AKA I’m Not Turning Into An Anti-West Crusader, However …
The latest report from Reporters Without Borders indicates that the journalism safety in Africa deteriorated greatly last year. It points the finger at the usual suspects like Zimbabwe, Somalia, Eritrea, Niger and Chad, but also raises the alarm about previously journalism-friendly countries like Benin and Mali and warns of worse times to come.
Today, Audrey Brown of BBC’s Network Africa asked Leonard Vincent, Head of the Africa Desk at Reporters Without Borders why this was so. Vincent’s response, in my opinion, was typical of the misunderstanding of African statehood, international affairs and democracy.
This is a verbatim excerpt of the interview. All the emphasis included in the excerpt is mine.
VINCENT: African governments all over the continent have dared to do this year what they didn’t dare to do in previous years. Jailing journalists is routine and putting journalists in jail and arresting them for more than 24 hours for irritating ministers and Heads of State is something that we see more often than before even in democratic countries
BROWN: So what emboldened governments in the last year that made them do this when they thought they couldn’t do this before?
VINCENT: Two major factors for me is that first of all, is the fact that there is this sort of African pride in the culture, in the political culture, that has been renewed this year and more and more over the years makes it difficult for western countries to intervene in internal affairs of their former colonies. This has been a real problem in Zimbabwe, of course, and has led to the tense situation between Zimbabwe and the UK, for example, but it is very true for the former French colonies. French Ambassadors, for example, have been having a lot of trouble both with the governments who are saying to them, “you are trying to intervene,” and …
AUDREY: But how effective were Western diplomats in protecting African journalists before?
VINCENT: We have seen that the intervention of the African community as a whole, not only western countries, has been effective still in countries like Ethiopia. Last year we had like 20 journalists in jail and the very heavy pressure of the international community and, of course, on the African community on President Meles Zenawi has led to the situation we know today and it is a slight improvement in terms of press freedom. But there is also another factor that explains this setback. I think the influence of China in African affairs has been very toxic for democracy because China just sends dollars and builds infrastructure without any demands in return and these are very interesting partners for oppressive governments.
Was something lost in translation? Was Vincent terribly off the mark or was it a case of getting it right, but saying it wrong?
*A copy of the 2008 Reporters Without Borders Africa Report is available here. The report profiled 96 countries around the world of which Uganda was not among.