African countries expend civil liberties to deal with dissent

Sunday March 26 2023
Police arrest a supporter of Uganda's Bobi Wine.

Police arrest a supporter of Ugandan opposition politician Bobi Wine. Fundamental rights and freedoms are continually getting restricted in almost 90 percent of sub-Saharan African countries. PHOTO | BADRU KATUMBA | AFP


Fundamental rights and freedoms are continually getting restricted in almost 90 percent of sub-Saharan African countries, even as the rest of the globe makes gains towards more open societies characterised by respect for civil liberties.

Civicus, a global alliance of civil society organisations advocating for human rights, this week sounded alarm over the rising incidents of violation of human rights in African countries, as many are yet to allow freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly.

According to their latest Civic Freedoms Monitor report, civil liberties have remained restricted in 44 of the 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, among them all countries in the region, with freedom being either repressed or obstructed.

In the last year, the report says, sub-Saharan African countries recorded alarmingly high number of incidents of intimidation of activists and other people, detention of journalists, arrest of protestors, unwarranted disruption of peaceful protests and attacking of reporters.

Most prevalent

Intimidation was the most prevalent form of violation, reported severally in at least 23 countries in the region last year. Civicus said governments used it as a tactic “to discourage journalists and activists from continuing their work.”


“Intimidation, perpetrated by state and non-state actors, occurred in different forms, including through police summons for questioning, threats of prosecution, house searches without warrants, office break-ins and raids and online or offline threatening messages,” the report read.

At the same time, there was a surge in violation of the rights of sexual and gender minorities, with incidences of violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersexual (LGBTQI+) community rising.

East Africa was specifically highlighted as a hub of anti-LGBTQI+ violence. In Kenya, the report says, there were several incidences of targeting, harassment, attacking, and even killing of those who identify as such.

Anti-gay law

This year, the infringement of such freedoms of association is projected to heighten, after Ugandan legislators passed a law that criminalises identifying as a member of the LGBTQI+ community, and Kenyan lawmakers are projected to follow suite.

The multiple arrests of protestors during last Monday’s opposition protests in Kenya and the dispersion of the demonstrations, could also be indicative of increasingly restricted civic space, as these were among the leading forms of infringements reported last year.

This past week, the United States’ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour also released its annual human rights reports, which also showed multiple incidences and cases of human rights violations in African countries.

Their reports indicate that issues such as extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, invasion of privacy, and repression of freedom of expression and media, were reported in all countries in the region last year.

Peaceful assembly

The US reports also identified the “interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organisations and activists,” as amongst the major curtailments of freedom in the region.

They also said there were cases of “serious” government corruption, most of which did not end with prosecution or conviction of perpetrators, lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence and the existence of laws criminalising consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

In comparison, countries in the West had negligible incidences of human rights violations, with some like Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and others being rated by Civicus as “open”. Others were rated as “narrowed” while a few, like the United Kingdom, were rated “Obstructed.”

In Canada, for instance, the US reports say: “The government had mechanisms in place to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses or engage in corruption,” despite some cases of human rights abuses.