The long path to a green future

Greendustrialisation: now or never

African economies looking for a sustainable industrialisation model find themselves at a crossroads with little time to decide the way forward

Ruth Amoah (right) and her workers at small chocolate producer Moments Chocolate’s workplace remove husks from roasted cocoa beans in Accra, Ghana, 2019
Photo: Cristina Aldehuela / AFP

Lack of industrialisation is often pointed out as the key factor behind Africa’s underdevelopment. Among those supporting the idea are  Mike Morris and Judith Fessehaie, who wrote in their 2014 paper, The Industrialisation Challenge for Africa: “Only a massive industrialisation effort will enable Africa to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development”. According to United Nations (UN) statistics from 2019, Africa is home to more than 1.2 billion people or 16% of the world’s population, 85% of whom “are still poor if judged by the standards of upper-middle income countries”.

Yet, the continent accounts for less than 2% of international trade and global manufacturing. Based on the current demographic trend, the UN forecasts that Africa’s population will reach 2.5 billion people by 2050 – a dramatic increment that will put further strain on already scarce jobs and insufficient public services and natural resources. Due to low levels of industrialisation, Africa is by far the continent that produces the least CO2 emissions. UN statistics for 2016 show that Africa emits just 4% of the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere. According to an early 2020 Oxfam study, “The average Brit will emit more carbon in the first two weeks than the citizens of seven African nations (Rwanda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Madagascar, Guinea and Burkina Faso) emit in an entire year”.

Nonetheless, Africa pays the toll for pollution as much as any other part of the world, and available data suggest that the continent is affected by climate change more immediately than other regions. “For sub-Saharan Africa, which has experienced more frequent and more intense climate extremes over the past decades, the ramifications of the world’s warming by more than 1.5°C would be profound,” said the UN’s spokesperson for sustainability issues, Dan Shepard, when summing up the conclusions of the 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Temperature increases in the region are projected to be higher than the global mean temperature increase,” wrote Shepard on the panel’s conclusions, which predicted a decrease in precipitation in Africa of up to 20% if the projected warming is not corrected. As the developed world pushes forward to move away from a model of industrial production based on burning fossil fuels that is proving unsustainable, African economies find themselves at a crossroads with little time to decide the way forward. Stepping up efforts to boost production through energy sources that are being dropped elsewhere does not seem like a viable option for Africa.

On the one hand, it would be met with reticence from donors and partners much aware of the urgency of greening the economy. Besides, its success would come at a price for a continent whose rich natural environments remain largely unscathed compared to other parts of the world. In these circumstances, both governments and international institutions are, at least from a declarative point of view, decisively opting for what has been called “a green path to industrialisation”, what we will call greendustrialisation.

“The big opportunity for Africa in 2016, as a latecomer to industrialisation, is in adopting alternative economic pathways to industrialisation,” a report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (2016) noted. Titled Greening Africa’ s Industrialization, the document argues that African countries have the potential to “benefit from their current low-carbon position and leapfrog” a future, without a “high dependence on volatile fossil fuels” and avoiding the complex and costly transition processes required in more industrialised economies.

An example of greendustrialisation given by the report is the Hawassa Eco-Industrial Park in Ethiopia, some 275 km south of the capital. This textile manufacturing plant started operating in 2016 and is the flagship project of the government’s industrial parks programme aimed at creating jobs and boosting exports. The Hawassa park runs on renewable hydroelectric power and employs a Zero Liquid Discharge system (ZLD) that enables it to recycle 90% of the sewerage disposal waters. Its success supports the notion that building green infrastructure from scratch might be easier than greening an existing one.

The Hawassa Park has been built with abundant and diversified foreign investment, especially from Asia. Some 25,000, mostly female, Ethiopians currently work at the plant, which is expected to employ 60,000 people when running at its full capacity. Cheap labour and the good conditions offered to investors by the Addis Ababa government have drawn clothing giants such as Guess, H&M and Levi’s to commission some of the garments they sell to manufacturers working from this park. According to 2016 World Bank data, agriculture employs between 65 and 70% of Africa’s workforce and supports the livelihoods of 90% of the continent’s population.

