Four countries downgraded in Africa as civic freedoms deteriorate8 December, 2021
- Mali, Mozambique downgraded from Obstructed to Repressed
- Botswana, South Africa downgraded from Narrowed to Obstructed
- Top violations in Africa are detention of journalists, followed by censorship and detention of protesters
Civic and political rights are slipping in several of the 49 countries in Africa, according to a new report by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online research platform that rates and tracks respect for fundamental freedoms in 197 countries. The report, People Power Under Attack 2021, also shows that basic freedoms are backsliding across the globe: 3.1% of the world’s population now live in closed, repressed or obstructed countries.
In Africa, the vast majority of countries continue to restrict civic freedoms – six countries are rated ‘closed’, 24 ‘repressed’ and 13 ‘obstructed’. In reality, this means that the basic freedoms of speech, peaceful assembly and association are not being respected across this vast region.
In the past two years, an increasing number of countries in Africa have been downgraded to the category of ‘repressed’, including West African countries Benin in May 2021, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Niger and Togo in December 2020 and Nigeria in December 2019, now joined by Mali and Mozambique.
Mali experienced two military coups in nine months, with the military leadership claiming that presidential and legislative elections in February 2022, which would see elections ushering in civilian rule after a 18-month transition period, are not feasible, citing security reasons. Prior to the August 2020 coup and following disputed legislative elections in March-April 2020, mass anti-government protests took place. Protests in July 2020 in Bamako were repressed, including through the use of live ammunition by security forces, with at least 11 people killed and dozens injured. Additionally, access to the internet was restricted.
In Mozambique, the downgrade is a reflection of the unwarranted restrictions on freedom of expression and a deteriorating environment for journalists and civil society activists. Physical attacks, intimidation and harassment of journalists and HRDs have become increasingly common. Community radio journalist Ibraimo Abu Mbaruco’s whereabouts are still unknown since his disappearance in April 2020 in Palma, Cabo Delgado. In October 2019, Anastácio Matavel, civil society activist and founder and director of FONGA-Gaza NGO Forum, was shot and killed in Xai-Xai, Gaza Province, after at- tending a training session on election monitoring. In August 2020, the headquarters of media outlet Canal de Moçambique were broken into and set on fire with petrol bombs. The media outlet had previously investigated and reported on corruption. Meanwhile, access for journalists to work from areas affected by the armed insurgency in Cabo Delgado has been limited.
“It is disheartening to see, year on year, an increasing number of countries backsliding on their duty to respect fundamental freedoms in Africa.” said Ine Van Severen, civic space researcher for West and Central Africa, “Additionally, military coups in Chad, Mali, Guinea and Sudan in 2021 raise concerns for the future of fundamental freedoms in these countries, as we witnessed repression by security forces in Chad and Sudan.”
Civic space in the southern African countries Botswana and South Africa are downgraded from ‘narrowed’ to ‘obstructed’. South Africa has experienced serious civic space restrictions over several years, with the past year continuing this trend, pushing the country into the obstructed category. South Africa’s downgrade is linked to the use of excessive force and in some instances lethal force against protesters, which saw a bystander killed in Johannesburg during student protests in March 2021, escalating harassment, arbitrary detention and killings of HRDs, including Malibongwe Mdazo, an organiser of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, who was publicly gunned down amidst a labour dispute in August 2021. Those responsible for these violations, both state and non-state groups, are rarely held to account.
Botswana saw an increasing number of arrests and assaults of protesters, who called for government accountability, exposed corruption or complained about economic downturn, among other issues. Authorities continue to use the flawed provisions of the Public Order Act, interpreted by them as requiring a permit to protest. Meanwhile, journalists are subjected to surveillance and it has become usual practice for Botswana security forces to arrest journalists and confiscate their devices. Reports indicate that use of spyware to tap into and siphon off data from journalists’ devices, as was the case for journalist Oratile Dikologang.
In Africa, the detention of journalists remains the top civic violation for the second year running, showing the dire state of freedom of expression across the continent. Journalists were arrested because of their reporting on sensitive issues including corruption and police brutality, such as Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono who spent three weeks in detention for a tweet on alleged police brutality during the country’s COVID-19 lockdown in January 2021. Additionally, journalists remain vulnerable for detention and assault, during electoral periods and while covering protests. Defamation remains a criminal offence in several countries in Africa, leading to the detention of journalists.
The detention of journalists is followed by censorship, which includes the suspension of media outlets and content and restrictions to the access to internet, detention of protesters, attack on journalists and protest disruption.
“Despite constitutional guarantees on the right to freedom of expression and in support of media freedoms, African states continue to subject journalists to arbitrary arrests and detention for reporting on issues that interest the public. Journalists play an important role in informing the public about issues that affect them and governments should create an enabling environment for them to do their work without fear or intimidation or reprisals.” Said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS
Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 550 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2021.
Civic freedoms in 197 countries are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
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