The Sixth General Meeting of the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), a network of African freedom of expression and media development organisations which are members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), has challenged African leaders to protect rights of journalists and discourage impunity.
The meeting held in Accra, Ghana, on Wednesday, November 7 and Thursday, November 8, 2018 and was hosted by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), and presided, over by AFEX Steering Committee Chairperson, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, who is the Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA).
It was also attended by representatives of all AFEX member organisations from West, East, Central and Southern Africa and two representatives from ARTICLE 19 Brazil and ARTICLE 19 Mexico as well as journalists from Ghana.
The meeting discussed institutional issues concerning AFEX as well as the current state of freedom of expression in Africa and strategies for addressing the threats to freedom of expression and media freedom on the continent, particularly, the issues of the safety of journalists and how to confront the challenge of impunity for crimes against journalists. Participants resolved to develop a plan of action on the safety of journalists in Africa which will guide advocacy interventions by members of the AFEX Network and other press freedom organisations.
At the end of the meeting, members of the Network expressed concern about the growing wave of attacks against journalists and the media in general across the African continent, especially during elections.
The meeting felt disturbed by the widespread increase in the level of insecurity in journalism practice, arising from the unchecked acts of violence against media professionals and media organizations.
It believed that the failure of African governments to live up to their responsibility of protecting journalists as well as other members of the public is exacerbating this problem with numerous cases of unresolved killings of journalists and other crimes against journalists that have not been properly investigated in many countries, including Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Uganda, and Cameroon.
“Given the well-established norm that the ability of citizens to freely exercise their right to freedom of expression underpins democratic practice in any country, we are of the view that the deteriorating state of freedom of expression on the African continent is a clear signal of the decline in the quality of democracy in Africa.
We find it ironic and contradictory that although African Union (AU) leaders have launched 2018 as the African Anti-Corruption Year, its members are actively hounding the media and media professionals in many countries for reporting and exposing official corruption”, it observed.
It therefore challenged African countries to establish multi-stakeholder national mechanisms, ideally backed by Law, to promote the safety of journalists and other actors who are often targeted for exercising their right to freedom of expression and through which a range of activities in this regard can be coordinated and implemented.
Such activities could potentially include the reform of media laws, the monitoring of threats and attacks to freedom of expression, as well as the training of members of different stakeholder groups such as the military, law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies; legislators, and member of the Judiciary. The mechanism could also serve as an avenue for the provision of protection for persons at risk and for responding to the problem of impunity.
“We are equally concerned about the increasing attacks on digital rights and Internet freedoms by governments and their intelligence services in some parts of Africa, including in countries like Uganda and Zambia, where social media taxes have rec