Leaders who hate free media

Monday May 3 2010

By Juliet Kigongo


For free media campaigners, Reporters Without Borders, adjectives to describe leaders’ intolerant to free expression are almost exhausted in the English language and for the group’s report this year they are called “predators.”

The African continent has eight predators identified on the list including Presidents, chiefs of police and rebel groups. “Whether presidents, ministers, chiefs of staff, religious leaders or the heads of armed groups, these predators of press freedom have the power to censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and, in the worst cases, murder journalists,” reads a report by Reporters Without Borders.

Entitled “Predators of Press Freedom 2010”, the report leads the African list with Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki followed by Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema and Inspector General of Police of Nigeria Ogbonna Onovo comes third and fourth respectively, while Rwanda’s Paul Kagame is in fifth position.

Also on the list are; Somalia Islamist militias- Al-Shabaab, Hizb-Al-Islam in the sixth position, while King Mswati III of Swaziland and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe are in seventh and eighth positions respectively.

Hostile laws
The report comes after human rights observers and analysts expressed fear that Uganda is increasingly degenerating to the class of Rwanda even after making some gains in legislating media friendly laws such as the Access to Information Act and the Whistle Blowers Act.

These gains, the group says, are, however, being eroded by other proposed media unfriendly laws like the ones on the Press and Journalists Act (1995) into what the civil society, international body of journalists, human right activists and industry experts describe as draconian law. The report indicates that in Rwanda, Mr Kagame does not tolerate embarrassing questions at news conferences, often denigrates journalists and brands outspoken media as “Radio Mille Collines.”

Control necessary
“Every year several Rwandan journalists decide to go into exile because they find the atmosphere unbearable in their home country. This does not worry President Kagame, who refers to journalists as “mercenaries” and “bums”,” reads part of the report. However, the Rwanda government says the media needs to be controlled to ensure it does not incite or promote genocide as it did in 1994. Describing Eritrea as Africa’s youngest republic but governed by its most ruthless dictator; a former rebel chief and hero of Eritrea’s war of liberation who makes no bones about his totalitarian tendencies.