Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has asked three UN special rapporteurs to investigate exactly what led to the death of Cameroonian journalist Samuel Wazizi.
The government of Cameroon has announced that Wazizi died on August 17, 2019 while in military custody. He had been arrested in August 2019 for allegedly providing logistics to separatist combatants in the Southwest of Cameroon. Prior to the announcement which was made in June, the journalists fate was unknown to the public. His lawyer and family members were not allowed contact with the journalist during his incarceration.
Cameroonian authorities initially denied that Wazizi was in custody. Waziz's family says they have yet to receive his body from the government.
“I call on the authorities to shed light on the events that led to Wazizi’s demise and ensure that any contravention to his rights as a journalist and as a detainee are brought to justice," said Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, in a statement in response to the announcement of his death in June.
Wazizi whose birth name is Samuel Ajiekah Abuwe was born on June 6, 1984 and was a cameraman and journalist for Chillen Media Television (CMTV) in Buea, Southwest Region of Cameroon.
RSF states that they believe Wazizi was targeted because of his critical reporting regarding the way the government was handling the conflict in English-speaking regions.
Journalists working in Anglophone regions have found it difficult to report on the conflict at times. A 2014 law enacted to fight Boko Haram terrorists in the north of the country critics believe is being used to silence journalists reporting on this seperate conflict. The two conflicts have offered severe challenges to the rule of President Paul Biya who has ruled the country since 1982.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned this practice, with Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa Program Director stating that “Cameroon is clearly using anti-state legislation to silence criticism in the press. When you equate journalism with terrorism, you create an environment where fewer journalists are willing to report on hard news for fear of reprisal”.
No arrests have yet been made in the Wazizi case, but Quintal speaking to New Africa Daily asked for the release of other detained Cameroonian journalists:
“We repeat our call for the remaining 7 journalists in jail to be released. Several have been in pre-trial detention for lengthy periods. Wawa Jackson Nfor for more than 2 years and Paul Chouta for more than a year” she said over the phone, adding that “Some are in poor health, including Thomas Awah Junior. We wrote to President Paul Biya asking that he be released on humanitarian grounds. More recently we wrote to several African presidents, including Biya, to release the journalists amid Covid-19, Their continued incarceration in Cameroon’s overcrowded and shocking prisons, is a death sentence. That letter was co-signed by more than 80 media freedom and rights organizations”.
Cameroon ranks 134 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
In Lagos, twenty-five anti-government protesters arrested on Wednesday were released after appearing in court, where they were cautioned against unruly and unlawful behavior. They were arrested during peaceful demonstrations—organized under the aegis of the #RevolutionNow movement and tagged “national day of action”—across major cities. The protestors are demanding better governance from the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of a failed protest called by the journalist and activist Omoyele Sowore, who was arrested as a result and charged with treason, money laundering, and cyberstalking. He was freed in December, but he still faces trial.
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), an alliance formed in 2018 by Nigeria’s main opposition People’s Democratic Party and dozens of other parties, has condemned the crackdown on #RevolutionNow activists during Wednesday’s demonstrations.
The arrest of the twenty-five protesters in the Ikeja suburb for unlawful protest and disregarding COVID-19 social distancing measures elicited stronger reactions than usual, as it occurred around the same time as a deadly attack on a community in Kaduna State, allegedly by a Fulani militia group. The authorities appeared to be more preoccupied with clamping down on protestors violating interim measures than acting against violent bandits, which has prompted rising anti-government sentiment.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo saw the third mass demonstration in ten days this past Sunday as thousands of people protested against the choice of a new president to head the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). Unlike the first two demonstrations, during which a number of people were killed and dozens were injured after tear gas was used, this third demonstration passed without any major incident.
The demonstrators are demanding a depoliticized commission
The protests are focused on the choice of a member of the outgoing CENI team to head the new team, Ronsard Malonda, the current executive secretary. The demonstrators are demanding a depoliticized commission. They take issue with Malonda given his involvement in the 2006, 2011, and 2018 presidential elections, which were believed to have been rigged in favor of former president Joseph Kabila.
Malonda’s appointment as CENI president has already been approved by the National Assembly, but still has to be confirmed by President Félix Tshisekedi.
