Africa journalists fight for space amid terrorism, suppression

Wednesday April 12 2023
Africa journalists

Journalists on March 3, 2022 march during a peaceful procession to mark the World Press Freedom Day in Kisii, Kenya. According to Reporters Without Borders, being a journalist in the Sahel region of Africa means enduring the growing presence of radical armed groups who do not hesitate to kill reporters or kidnap them and use them as bargaining chips. PHOTO | ONDARI OGEGA | NMG


When Ugandan correspondent for The Continent Andrew Arinaitwe walked into a school in the outskirts of Kampala for a story over rumours that were swirling about some events, he expected to leave with as much information as he could.

However, he didn’t. He left under police escort and straight to the cells from where he was hauled before a magistrate, accused of criminal trespass.

A similar situation befell Kenyan journalist Abel Odongo when he went to cover anti-government demonstrations in Nairobi. He was arrested by policemen, who dismissed his pleadings that he was a journalist with a stern, “Don’t you know we don’t want journalists here?”

Read: AU Media Fellowship opens up cross-border collaborative journalism

For his troubles, Odongo was slapped with charges of unlawful gathering.

Odongo is one of many journalists who suffered for their job with personal attacks and injuries while covering protests recently. They were beaten or teargassed by police and mugged by violent protesters.


The Kenya Media Sector Working Group, a caucus of press freedom welfare organisations, called for restraint by authorities saying it has recorded more than 20 cases of attacks and violations against journalists, including harassment, arbitrary arrests and physical attacks, with state actors responsible for or encouraging a significant proportion of these attacks.

kenyan media

Journalists prepare to cover an event in Mombasa, Kenya. PHOTO | NMG

In Tanzania, according to lobby Reporters Without Borders (RSF), media outlets that criticise authorities face possible suspension and journalists could be arrested. Several journalists have been detained and Azory Gwanda is still missing after he disappeared in November 2017 while investigating the murders of local officials.

But the Media Council reports that violations have reduced although there is need to do more to promote press freedom.

In Uganda, journalists face intimidation and violence nearly daily, targeted by security services, RSF reported last year.

Troubled Sahel

However, journalists across the continent are experiencing far worse scenarios. For years, Al Shabaab made Somalia the worst country in Africa for journalists. According to RSF, at least 50 newsmen have been killed in the last decade in Somalia and several others sustained serious injuries or received threats that led them to stop work on certain reports.

Read: Shabaab, impunity 'hurting' Somali media

But the Sahel region is taking over the mantle as journalists are murdered, kidnapped, detained, expelled, attacked or threatened into not doing their work.

The Sahel which includes Chad, Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Guinea, Nigeria, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Niger and parts of Cameroon, bandits, terror merchants, juntas and militants combine to enhance the dangers for journalists.

Five journalists have been killed in the Sahel in the past 10 years and two others recently went missing, RSF said in its bulletin released this week.

According to RSF, being a journalist in the Sahel means enduring the growing presence of radical armed groups who do not hesitate to kill reporters or kidnap them and use them as bargaining chips. New military governments after taking power through coups, impose their own concept of journalism and issue ‘patriotic directives’.

“The increase in attacks by armed groups has steadily reduced the space in which journalists can gather information and has weakened the means of communication,” RSF Director for the sub-Sahara Africa Sadibou Marong said in a recent report.

“The fraught and complex situation for journalism in the Sahel requires widespread mobilisation efforts to bring together and organise the resistance in defence of journalistic freedom and pluralism in the Sahel so that this region does not become Africa’s biggest news and information black hole,” he added.

The RSF report titled “What it’s Like to be a Journalist in the Sahel” tells stories like that of French journalist Olivier Dubois who was kidnapped and held hostage for 711 days by an armed group in Mali. He was released on March 20 this year.

Freed nationals

Kidnapped French journalist Olivier Dubois (3rd L) and US aid worker Jeffery Woodke (R) who were freed from Sahel region are seen as they arrive in Niamey Niger on March 20, 2023. PHOTO | SOULEYMANE AG ANARA | AFP

Two Spanish journalists, reporter David Beriain and cameraman Roberto Fraile, were attacked and killed in Eastern Burkina Faso by a terrorist group on April 26, 2021.

TV reporter Obed Nangbatna was injured in Chad by a mine said to have been planted by a terror group.

On April 18, 2021 just 10 days after Dubois’ abduction in Mali, a Malian journalist Moussa M’Bana Dicko was kidnapped by an armed group who accused him of making “critical comments” about them. He is now regarded as missing. The family of journalist Hamadoun Nialibouly have also not received any news of him since armed men abducted him on September 27, 2020 in Central Mali’s Mopti region.

It has been seven years since Birama Touré, a reporter for the weekly Le Sphinx disappeared in Mali. At the time of his disappearance, he had been investigating two stories involving Karim Keïta, the powerful head of the national assembly’s defence committee and son of then President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.

Read: Freedoms under pressure in Senegal

Other victims

A producer at the privately owned radio station CEFOD Narcisse Oredjé was killed by a stray bullet during a protest in the Chadian capital N’Djamena on October 20, 2022.

Nathan Ayati, a reporter for the newspaper Le Pays, reports that he was assaulted by security personnel as he covered a protest and made him to spend a night at a police station.

In Mali and Burkina Faso, several French media outlets have been suspended. Benjamin Roger who covers the Sahel for the French monthly Jeune Afrique was arrested at his hotel in Bamako on February 7, 2022 and expelled from Mali. A few weeks later, Jeune Afrique reporter Manon Laplace was briefly detained.

“In Benin, journalists can be sentenced to imprisonment under the country’s Digital Law. In Niger, the cybercrime law was used to convict journalists until a revised version was adopted in June 2022. In this hostile environment, fear of reprisals has favoured self-censorship,” Marong argues.

An investigative reporter for Bénin Web TV Ignace Sossou, spent six months in prison in 2020 because he quoted comments on a social media post that a prosecutor had made during a workshop on disinformation.