Thus, the success of industrialising African economies lies to a great extent in the transformation of the sector. Ivory Coast is the world’s top cocoa producer, but most of the volume extracted is processed (in the form of liquor, butter, cake or powder) abroad. The government has repeatedly vowed to spur its cocoa processing capacities in the coming years. At the same time, Ivory Coast aspires to boost the manufacturing in the country of cashews, cotton, rubber and coffee, whose production is mostly exported in raw form. Singapore-based agribusiness giant Olam International is one of the companies already processing cocoa and other commodities in Ivory Coast.

Its factories employ 5,000 people and are mentioned as an example of good environmental practices by the UN Economic Commission for Africa. A major challenge for both cocoa supply and manufacturing in Africa and overseas is the deforestation provoked by logging aimed at making space for planting more cocoa trees to farm. In 2017, the governments of Ivory Coast and Ghana launched, together with 35 global cocoa and chocolate companies, the Cocoa & Forests Initiative. Its main provision is “a commitment to no further conversion of any forest land for cocoa production”. One of the intended measures is investing “in sustainable agricultural intensification in order to grow more cocoa on less land”.

Between 1988 and 2007, the website of the initiative says, 2.3 million hectares of rainforest was cleared for cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana. In a 2015 speech before the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the then Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, mentioned the development of manufacturing and the transformation of the agricultural sectors as two pivotal points to drive Africa’s industrialisation. Desalegn, who has been commended for championing the greendustrialisation agenda pioneered by his predecessor, Meles Zenawi, also alluded to the procurement of energy as “one of the binding constraints for industrialisation”.

He unequivocally propounded the development of “renewable energy”, which he considered to be “our comparative advantage in Africa”, as the only desirable way forward. In an example of integrated greendustrialisation, Ivory Coast is planning to build a 60 to 70 MW capacity biomass power- generation plant running on waste from cocoa pods. The project is supported by the US and will be up and running in 2023 if the process goes as planned. Ivory Coast aims to develop 424 MW of biomass power generation capacity by 2030, in an effort to increase and diversify its electricity generation sources as power demand has grown due to economic growth.

In December 2019, the Ivorian government and a French consortium led by Electricite de France (EDF) signed a concession contract for the construction of a biomass power plant of an installed capacity of 46 MW. It should be ready by 2023, when it will start generating electricity from oil palm waste. While countries like Malawi, South Africa and Rwanda have made remarkable progress in developing biofuels, wind and solar energy, Kenya is the leading actor in Africa when it comes to energy transition. Between 2010 and 2018 Kenya’s economy expanded at an annual average rate of 5.8%, according to World Bank data.

Between 2010 and 2019, Kenya’s peak demand for electricity almost doubled (from just over 1,000 MW in 2010 to exceed 1,900 last year), official data from the Nairobi government shows. Back in 2008, the Kenyan government launched its Kenya Vision 2030, a plan aimed at industrialising the economy to bring prosperity to citizens within a “clean and secure environment”. To sustain the projected economic expansion, the plan provided for an increase in the country’s power capacity based on the development of renewable energies, particularly hydroelectricity and geothermal energy. In December 2019, Kenya put a new 50 MW solar plant online.

It increased the share of renewable energy in its power mix to a remarkable 93% and took the country closer to the government’s target of being entirely green energy powered by 2020. In a 2019 policy research working paper for the World Bank, Catrina Godinho and Anton Eberhard cite the following facts to explain Kenya’s success. Since 1996, “policy and regulatory functions were separated from commercial activities; generation was unbundled from transmission and distribution; cost-reflective tariffs were introduced; and generation was liberalised.”

In a second phase of the reform that started in 2002 “independent regulation” was strengthened and the national generation company partially privatised to attract foreign investment. As a result of these policies, which continue, Kenya “has … become an investment destination for IPPs” (Independent Power Producers). This has allowed it to triple its generation power capacity since 1990, “with generation capacity expanding more rapidly than peak demand” and having achieved a power surplus (Godinho and Eberhard) – while almost entirely greening the company’s power sourcing.

