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Date Published: 07/14/10

Slaughterhouse for African Journalists By Odimegwu Onwumere

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A Journalist is a person who practices journalism employed to provide news stories for newspapers or broadcast media. Some of them are freelancers. Journalists are great writers. And Journalism is beyond the art and culture of keeping journal or diary, editing, presenting of news or news articles in newspapers and magazines, in radio and television broadcast and the collection of writings. Journalism keeps the people abreast with the lack-of-knowledge of the environment and gives the uneducated a voice.  "In America journalism is apt to be regarded as an extension of history; in Britain, as an extension of conversation" - [Anthony Sampson Anatomy of Britain Today]. But the environment is exhibiting inimical treatments to Journalists, especially of African descent. The environment seems not to be friendly to them.  In this regard, many African journalists today are unfriendly to their unfriendly environments. They are not relenting to create a friendly environment out of the existing unfriendly ones. Therefore, journalists’ enemies abound in the climate for African journalists. The continent of Africa has turned slaughterhouse for African journalists.  

 

Just like any Journalist in the world, African Journalists are lovers, fighters-against-societal-ills, entertainers, thinkers, philosophers, naturalists and hard-to-be-subjugated-to-the-background creatures. The list is endless. However, there is no ruling out the fact that where there are good eggs, bad eggs are not farfetched. That could be why G.K. Chesterton The Wisdom of Father Brown said, "Journalism largely consists in saying `Lord Jones Dead' to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive."

 

Journalists exhibit this unfriendly art to their unfriendly environments through the theory of the “pen is mightier than the sword”, while the environments apply the theory of “bring him and kill”. In trying to change their not-conducive and not-favourable environments to be conducive and favour not only them, but humankind in general, many African writers have met their waterloos: either that they are assassinated or that they are forced into exile. Apart from being assassinated or forced into exile virtually on daily basis, many African writers are languishing in the obsolete African prisons scattered all over the continent.

 

On Tuesday 29th June 2010 the International Federation of the Journalists (IFJ) and the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) wept bitterly and condemned in strong terms the bomb attack against eight journalists. And the injury of another journalist on July 1st and the arrest of two journalists in Mogadishu , capital of Somalia , rattled the climate of African journalists.

 

The bomb was detonated at a police school in Abdiasis district of northern Mogadishu during a press conference held by an Al-Shabaab spokesman. Imagine! One of the injured journalists told National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) that the people who bombed the scene knew that a press conference was taking place and that journalists were in attendance. Four of the injured journalists were identified as: Muse Mohamoud Jisow, Ilyas Ahmed Abukar, Abdinasir Idle, and Abdirisak Elmi Jama.

 

“We condemn these senseless attacks which had caused lot of injuries, to innocent civilians including those of our colleagues,” said Gabriel Baglo, Director of IFJ Africa office. “It is a stark reminder of the dangers the Somali media are exposed to in their daily work. We demand an urgent reaction from the Transitional Government to ensure their protection.”  

 

Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary-General, while condemning the incessant attacks on the penpushers bemoaned that the society that produced them are ridiculing them and killing them inlure of protecting them. Osman sees humankind as making the penpushers preys of political gains. So, the IFJ has called for an international action urgently, to stem this menace against the Somali civilians, especially against the penpushers. Reportedly, the Federal Transitional Government have to release immediately without condition the arrested journalists and must also endeavour at all cost, to protect human lives and make the country safe for all and sundry. 

 

“Warring sides have made it their habit to bombard or attack places with a congregation of journalists ostensibly to eliminate their enemy’s claims of political gains. But we must remind them of their responsibility to protect journalists and civilians,” added Omar Faruk Osman.

 

Throwing its weight in the condemnation and the required international action urgently to stem the killings of penpushers, Wednesday, the International Press Institute (IPI) expressed grave concern over the recent death threat against Gambian journalist, Abdoulie John, and called for an immediate and thorough investigation into the matter. John, the Banjul correspondent for the Associated Press Agency (AP), on 20 June alleged that some members of the country's security operatives had threatened to take his life as a result of his work.

