Opinion

African Day of Information should be a day to celebrate achievements, not mourning

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By Great Lakes Team

Every November 07,  African countries celebrate the African Day of Information, with the theme of the discussions of the day focusing on the role of the media in development, peace and reconciliation, democracy and good governance. Forget not the free press.

As global media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) warned on last Tuesday, November 02, the crackdown of scribes in authoritarian states is worsening. These served as a warning, but it seems no one paid any attention.

A top 10 list of countries that are leading in oppressing independent media was released as many countries in Africa reacted harshly to RWBs list.

It is a shame that just 72 hours after Africa celebrated the information day,  Libya’s union of journalists have reported that authorities have arrested 10 reporters who work for a news agency controlled by the son of leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Union head Salma al-Shaab said Sunday that security forces detained the six men and four women – including two Egyptians – a day earlier. She said the journalists worked for Libya Press and were arrested for criticizing Libya’s leadership.

The news agency is part of the al-Ghad media group belonging to Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the reformist son of the Libyan leader.

President Gadhafi is known in Africa as an advocate for the United States of Africa, however, with his government’s behavior of arresting 10 journalists on this day, it seems the principals of governance and democracy are still mirth to him.

The new list of 10 most repressive countries towards journalists included Syria, Korea, Myanmar, China, Iran, Eritrea, Burma and Rwanda.

The RWB report was condemned by Rwandan government and Rwanda Association of Journalists in the celebrations to mark the African day of Information.

However, RWB accuses Rwanda’s government 0f carrying out the assassination of Jean-Léonard Rugambage, the associate editor of the fortnightly Umuvugizi, who was gunned down outside his home in Kigali at about 11 p.m. on 24 June.

RWB also accuses the government entity Media high council for harassing the independent media by blocking the websites of Umuvugizi and Umuseso on June 03.

In addition the acquittal of Assumani Niyontambaza, editor of Rugali tabloid, suspending Umuvugizi and Umuseso tabloids also impose jail sentences on Charles Kabonero, the publisher of the weekly Umuseso, Didas Gasana, its editor, and Richard Kayigamba, one of its reporters, after finding them guilty of invading privacy in one of their articles. Kabonero got 12 months, while the other two got six months.

It’s from all those accusations that made Rwanda decline in ranking from 145th in 2008, 157th in 2009 and now its 169th and Rwanda’s government has struggled to deny all those accusations.

Now let’s consider Burundi, 13th August, editor released provisionally, after being held for two days on libel charges. September 06, Judges keep editor in detention, now on the celebration day of African Information day, November 07, two newspaper journalists held for 48 hours without being told why.

It’s still incomprehensible, how journalists get in the same or worse situations of harassment and intimidation for their profession, when the governments sponsor big parties to mark the day which they don’t believe in.

The celebrations should be the chance for journalist to celebrate their achievements struggling for their rights to have access to information, freedom of expression and opinion.

African Union and other blocs should have policies established to protect and defend the freedom of the independent press in order to encourage good governance and respect of human rights.

The media should avoid holding the big parties; conferences with the governments which are just playing games with the media, and  thus avoid celebrations without any meanings.

It’s the time for Africa and the Great Lakes Region countries, to practice what they preach as far as governance is concerned.

Email the editor@greatlakesvoice.com

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