Kenya ranked fifth in the BloombergNEF’s 2019 Climatescope report, which evaluates the investment conditions in clean energy in 104 emerging countries. “The country is gradually increasing its share of non-large hydro renewables by adding solar, wind and geothermal,” the report read. “In 2018, Kenya recorded its highest ever clean energy investment with $1.4 billion,” it added. However, the eastern   African nation’s vigour in exploiting Africa’s privileged natural resources to propel industrialisation remains unparalleled in a region with huge discrepancies from country to country,  where  economic   growth is still propelled by extraction commodities.

Despite its desperate need to intensify generation and the commitment of its politicians to take the green way to industrialisation, Africa lags far behind all the other continents in renewable energy actual generation and capacity growth (IEA 2019). Half of Africa’s booming population still has no access to electricity, and power cuts affect 80% of the companies operating on the continent. “Despite progress in several countries (e.g. Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda), current and planned efforts to provide access to modern energy services barely outpace population growth,” the IEA notes in its 2019 World Energy Outlook. Data for 2019 of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) show that Africa’s renewable generation capacity of 46 GW accounted for 2% of global share.

Some 60% of the total share of electricity generated in sub- Saharan Africa comes from hydropower. Oil comes second with a share of 18%, followed by gas (16%). According to the IEA, Africa’s hopes to face the growing demand, brought about by demographic growth and projected economic development, rely on the development of solar energy, which has the potential to overtake hydropower as the main renewable generation source – coupled with the use of the abundant reserves of natural gas discovered in recent years in the continent.

“The big open question for Africa remains the speed at which solar PV will grow. To date, the continent with the richest solar resources in the world has installed only five gigawatts (GW) of solar PV, less than 1% of the global total,” the IEA concludes.

Marcel Gascón Barberá is a freelance journalist and writes for several Spanish and international publications. He has previously worked as a correspondent for EFE Spanish news agency in Romania, South Africa and Venezuela.

Cameroon: Covid-19 worsens pre-existing vulnerabilities for some

Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, persons living with disabilities in Cameroon had a peculiar problem – they lacked adequate social support and service delivery. Then, the coronavirus emerged and compounded pre-existing vulnerabilities for them.

There are about three million people, out of 26.5 million, living with various forms of disabilities in Cameroon, according to the Club for Young Rehabilitated Blind People (Club des Jeunes Aveugles Rehabilités du Cameroun- CJARC). The most common forms of disabilities are orthopaedic problems, infectious diseases and neurological disabilities. A 2017 study found out that the principal causes of disability were trauma due to traffic accidents and inappropriate medical interventions. These could partly be attributed to poor government policies over the years, as well as family neglect.

There are about three million people, out of 26.5 million, living with various forms of disabilities in Cameroon.

Yet given the economic hardship orchestrated by the pandemic, and less-than-adequate government social support for the poor, life has become especially difficult for many persons living with disabilities. There appears to be little or no provision of appropriate information to keep them safe from the deadly virus.

After Cameroon recorded its first confirmed case of the coronavirus on 6 March 2020, the government issued a set of guidelines. It made the wearing of masks in public mandatory, limited the number of people in gatherings to 50, employed physical distancing, reduced the number of people in a bus or taxi per time, and ordered bars, restaurants and other leisure spots to stop operations by 6pm, among other measures. But these regulations aimed at influencing social interactions to limit the spread of the virus have yet to be properly communicated to persons living with disabilities.

There appears to be little or no provision of appropriate information to keep them safe from the deadly virus.

SisterSpeak237, a local civil society organisation which seeks to represent the voices of women and minority groups in Cameroon, has chronicled complaints of neglect experienced by persons with disabilities during this pandemic. Many people around the country are donating Covid-19 care packs, including buckets, soaps, and food items, according to Comfort Mussa, founder and executive director of SisterSpeak237. But in many cases, people donate what they think is needed, and it often seems that what is most important to them is to be seen donating, she says.