 

"We are gravely concerned about reports of threats against Gambian journalist Abdoulie John," said IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills, adding: "particularly since journalists in Gambia operate under fear of death, harassment and physical harm. The police must immediately and thoroughly investigate this matter and bring to justice those responsible for making these threats, no matter who they are."

 

Rwanda is not singing a different song of this ugly situation the environment is unleashing on the penpushers, according to a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reports of 25th June 2010, two men fired Journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage in front of his house in the Rwandan capital and fled away in a car. Rugambage was the acting editor of Umuvugizi newspaper. The authorities commandeered the paper to be publishing online. The police, instead of swinging into action, exemplified itself of not knowing those involved in the attack. Must the police know? And if it should know, can it do anything?

 

“Witnesses say Jean Leonard Rugambage, the acting editor of Umuvugizi newspaper, was fired on by two men who then fled in a car. The authorities had recently suspended the paper, prompting it to start publishing online instead. Police say they do not know who was behind the attack. The paper's exiled chief editor has blamed the government,” said the BBC reports.

 

While controversies still trail the killing of Rugambage, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in its annual survey, released on 20 June to mark World Refugee Day, said that at least not less than 85 journalists fled their homes in the past year because of attacks, threats and possible imprisonment, with especially high exile rates in Iran , Somalia and Ethiopia . CPJ further said of how since 2001, more than 500 journalists fled their homes, and 454 remain in exile today. At least 42 African journalists, most of them from Somalia and Ethiopia , left their homes, seeking for refuge elsewhere.

 

"It wasn't a single incident that pushed me to leave Ethiopia – it was numerous incidents over the course of several months," said its editor Mesfin Negash. "We had hoped the harassment and intimidation would stop, but it never did because the government thought that if we stayed in Ethiopia we could influence the outcome of the elections."

 

Mesfin Negash closed shop and its journalists left the country following the event where government security forces determined to silence criticism before the May 2010 elections, intimidated journalists at the independent newspaper "Addis Neger", and threatened criminal charges against them.

 

A court in the Kigali district of Nyarugenge on 22 February 2010,  imposed jail sentences on Charles Kabonero, the publisher of the weekly "Umuseso", Didas Gasana, its editor, and Richard Kayigamba, one of its reporters, after finding them guilty of what it described as “invading privacy in one of their articles.”

 

But a group known as Reporters Without Borders are not singing Hosanna in the Highest, it has casted brimstone and fire in condemning the sentences against the journalists, describing the incident as a way of restraining the freedom of expression from the media. The group, however, has written to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. This is for the President to look into the press freedom situation in Rwanda . The group is also asking him to raise the issue with his counterpart, Paul Kagame, during an official visit to Rwanda.

 

"We firmly condemn these sentences, which deprive the newspaper's staff of three of its most important members," Reporters Without Borders said. "The authorities clearly want to silence one of the country's few independent publications."

 

While reports on 28th May 2010, has it that a total of 52 African states were invited to the two-day Africa-France summit that was billed for 31st May in the French city of Nice, President Sarkozy was to hold a three closed-door meetings with all the heads of state about what are being billed as the leading issues of the 21st century: Africa's place in world governance, reinforcing peace and security, and climate and development.

"There is as two-speed Africa now – an Africa of virtuous countries, which show the most respect for press freedom and the work of journalists, and an Africa of countries such as Gambia and Rwanda that regard journalists as the enemy," Reporters Without Borders said.

 

The group extolled the virtue of journalists in Ghana in speaking out as against the mud-leg that some of their colleagues have in the expression to the right of opinion.

 

"The media diversity in Mali has nothing in common with Eritrea 's complete absence of independent media," the organisation continued. "The ability of journalists in Ghana to express their views and be outspoken is infinitely greater than that of their colleagues in Equatorial Guinea . As for host country France , it could learn a lot from some African countries that have for years been displaying calm and tolerance towards their journalists."

 

Journalist in Danger (JED), its partner organisation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was alarmed about the situation of press freedom in this country on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence. Reports has it that they called on Belgium in particular – which was to be represented by King Albert at the celebrations and which will take over the European Union's rotating president on 1 July –  to ensure that the issue of the safety of journalists in the DRC and in central Africa in general is on the EU's agenda.