Catholic organizations in the country called for the demonstrations, with the support of the Lamuka opposition coalition. They believe that Malonda’s nomination is another ploy by Kabila, whose FCC party retains significant influence over the military and the National Assembly, to sway the 2023 election in his favor once again.
Online news media in Benin have been subjected to a vague federal decree since the beginning of July that demands all “online media must suspend all publication under penalty of being subjected to the force of law.” The media release was published by the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), one of seven ostensibly independent institutions formed under the 1990 constitution.
During a media conference, a spokesperson for HAAC claimed to have noted “an all-out creation of online media without prior authorization,” but there was no more clarity on the scope of the new ban.
Since President Patrice Talon was elected in 2016, the Media Foundation for West Africa has recorded fourteen violations of press freedoms and freedom of expression. Several of these instances involved HAAC suspending outlets, sometimes for an indefinite period, as punishment for publishing material deemed to be an attack on the president or for publishing “false information” in the form of articles commenting on the declining state of the economy.
“Beninese media are now paying for bureaucratic sluggishness”
In an effort to avoid running afoul of the law, some Beninese news sites, such as Banouto, have complied with the HAAC’s decree and are thus now stuck in limbo as they await the HAAC’s next step. In the process, they are missing out on potential stories and reneging on commitments.
Communications expert Léon Anjorin Koboubé told Agence France-Presse that online Beninese media are now “paying for bureaucratic sluggishness” and that this latest ban is “a way to kill local initiatives.”
Press freedom organizations in Benin argue that the HAAC is simply carrying out a continual pattern of press intimidation, based on a law passed in 2018 that criminalized online misdemeanors, including the spreading of “false information.” It is one of the reasons Reporters Without Borders ranked Benin at 113 on its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, down from 96 the year before.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to rattle the world earlier this year, schools were among the first institutions to be closed. Many schools were able to move instruction to the digital sphere, with classes and even graduation taking place on videoconferencing platforms. In most parts of Africa, however, e-learning is a luxury available to only a few.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) schools have been closed since March. The government, with the help of partners like UNICEF, has set up some radio and television distance-learning programs, but a lack of electricity in remote rural areas, let alone Internet access, deprive students of this opportunity.
Like the rest of the country, the village of Kalebuka in the southeast has been hit hard by the pandemic. Farming, using mainly manual labor, is the main economic activity in the area. There is no electricity or internet in Kalebuka. No tarred roads. No modern hospital.
This is where the all-girls’ school Malaika opened in 2010 with just three classrooms. The school was established by the nonprofit Georges Malaika Foundation, founded in 2007 by Noëlla Coursaris Musunka, an international model and philanthropist born in Lubumbashi to a Congolese mother and a Cypriot father. She was only five years old when her father died and her mother made the difficult decision to send her to Europe to be raised by relatives. She lived in Belgium and later Switzerland, and started modelling as a teenager. Eventually, she realized her dream of establishing the foundation—named in memory of her father Georges and the Swahili word for angel, malaika—to provide girls in the DRC with some of the opportunities she had had growing up.
Today, the school provides free primary and secondary education to about 350 girls, with classes taught in French and English. The curriculum covers math, science, information technology, art, and more. And the school offers access to the Internet, computers, and television. It provides these girls with the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
The foundation’s aims go beyond education; it has also built a community center and installed twenty wells in Kalebuka.
The Hunger Virus
“We hope so much that the school and the community center can open up soon,” Musunka says. “We are worried about the children, not only academically but more about their health. If they are lucky, they now get only one meal per day. When they go to school, we give them breakfast and lunch. Not going to school means their health is in danger.”
English teacher Rebecca Mbayo says the lockdown has brought starvation to Kalebuka. “These girls represent all Congolese children. Most of them start the day by asking, ‘When will mom come and cook food for me?’ and get the response, ‘Maybe,’ rather than saying if they will eat or not eat. In general, these children eat once a day or they don’t eat at all.That is why Malaika provides two balanced meals to keep them healthy and prevent them dropping out of school.”
“Our school and community center were ordered closed by the Congolese government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” says headmaster Sylvain Koj, “but Malaika continues to support the local community.”
