out, in an intensely personal essay entitled “I am a homosexual, Mum,” describing an imagined conversation with his mother before she died in 2000, that he will best be remembered for.


Kenyan journalist Dorcas Wangira was awarded the Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling for her piece on the taboo subject of female genital mutilation. Her winning report titled “The App and the Cut” was selected from amongst 218 entries from across the continent.

Another luminary – renowned writer and academic Ngugi Wa Thiongo – was awarded the 2019 Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize for Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, his essays about language and its constructive role in national culture, history and identity.

In the press release issued by the jury, he is hailed for his exemplary commitment to peace, humanity and freedom: “With Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o we are honouring a writer who is concerned with the self-determination of African cultures and with a dissociation from colonial constraints. His attempt to create a dialogue through literature in spite of or indeed because of the different languages evokes understanding for this continent and can thus contribute towards peace.”

Setback for Kenyan LGBTQI+ rights

Kenya’s High Court ruling upholding sections of the Penal Code that criminalisewhat is regarded as “unnatural acts”is a major setback for the LGBTQI+ community in the country. Kenya’s High Court unanimously ruled that Section162 which punishes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” with up to 14 years in prison, and Section 165 which makes those found guilty of “indecent practices between males” at risk for to up to five years in prison, does not violate the country’s 2010 constitution.

According to journalist Tamerra Griffin, this “ruling comes after a three-year fight led by Kenyan civil rights attorneys and LGBTQI+activists who wanted the court to abolish two colonial-era penal codes that described gay sex as “against the order of nature,” a felony that could result in up to 14 years in prison.” Advocates argue that the Penal Code – a piece of legislation that was drafted in the colonial and last amended in 1967 – contradicts the liberties laid out in Kenya’s modern constitution, widely considered to be one of the more progressive sets of laws on the continent.”

In brief

Ugandan opposition MP Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu, aka Bobi Wine, was temporarily detainedat Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare. Wine was invited by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as a guest of honour at their 5thCongress.  Wine told the crowds gathered at the MDC congress upon his arrival at the airport he was forced to sign a commitment that he would not perform his songs while in Zimbabwe.

In Burundi, Jean Anastase Hicuburund of Burundi’s National Independent Electoral Commission has called for independent media to be barredfrom covering the country’s presidential polls in 2020.

The ongoing violations of the freedom of expression rights of the Sudanese peopleare being condemned by the African Freedom of Expression Exchange network. AFEX is urging the Sudanese military council to put an end to the numerous infractions against media organisations, journalists and protesters.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and partner organization Journaliste en Danger (JED) are urging President Tshisekedi to follow through on promises to reform the media landscape in the Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC) and put a stop the closure of radio stations and attacks on journalists.

In The Gambia, 15 protestors demanding that the government of President Adama Barrow respect its pledge to limit its mandate to three years were arrested and detained.

The Press Freedom Index Uganda 2018 report, recently launched by the Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) examines the state of press freedom in the country and has documented media freedom violations throughout 2018. The statistics and empirical data provided will inform debates around freedom of expression.

MISA-Zimbabwe recently launched two reports: Beyond a Click: Regional assessment on the state of digital rights in Southern Africa which provides analytical research to improve the understanding of digital rights in Southern Africa by evaluating the current realities, identifying gaps and proffering empirically based recommendations to stakeholders in the region and beyond. The second report: Digital Terrestrial Television migration in Zimbabwe: Challenges and opportunities, is an analysis of the progress of the broadcasting migration of Zimbabwe in comparison to regional countries.

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