 

The two organisations were calling on the Congolese authorities and the international community to work together to improve the climate for journalists, as many foreign leaders arrive in Kinshasa for the celebrations.

 

"Aside from the celebrations and festivities, this golden jubilee should serve to highlight the problem of democracy in our country, which is now in retreat after the hopes raised by the 2006 election," said Journalist in Danger president Donat M'Baya Tshimanga.

 

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said, "It would be incomprehensible and unacceptable if the independence anniversary celebrations were to limit themselves to a complacent review of the past 50 years and were to hide the difficulties of the present and the challenges of the future. Journalists working in the DRC are exposed to an extremely hazardous environment including the possibility of murder or imprisonment. The time has come to loosen the vice that is throttling freedom of information."

 

In Nigeria , it is a harvest of deaths. Journalists are being killed since 1985. The deaths are today categoricalized into two sections: (1) Journalists Killed in Nigeria/Motive Confirmed "Terminology explained". (2) Journalists Killed in Nigeria /Motive Unconfirmed "Terminology explained".

 

Sunday Gyang Bwede, The Light Bearer, is on the 1st category. He was killed on April 24, 2010, in Jos, Plateau State , Nigeria . The following  journalists on the 1st category killed are as follows: Nathan S. Dabak, The Light BearerApril 24, 2010, in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria; Bayo Ohu, The Guardian, September 20, 2009, in Lagos, Nigeria; Samson Boyi, The Scope, November 5, 1999, in Adamawa State, Nigeria; Sam Nimfa-Jan, Details, May 27, 1999, in Kafanchan, Nigeria; Fidelis Ikwuebe, Freelancer, April 18, 1999, in Anambra, Nigeria; Okezie Amaruben, Newsservice, September 2, 1998, in Enugu, Nigeria; Tunde Oladepo, The Guardian, February 26, 1998, in Abeokuta, Nigeria. They are eight in number.

 

Edo Sule Ugbagwu, The Nation, was killed on April 26, 2010, in an area outside Lagos , Nigeria ; he is on the second category. Others are Ephraim Audu, Nasarawa State Broadcasting Service, October 16, 2008, in Lafia, Nigeria; Paul Aboyomi Ogundeji, ThisDay, August 16, 2008, in Dopemu, Nigeria; Godwin Agbroko, ThisDay, December 22, 2006, Nigeria; Bolade Fasasi, National Association of Women Journalists, March 31, 1999, in Ibadan, Nigeria; Chinedu Offoaro, The Guardian, May 1, 1996, in Nigeria; Baguda Kaltho, TheNEWS, March 1, 1996, in Nigeria. They are seven in number.

 

By 12th July 2010, news of kidnappers abducting journalists in Nigeria at Umuafouka junction in Obingwa Local Government Council of Abia State, while returning from the Nigeria Union of Journalists' (NUJ) three-day National Executive Council meeting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, filtered the air.

 

The abducted include the Lagos State Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Wahab Oba, and two other executive members of the union. The Secretary of Zone D of the Union , Adolphus Okonkwo, Lagos Council’s Assistant Secretary, Mr. Sylva Okereke and the driver of their vehicle were abducted. The kidnappers are demanding for ransom for their release.

 

“But life in exile is precarious and only the beginning of a new set of struggles. The exile rate for African journalists tripled over the past 12 months. Journalists end up in a legal limbo, unable to work and are victims of ethnically motivated violence and police harassment. They are constantly under stress and worried about family members back home. Less than a third of exiled journalists are able to continue to work in their profession,” reports a journalist body.

 

However, whether journalism in German is Journalismus, journalism in Norwegian is journalistikk, journalism in Spanish is periodismo and journalism in Swedish is journalistik, journalism can never be killed no matter the level of inimical treatments that are being meted out on African journalists in the continent of Africa.

 

Odimegwu Onwumere, Poet/Author and Media Consultant, is the Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Rivers State, Nigeria. Mobile: +2348032552855. Email: apoet_25@yahoo.com

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