On Saturday, I attended a workshop at Constitutions Hill organised by Congo Renaissance (CoRe), a platform of Congolese living in South Africa in commemoration of the World Press Freedom happening the following day, Sunday 3rd of May.
Worldwide the World Press Freedom day is considered as a day of action to encourage and develop initiatives in favor of the freedom of the press; a day to remind governments to respect their commitments to press freedom; and a day to alert the public and to increase awareness of the importance of freedom of the press.
The workshop aimed at assessing the state of freedom of expression and other human rights in the DRC and Zimbabwe and discussions on how civil society organisations and media professional could better contribute to fostering these rights in Southern Africa.
The continent of Africa has gone through good and worst scenarios. From a wide nationalist trend in the late 60s which leads to many African countries to independences; to states failure and dictatorship rise in 80s’ and 90s’. In the midst, major economic theories, financial adjustments and political re-structuring such as privatization, nationalisation, multipartism, national conferences have all been put to test. We have seen new leaders being put in place but still we can not justify or prove that citizens had expressed themselves freely and without any manipulation or intimidation.
With the Republic of South Africa leading the pack, the Southern African region may seems to be the most “democratic” since countries within the region had gone through processes of democratic elections. In last 15 years Angola, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and weeks ago South Africa, had national elections. However, as African, I have noticed that governments in many African countries are involved in what one may call “democratie de façade” or “fake democracy”.
It is a fact that in Africa even when elections have been declared free and fair by international observers, if one can investigate, there is always shocking founding showing that underground so called democratic policies and institutions, human rights and especially freedom of expression has been denied to citizens or a part of them.
For me on the Africa political scene there is two sorts of actors (players). On one hand there are those who stand and say loud what they think, and on the other those who tells you what you want to hear or see on paper but they act for their selfish interests or that of a minority group.
According to a Zimbabwean project lawyer, Media Defence Programme coordinator at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) Lloyd Kuveya, laws exist in the Southern region; however we are short falling on its implementation.
Stressing on the situation in Zimbabwe, he says that this is mainly due to the fact that the institutions (courts) supposed to protect these rights are often weak, non independent, and biased.
President Mugabe passes to be one of the most arrogant African head of state. Compared to the“quiet” and “democrat” Joseph Kabila president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the president of Zimbabwe has always spoken his mind at the extent to deny human right to those opposing his views.
Kuveya provided the audience composed with journalists, students and activist with facts of violations of freedom of press by the arrogant Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe where journalists have been put in jails, newspapers and websites closed down as well as the bias of public media for the regime in place.
Commenting on the situation of press and media in DRC, Jose de Jesus, an independent journalist from the DRC living in Johannesburg said that “Kabila regime is an iceberg”. Kabila’s government has been painted as democratic since the country’s institutions are seemingly running smoothly he maintains. The government has claimed that it has put policy in place which recognising freedom of media. As result it is busting itself by the fact that the capital Kinshasa has more then 10 private independent journals and no less then 60 private TV channels broadcasting into the city.
Yet, the reality says De Jesus is that journalists are not free to write and voice what they have found. Journalists are too scared to be put in jail and lose their businesses. He said that the consequence is that most private TV channels are focus only on entertainment and music in particular while the public broadcasting Radio Tele National Congolaise (RTNC) is of evident bias to the government.
However, beside violation of freedom of press by governments in most African countries, a question of ethic journalistic is to be raised. With the international economic turmoil, media houses are facing huge challenges, a choice of either go for a public interest or pursue a market goal. In some case the market option is putting media houses in a position whereby their editorial lines privilege a profit making gain or maximizing on sponsor’s and shareholders’ value whereas the public interest option sets the service to the public as the center around which it revolves. Unfortunately many media houses hardly strike it right in this regards, especially in the DRC and Zimbabwe, write the President of CoRe Ciril Mutombo in (www.congorenaissance.org).
In conclusion, many attendants expressed their discouragement with mainstream press houses such as CNN, BBC, Africa N1, SABC, RTNC etc… and recognized the need for civil society organisations to find other venue of expression such as citizen journalism whereby citizen and community can take ownership of information.
In this regards, concerns were raised at the workshop about limitations of such alternative community journalism taking in account that in countries such as DRC or Zimbabwe internet usage is at its very early age. Although my strong view on this is that as African we should stop putting out excuses instead looking for alternative solution and asking the right questions. For me the question should not be ‘how many have internet’ but instead ‘how many can be reached by the internet’. All over Africa there is a boom of cellular phone users for example, even in areas where there are not internet places. Therefore the development of social networking such Twitter and the use of web based bulk SMS are among solutions for Africans in order to become independent from main stream medias.