Moreover, the resources appropriate to helping people with disabilities are often very limited, says Mussa. The handwashing points established in public places and even in some of government hospitals are not accessible to most people on wheelchairs or to those using crutches. And disabled people often also need exemption from some pandemic-related restrictions, such as the requirement of physical distancing, since they need caregivers.

The handwashing points established in public places and even in some of government hospitals are not accessible to most people on wheelchairs or to those using crutches.

The government, through the various ministerial departments and agencies does send out communications and announcements about intervention and prevention measures.

On 30 April, Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute announced some measures to address the impact of the coronavirus on households. These included: an increase in family allowance from XAF 2,800 to XAF 4,500; a raise of 20% for pensions that did not benefit from a 2016 reform; continued payment of family allowances from May to July to staff of companies which are unable to pay social security contributions or which have placed their staff on technical leave due to the crisis;  spreading citizens’ payments of social security contributions for the second quarter over three instalments; and canceling late fees for payment of social security contributions.

The government has asked citizens to observe physical distancing, mandatorily wear face masks in public and frequently wash or sanitise their hands, amongst other measures to contain the spread of the virus. But these preventive measures have largely been ignored, as there is a lack of public trust in the state. It is also often difficult for people to respect these restrictive measures when their priority is simply survival.

Preventive measures have largely been ignored, as there is a lack of public trust in the state.

But these communications do not reach everybody, Mussa told Africa in Fact. Most of the materials are in print format, excluding blind people who can only read braille. “There are also major announcements on TV, but often with no sign language. This excludes people with hearing and speech challenges,” Mussa said. Sign language interpretation is provided on national TV, but it is only in French, which sidelines English-language speakers. The country is officially bilingual.

“People like us [hearing- or speech-impaired] are confused about what is happening. Preventive measures are not communicated to us [using adapted tools],” Njei Nelly Anne told NewsWatch newspaper based in the capital Yaounde, through a sign language interpreter.

The government’s interventions aimed at supporting the economy are limited to the 10% of the population which has employment in the formal sector. The 90% in the informal sector has been left without any relief. Unlike Rwanda and Tunisia, which have offered relief packages to their most vulnerable, Cameroon has yet to do so. However, the government has said it will work out a comprehensive global response plan with additional measures to alleviate the socio-economic impact on affected firms and households. But since April, the said plan is still being awaited.

Most of the materials are in print format, excluding blind people who can only read braille. “There are also major announcements on TV, but often with no sign language. This excludes people with hearing and speech challenges,” Mussa said.

Meanwhile, the three million Cameroonians with disabilities are left without information, or measures to alleviate their plight. The UN points out that persons with disabilities generally have more healthcare needs than others and are therefore more vulnerable to the impacts of low quality or inaccessible healthcare services than others. The world body says this applies to both their “standard needs” and “needs linked to impairments”, which presumably means that they suffer disadvantage both with regard to their ordinary needs, such as access to food, housing and education, and with regard to their special needs, such as special access facilities and appropriate means of communication.

As it is, Cameroon’s response to the social conditions of the general populace has been wanting in significance and impact.

The 90% in the informal sector has been left without any relief.

Since the response was made, the spread of the virus has been consistently on the rise. By 28 July 2020, Cameroon had 17,110 confirmed coronavirus cases, with close to 400 deaths. This accounts for about 2% of cases in Africa, according to a report published on 27 July 2020 by EXX Africa. This trend is likely due to the easing of restrictions, which have given people a false sense of security.

Yet the country’s approach to dealing with the fairly large sector of the population who have special needs has been even worse. The UN has called on governments to ensure the rights of disabled people through a range of measures, including strengthening healthcare policy, providing appropriate access to healthcare facilities for the disabled, improving funding and training healthcare staff. But so far, the government has yet to extend any special social assistance to this special group of people.


We’d love to hear from you! Join The Wicked Conversation by leaving your comments below, or send your letter to the editor to


Amindeh Blaise Atabong is a Cameroonian freelance journalist. His interests include gender, human rights, climate change, environment, tech, conflict, peace-building and global development. In 2019, he was a finalist in the inaugural True Story Award, and also won a prestigious Kurt Schork Award in International Journalism.  His works have been published by independent regional and international outlets, including Quartz, Mail & Guardian, Reuters, Jeune Afrique, Epoch Times, African Arguments and Equal Times. 

