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Murder, protests, and a photographic African biennale (Demo)

Maxwell Nashan, a reporter and newscaster with the government-owned Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), died on 15 January – and the Media Foundation for West Africa is calling on authorities to “thoroughly investigate his murder.”

He was found, trussed up and injured, by a group of female farmers, approximately three kilometres away from his home, on the outskirts of Vunokilan, Girei Local Government Area of Adamawa State. Based on reports by neighbours, it is believed that he was abducted from his home in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

“Nashan’s murder revives painful memories of the unresolved killing of four journalists in Nigeria in 2017 – Famous Giobaro, Lawrence Okojie, Ikechukwu Onubogu, and Abdul Ganiyu Lawal,” recalls the MFWA.

“Maxwell Nashan must not become just another crime statistic, and investigators must consider whether his journalism was the motive for his killing,” said Angela Quintal, programme coordinator with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Luanda Leaks

One of the biggest stories on the continent in January – Luanda Leaks – traces the crooked path that Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the former President of Angola, took to become the richest woman in Africa, while leaving her country one of the poorest on the continent. The in-depth investigation into her empire reveals privilege, patronage, illicit deals, unscrupulous partnerships, tax-dodging and the complicity of international companies.

Left out of the description of how ICIJ worked with over 120 reporters from all over the world is the work of rights defender, researcher, and journalist Rafael Marques prior to this globally celebrated investigation.

Since 2008, Marques has reported on the Dos Santos family’s questionable financial deals through his MakaAngola online platform. His courage comes at great personal cost; over the years he has been persecuted, threatened, arrested, and imprisoned on arbitrary charges.

The sidelining of African voices and contributions to global issues was also in the spotlight in January after Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate was cropped from a photograph with other activists.

The apology from Associated Press came after a global Twitter backlash.

A month of protests

A declining economy, spiralling inflation, rampant corruption, presidents breaking pledges, demands for the right to education and quality education, were just some of the reasons protestors took to the streets in Liberia, The Gambia, Guinea, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

For many Gambians, the severe crackdown on the 26 January protest led by the “Three Years Jotna” movement [Three Years Enough] is reminiscent of a painful past.

In what has been described by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) as the most aggressive attack on press freedom since President Barrow assumed office in 2017, two radio stations went off air, and four journalists and 137 protestors were temporarily arrested. The Barrow-led government banned the Three Years Jotna movement immediately after the weekend protests, calling it subversive, violent, and illegal.

Earlier in the month, on 16 January, thousands of supporters of former president Yahya Jammeh and members of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) marched on the outskirts of Banjul, with placards, banners, and photographs, asking that Jammeh be allowed to return from exile in Equatorial Guinea. Just a few days later, Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou said Jammeh would be arrested if he tried to return home.

In response to the Jammeh supporters’ march, victims of his brutal legacy took to the streets on 25 January, demanding he be prosecuted for his crimes and that his party – the APRC – be banned.

Increasing tensions have clearly replaced the euphoria that followed Barrow’s election win. The declining support is largely attributed to his inability to rebuild national cohesion fragmented by tribal divisions, and his failure to revitalise an ailing economy.

The discontent amongst certain factions has been exacerbated by his decision to stay in office for five years, after initially pledging to step down after three. The outcome of these rising pressures has been the collapse of the coalition that brought President Barrow into power, and the formation of his new party, at the end of 2019.

Protests in Guinea have also been in the news. Since October of last year, thousands of Guineans have been putting on scarlet t-shirts that signify their support for the opposition, and going into the streets to protest a possible bid from President Alpha Condé to run for a third or even fourth term in office. The consequences have been bloody, and it is believed that 15 people have been killed so far.

In Malawi and Zimbabwe, the protests were led by schoolchildren. Reeling from Zimbabwe’s escalating inflation, students from Njube High School in Matabeleland took to the streets, chanting their frustration over an increase in tuition fees and the meagre salaries of school teachers. Students voiced their concern at being unable to receive a quality education, because teachers were looking at alternative ways to survive. Refusing to believe the march was planned solely by students, police in Bulawayo were looking for biology teacher Brian Mutsiba for allegedly organising the protests.

Chanting “we’re not learning, we’re not learning” in vernacular Chichewa, Malawian school children in Blantyre, aged 7 to 13, called on the government to concede to teachers’ demands for salary adjustments and pay leave. Unable to attend school due to the teachers’ strike, the students also expressed their anger at being denied their right to an education. The protests turned violent as police fired teargas to disperse the students before they could reach the district education office to present their petition.

Heavy-handed police tactics were also used in Liberia, where teargas and water cannons broke up a crowd of almost 3,000 protestors from the central district in the capital city of Monrovia. The Save the State protests, which have gained momentum since they began last year, have focused on President Weah’s inability and unwillingness to combat corruption, against the backdrop of a deepening economic crisis in the country.

In Brief

Africa’s prestigious Bamako Encounters photography and video art festival, held in Mali, celebrated its 25th anniversary with an array of work “from 85 artists portraying a multifaceted, self-aware continent,” according to The Art Newspaper.

Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera was back in court on 28 January, and the ensuing scenario was a repetition of past appearances. His case was adjourned for the 13th time, until 10 February, as investigations continue.

January 2020 also marked one year since Ghanaian investigative journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale was murdered in Accra. He was part of the Tiger Eye team that exposed massive corruption in football. In a letter to the Ghana Police Service the MFWA requested an update on the investigation, and expressed concern at the lack of information despite having been given assurances that they would be apprised of any progress in the case.

Broadcast journalist Patricia Kayune was brutally assaulted while covering demonstrations in Chitipa, in northern Malawi. Organisers of the protest intervened and took Kayuni to hospital, where, in addition to her injuries, she had to be treated for an asthma attack.

New & Noteworthy

The Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) launched its State of the Media Report on 28 January, which details attacks on the media by state and non-state actors, the lukewarm approach to media reforms by government, and the general shrinking of democratic space in the economically ravaged country.

Concerned by the increasing number of threats against journalists in South Africa, the South African National Editors Forum has put out a statement reminding “political formations and interest groups to use the services of the Press Ombuds’ office, the Press Council and/or the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) when aggrieved or unfairly treated by the media”.

The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms (AfDec) Coalition has lined up a number of activities with member organisations across the continent in 2020 to ensure strong “advocacy for an open and free internet as well as strategic promotion of online human rights in Africa.”

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