The school has been distributing desperately needed food and necessities to those in need in the community. “So far, we’ve helped about 60 families per week, comprising more than 3,000 individuals,” Koj says. The school also commissioned local women to sew masks, which it distributes along with soap and sanitizer to people in Kalebuka and neighboring villages, many of whom do not have access to basic hygiene products. “We are providing sanitation and prevention education by teaching local people about proper handwashing, safe hygiene practices, and more.”
Learning During Lockdown
While the school remains closed, the teachers have kept up the education of the girls to the best of their ability by providing lessons to do at home. Normally, the students would finish their homework at school rather than doing it at home by the light of a candle or a lamp. Now, the teachers walk from door to door distributing homework that the children would do by daylight in the absence of electricity.
Malaika has also organized webinars at the school presented by inspirational women such as British actress Thandie Newton; Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, and actress Eve; and television broadcaster June Sarpong.
The students miss their school, Mbayo says. Despite the lingering danger of the pandemic, she feels it would be best for the present health and wellbeing of the girls to go back to school. “We are resilient. We have lived with war, Ebola, malaria, and cholera, and we adapted. Even with this pandemic, we have to adapt and learn to live with it.”
A Matter of Survival
Despite the twenty wells that Malaika built with the help of donors, access to clean water continues to be a challenge. In the absence of basic necessities at home, it’s near impossible for these children and their families to follow safety regulations. Of greater risk than COVID-19 or malaria is the risk of starvation.
There is also, as Mbayo explains, the risk of girls being forced into prostitution, begging, theft, and early marriage. “Whatever challenges they face at home, school is a safe environment.”
While they’re not going to school, many of the girls help their mothers sell vegetables on the street to make enough money for their families to eat.
“They work in their parents’ fields, and sell the food in the market and in the center of town,” Mbayo says. “They have to walk long distances and do heavy work, risking accidents, rape, violence, and kidnapping.”
What happens if a child gets sick? Leya, a ten-year-old girl from the community, died during the lockdown period when she didn’t receive proper treatment in time due to poor living conditions. “If Lea had been studying at the school, we would have seen that she was unwell and would have been able to prevent her death.”
Two girls from the school—nine-year-old Edoxie and fourteen-year-old Esether—both fell sick during lockdown and weren’t immediately treated. Edoxie underwent surgery due to typhoid fever and is now recovering. Esther had to have surgery on her leg.
“Parents do not have the money to take their children to hospital, so it falls to Malaika and the community to help them if they’re ill,” Mbayo says. “These interventions are possible thanks to people who support us.”
The students have been making face shields for healthcare workers using the school’s two 3D printers. If these girls can help and contribute with the little that they have, then so too can the rest of the world to ensure their survival.
Don Bosco Mullan, a prominent Irish media producer and civil rights activist, became a well-known public figure after the publication of his book Eyewitness Bloody Sunday: The Truth in 1997. It sparked a second public inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972 wherein British soldiers fired on unarmed civil-rights protestors, killing thirteen of them.
From 1994 to 1996, Mullan worked with Concern Worldwide and visited Rwanda and the refugee camps in eastern Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.) He also attended the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela in 1994, invited by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a gesture of thanks for his anti-apartheid activism.
Mullan’s latest venture brings him to Burkina Faso, a trip that he described as a “pilgrimage” to the burial site of Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary leader whose four years in power transformed Burkina Faso from one of the poorest nations in West Africa to one with a level of agricultural self-sufficiency, mass literacy and vaccination programs, and major land redistribution and gender equality reforms.
Touched by Sankara’s vision, Mullan has endeavored to erect a monument to the revolutionary in Addis Ababa, the seat of the African Union.
In a letter addressed to a friends, Mullan envisions the statue: “This monument will depict [Sankara] planting trees alongside a young Burkinabe girl, demonstrating his foresight on environmental conservation, his respect for feminine leadership, and his belief in the rebirth of Africa through its youth and future generations.”
Sankara, the Environmentalist
The environmental motif references an ongoing project known as the Great Green Wall, an effort to plant millions of trees across the Sahel to reverse desertification, hold off adverse climate change, and generate new economic opportunities. Sankara was an early advocate for environmental protection; during his four years in power, more than 10 million trees were planted in Burkina Faso.