A long way from home

The ruling ZANU-PF is unlikely to use its majority in parliament to push for a diaspora vote anytime soon

A small group of Zimbabweans protest outside Downing Street 28 July 2006 over the continuing situation in their country. AFP PHOTO/SHAUN CURRY (Photo by SHAUN CURRY / AFP)

According to the United Nations, at least one in three – an estimated 258 million – people are living in a country other than their country of birth. The majority of these people have moved from developing countries to the developed world, but they remain engaged and interested in the politics and economic situation of home. According to a recent World Bank report, remittances have grown from about $2 billion in 1970 to an estimated $554 billion globally (Ratha, Eigen-Zucchi, & Plaza, 2016). To date, net global remittances are almost three times the amount of aid sent to developing countries and continue to play an important role in supporting families back home. Sub-Saharan countries, including Zimbabwe, received a total of $38 billion in 2017. However, most migrants are excluded from home politics and in the majority of countries they are denied the right to vote.

In Africa, the expansion of diaspora rights has been slow with just a handful of countries, including Rwanda, Ghana, Botswana, South Africa and Kenya, allowing a select population of those living abroad the right to vote. Zimbabwe is one of the few remaining countries that deny the majority of their diaspora the right to vote.

Ahead of the 2018 election a record number of Zimbabweans in the diaspora travelled home to vote. However, many more were unable to participate because the cost of travelling back home, in real dollars and time, was high, even for those in nearby South Africa. In 2017 by comparison, the Kenyan government extended the vote to citizens living abroad in Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda, where the turnout for the first round of diaspora voting was low. Diaspora voting among the Batswana has also been low. But it is unlikely that the Zimbabwe diaspora vote would follow the same path.

The Zimbabwean diaspora has lobbied for the right to vote since the early 2000s, but the government has thus far refused to extend this right to citizens abroad. Zimbabwe does not allow for external voting, with the exception of citizens who hold diplomatic posts abroad. The Constitution in 1980 was ratified to allow Zimbabweans living abroad while in service to the government to vote. The Electoral Act was amended in 2015, limiting voting rights for those abroad and there is no mention of voting at a diplomatic mission: “Eligibility to vote by post is limited to persons ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe who are resident in the constituency (electoral district) in which the election is to take place or were resident in that constituency 12 months preceding polling day and have good reason to believe that they will be absent from the constituency or unable to attend at the polling station by reason of being ‘absent from Zimbabwe in the service of the government of Zimbabwe’ (section 71(1)(b)).”

The electoral authorities have taken great care to ensure that the external voting process for the minority who are granted the right to vote is transparent through the provisions discussed above. In the past decade, Zimbabweans in the diaspora, especially those in the United Kingdom (UK), have been very vocal in their demand for the right to vote. In 2005, a coalition of Zimbabweans resident in the UK lodged a case against the government with the Zimbabwe Supreme Court (Case no. SC 22/05). The Supreme Court dismissed the case, arguing that it did not hold any merit, despite the fact that the Constitution provides suffrage for all Zimbabweans regardless of race, creed or place of residency at the time of an election (Tungwarara, 2005).

Zimbabweans in the diaspora have accused the government of discriminating against some of its citizens for allowing only a small minority holding diplomatic posts the privilege of voting. In response to the court case, the Zimbabwean government, represented by the minister of justice and legal affairs, denied that Zimbabweans living abroad were being discriminated against by the absence of external voting provisions in the Constitution. The minister, who was cited as the first respondent, also argued that the electoral law disqualified voters from the voting process who had been absent from Zimbabwe for 12 months or more prior to the election. When Zimbabweans in the diaspora pointed to the voting rights as documented in the Southern African Development Committee’s (SADC) Declaration of Human Rights Charter, the government argued that the SADC charter is a “guide that SADC countries must follow towards a future democratic idea, (but that) it is not a legal document that is binding on member states”(Tungwarara, 2005).

