- The government of The Gambia has once again demonstrated its unfriendly media colours after it had barred a forum on freedom of expression in its territory. A coalition of African free exchange organisations was refused to hold the said forum in Banjul as part of the scheduled meeting of African Union (AU) heads of state summit that kicks off on 25 June. The forum thus shifted to the next door country, Senegal, where free speech is being guaranteed.
"Since we are prevented from meeting in The Gambia, I would propose that we issue a strong statement to denounce this arbitrariness," said prominent gender cum media activist, Amie Joof-Cole, herself a native of The Gambia exiled in Senegal.
The recommendations or communiqués that emanated from the Dakar meeting would be filtered down to the AU heads of state, meeting at the same time in Banjul. Media watchdogs said there is need to map out a consistent and aggressive campaign strategy as a way of sending signals to the likes of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, whose government succeeded in silencing independent media through killing, arson attacks, torture, arbitrary arrest, detention and threats.
The Dakar meeting clearly demonstrates the high level determination among the coalition members. The forum will not only examine the main obstacles of free expression in Africa, but it will also seek ways to effectively use the Gambia-based African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the African Peer Review Mechanism to press for freedom of expression.
The coalition - dubbed Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisations (NAFEO) - expressed concern about the dwindling state of freedom of expression and press in parts of Africa, as arbitrary arrest, detention, repression and threats continue to loom over journalists. Besides, many African governments have criminalised journalistic work and free expression through repressive legislations.
Media watchdogs have blamed the AU for holding its 7th summit in a country whose President was named among the world's worst "predators of press freedom". The Jammeh government was also grilled for clamping down on the independent press after it had purportedly foiled an attempted coup two months ago. Few months ago, Gambian security officers arbitrarily arrested the editor, manager and a reporter of the bi-weekly newspaper 'The Independent' as well as sealed the paper's offices without a court order. The reporter was charged with publishing false story, and the two others were later released on bail.
Although the government denied inflicting tortures on detainees, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) in May proved this wrong by publishing pictures of the brutal tortures meted out to a journalist by Gambian security guards. Media watchdogs also voiced their anger at the government of The Gambia for illegally hacking the website of a critical online publication, 'Freedom Newspaper', publishing the names of its subscribers and contributors before arresting them.
"Why should we allow a buffoon President to make life terribly difficult for its citizens?" questioned Kwame Kari Kari, executive director of the Ghana-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) at a recent launch of Trust Africa in Dakar.
According to International Freedom of Exchange (IFEX), NAFEO has described Eritrea, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Tunisia and Zimbabwe as the other "hot spots" in Africa regarding press freedom. NAFEO has already appealed to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to use his influence within the AU to persuade leaders of press violating countries to respect and protect freedom of press and expression.
In collaboration with human rights groups, media and civil society organisations, NAFEO is planning to launch pressure on African governments to free detained or imprisoned individuals for expressing their right to speak freely as well as repeal laws that criminalise press offences. Notable among the organisers of the Dakar forum are also Article 19, MFWA, the Media Institute for Southern Africa and the West Africa Journalists Association.
afrol News - It is called "financial inclusion", and it is a key government policy in Rwanda. The goal is that, by 2020, 90 percent of the population is to have and actively use bank accounts. And in only four years, financial inclusion has doubled in Rwanda.
afrol News - The UN's humanitarian agencies now warn about a devastating famine in Sudan and especially in South Sudan, where the situation is said to be "imploding". Relief officials are appealing to donors to urgently fund life-saving activities in the two countries.
afrol News - Fear is spreading all over West Africa after the health ministry in Guinea confirmed the first Ebola outbreak in this part of Africa. According to official numbers, at least 86 are infected and 59 are dead as a result of this very contagious disease.
afrol News - It is already a crime being homosexual in Ethiopia, but parliament is now making sure the anti-gay laws will be applied in practical life. No pardoning of gays will be allowed in future, but activist fear this only is a signal of further repression being prepared.
afrol News / Africa Renewal - Ethiopia's ambitious plan to build a US$ 4.2 billion dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, 40 km from its border with Sudan, is expected to provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for its population plus some excess it can sell to neighbouring countries.