Mass demonstrations have persisted in Mali despite the threat of COVID-19. Many thousands of Malians have taken to the streets since June to protest against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s handling of the jihadist insurgency, a declining economy, and government corruption. On July 10 and 11, these actions culminated in the death of up to eleven people as protesters blockaded roads, stormed the national assembly, and occupied the offices of the state broadcaster in Bamako, forcing it off the air.
President Keïta announced the dissolution of the constitutional court
In response to this latest escalation, President Keïta announced the dissolution of the country’s constitutional court, which had been the focus of public frustration after overturning several provisional results for parliamentary seats of the hotly contested elections held in April. In a televised address on Saturday, Keïta insisted on working with the political opposition to create a new constitutional court and implement some of the demands issued by the Mouvement du 5 Juin–Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques, a coalition of opposition political parties and civil society organizations headed by Imam Mahmoud Dicko.
Opposition leaders have reacted with suspicion at Keïta’s plea for collaboration, pointing to the arrest of several protest leaders by security forces on the same say. Even the Convergence pour le Développement du Mali (CODEM), a party that is ostensibly aligned with Keïta, issued a strongly worded condemnation of the disproportionate use of force against demonstrators and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Boubou Cissé.
Former child soldiers who were embroiled in the Central African Republic’s civil war have now become frontline aid workers in the country’s fight against COVID-19. As part of UNICEF’s WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) relief program, which began in 2015, the former soldiers are hired to provide safe drinking water by manually drilling wells and laying pipes. So far, they have installed wells for about 25,000 people, a critical service, especially during the pandemic.
The program offers a path to rehabilitation
Years of civil war devastated the Central African Republic’s already fragile healthcare system and left about half of the population dependent on humanitarian aid. For the child soldiers, the WASH program offers a path to rehabilitation; it has given them the opportunity to learn valuable skills and to earn a living. It helps to minimize the chances of them relapsing into fighting by joining one of about a dozen armed groups operating in the country.
It also encourages communities to accept these former child soldiers back into their communities. Rejection is another motivating factor for recidivism, even though the country’s militias agreed in 2015 to free all child soldiers and end child recruitment.
Morocco, which maintained one of the strictest border lockdowns in response to COVID-19, will begin to reopen its borders in phases starting next week. Moroccan citizens and expatriates will be allowed to return in the first phase beginning July 14, but only after presenting results from both a PCR (polymerize chain reaction) test and an antibody test. Foreign citizens stuck in Morocco will now finally be able to return home as well.
The severe border closures imposed on March 15 left many Moroccans stuck in foreign countries, including 500 in Spain, some without resources to support themselves during this forced exile.
A resumption of travel may help Royal Air Maroc, Morocco’s state-owned national airline, alleviate some of the major losses it sustained after cancelling all routes due to the pandemic, though it is unlikely to return to its former fleet size as the pandemic persists.
In the Republic of the Congo, concerns persist over the health of Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, a former military chief and opposition politician who has been in prison since 2016, when he was arrested with others after refusing to accept the re-election of Denis Sassou Nguesso as president. In 2018, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison for undermining state security.
His health has suddenly deteriorated. He tested negative for COVID-19, and according to the latest press release he has acute malaria, aggravated by hypertension. Several NGOs and Congolese civil society organizations have called for Mokoko to be placed under house arrest so he could be treated by his family doctor. The authorities have not yet responded to these repeated calls, despite condemnation from other African heads of state and the United Nations.
A video resurfaced showing him purportedly discussing a coup
Prior to his imprisonment, Mokoko served as adviser for peace and security to President Denis Sassou Nguesso, before quitting his position in February 2016 to run against Nguesso in the March presidential election. A few days after Mokoko had announced his candidacy, a 2007 video resurfaced showing him purportedly discussing a coup to overthrow Nguesso with a French intelligence agent.
The polemic around Mokoko’s imprisonment reflect a broader discussion occurring across Africa as the continent grapples with the dangers involved in keeping prisoners behind bars, where cramped and often unsanitary conditions increase the risk of contracting COVID-19.