In 2012, the diaspora vote issue once again came to the forefront of Zimbabwean politics during the constitution-making deliberations. The Constitution Committee (COPAC) sought out a diversity of opinions and feedback on the Constitution, including the opinions of Zimbabweans living abroad. The Zimbabwean diaspora asked for three provisions to be included in the Constitution; dual citizenship, devolution of power, and a diaspora vote.

Dual citizenship is important for Zimbabweans who have established residency abroad but also wish to maintain ties with their homeland. Zimbabweans living abroad argue that they should not be asked to choose between places where they have built homes for their families and their country of birth. Dual citizenship and a provision for diaspora voting would allow Zimbabweans to participate freely in their host countries as well as in the affairs of their homeland. Most Zimbabweans who migrated continue to maintain strong ties with family members who remained in Zimbabwe.

The Constitution is silent regarding the diaspora vote, and the weakened opposition has not offered much support in recent years. Publicly, the opposition has made demands for the vote but privately the MDC has been reserved. Back in September 2012, the MDC’s former national secretary, Abednigo Bhebhe, argued that his party was now tabling the issue of the diaspora vote because they feared rigging of postal votes by  ZANU-PF, especially within Africa. Bhebhe said that while the MDC agrees “in principle” that citizens in the diaspora should be allowed to vote, the governments in the SADC region would rig election outcomes in support for ZANU-PF because of liberation struggle ties (Bulawayo24 NEWS – MDC-T, ZANU-PF Agree to Disallow Diaspora Postal Votes n.d.).

ZANU-PF’s position on the diaspora was always a firm “no”. As ZANU-PF Minister of Justice (2013), Emmerson Mnangangwa spoke on behalf of his party on the diaspora vote issue, arguing that the MDC wanted those in the diaspora to be able to vote because they were the only ones who could address voters in Europe. The party has consistently argued that the sanctions placed on their top leaders barring them from visiting most western countries, including the UK, home to the largest Zimbabwean diaspora population, made a diaspora vote hostile for the ruling party. Mnangangwa repeated the party line that, “Sanctions must go first and if they don’t, those in the diaspora would not be able to vote until they returned home”.

Another ZANU-PF spokesperson and then Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa in 2004 gave what he called “101 reasons why those in exile can not vote”, one of which was the argument that the country was not financially equipped to take on such an undertaking. He argued that, given the financial and logistical costs involved, running a successful external vote was beyond the capacity of the Zimbabwean government and logistical costs. Like Mnangangwa, Chinamasa argued that the sanctions undermined the democratic process. Referring to the impact of travel bans on the ZANU-PF elites he said: “Those individuals (referring to sanctioned elites) are senior people in a political party and one of the fundamental elements of democracy is that the voters must be accessible to all those candidates who want to seek office. They must be accessible to all, not only to a few. It must not be a hostage population, only free and accessible only to one of us (Marambanaye, n.d.).”

However, since the ouster of Robert Mugabe in late 2017, the new government led by Mnangagwa has made public statements promising a revisiting of the law. In August 2018, Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo went on a mission to sell the government to the world as new and changed. However, it is unlikely that ZANU-PF will use their majority in parliament to push for a diaspora vote anytime soon.

CHIPO DENDERE is a Zimbabwean born scholar of political science. As a Consortium for Diversity – post-doctoral fellow at Amherst College, she teaches political sciences classes on African politics and democratisation in the developing world. She completed her BSc degrees in political science and psychology at Linfield College, Oregon and her PhD in political science at Georgia State University in 2015.

Telling the story from both sides

Peace journalism: West Africa

Conflict-sensitive journalism must ensure inclusive and impartial coverage, with the media fulfilling a role as “appeasers”

A Malian journalist takes part in a march in Bamako in memory of radio journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon from Radio France Internationale who were in killed in Kidal after being kidnapped, 2013 Photo: STR / AFP

The media today have a considerable influence in society. They shape the values of individuals, and therefore have a significant, though indirect, impact on all society. The role that “hate media” played in the Rwandan massacre has become a textbook case of the harmful role the media can play in the emergence or exacerbation of conflicts. Similarly, the media played a role in exacerbating violence in Côte d’Ivoire in 2002 and during the post-electoral crisis of 2010. The partial and partisan treatment of information, disinformation and propaganda in situations as delicate as conflicts and political crises contribute greatly to poisoning the social climate and radicalising viewpoints. The media are not neutral vectors of information; in some situations they may be responsible for the difference between peace and war. As Bernard Dagenais (1993: 57) pointed out, “in times of crisis, the media are full actors”. Or as Douglas Kellner (1990) put it, the “enslavement of the media” to established powers fuels democratic crisis, exacerbates conflicts and, by extension, a disrespect for human rights.

The majority of researchers who have examined the role of the media in time of crisis conclude that the media, although omnipotent, are doing a poor job: they have no historical insight, they discard any in-depth analysis of the challenges of crisis, they speak on behalf of the authorities and put more emphasis on the results than the causes of conflicts. However, this radical position is qualified by the reflection that the media can also be used for the better. The media are “double-edged tools”, to use the expression of Canadian journalist Ross Howard. If political crisis is a cyclical element in some West African countries, and if the media are the agents of social communication through which a crisis becomes public, then the media, peace and human rights relationship becomes a key factor in the fight for democracy. Crisis situations (real or anticipated) provide privileged moments to study the interdependence of media institutions with the societies in which they operate. In an era marked by globalisation and technological progress, the role of the media and information professionals in peace-building processes has become central, especially in covering political conflicts.

From this point of view, peace journalism or conflict-sensitive journalism is a prerequisite for world stability. But what does the expression “peace journalism” or “conflict sensitive journalism” mean? Peace journalism was launched in the 1970s by the Norwegian political scientist Johan Galtung. It gained wider interest and support from professional journalists in developed and developing countries in the 1990s, as well as attracting civil society activists, and academic researchers interested in dealing with conflicts and crises in the media. It offers a set of plans, evaluation criteria and practical options to media professionals that can be used to develop critical analysis of war journalism, all derived from, or at least attentive to, proposals on conflict, violence and peace. The aim of peace journalism is to place events relating to conflicts in a broad and fair context, that does not cater to partisan, political and economic interests. It seeks the causes of conflicts and solutions in each camp; it gives the floor to all parties involved; it focuses on the conflict rather than the opposing parties; it is cognisant that its coverage of conflict can have repercussions; and it aims to establish a moderate discourse focused on non-violence.

Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick, in their book Journalisme de paix. Qu’est-ce que c’est ? Et comment l’exercer? (Peace Journalism. What is it? And how to exercise it?), distinguish between journalism of peace and journalism of war. They maintain that the daily practices of war journalism incite, favour, and stir up social conflicts. On the other hand, peace journalism organises its skills around the preservation or consolidation of peace. In a 2010 book, Reports on Conflicts: New Directions in Peace Journalism, Jake Lynch and Johan Galtung present case studies of media coverage in Korea, Yugoslavia and during the Gulf War. These case studies laid the groundwork for a peace journalism that is applicable to many conflicts. Its fundamental principle is that media and information professionals need to underline the common points between parties to the conflict, rather than focusing exclusively on the differences. That is, tell the story from all sides. But this approach also raises questions about whether it is possible to implement it in accordance with the professional rules which govern the practice of journalism.

In the processing of news, should peace journalism be objective and impartial? Defenders of peace journalism argue that journalists cannot be neutral if their goal is to build social stability and promote peace. From this point of view, objectivity is compromised by the desire to ensure a social stability. Peace journalism, they claim, is prone to “punch” when it criticises, while omitting controversial facts or difficult issues in conflict. “The media can be an ‘instrument’ of conflict resolution when the information they present is reliable, respect human rights, and represent various viewpoints,” argues Ross Howard, whose two books, An operational Framework for Media and Peace (2002) and Conflict-Sensitive Journalism ( 2003), have been influential. Peace journalism can advocate for accountability and expose embezzlement. It can help members of society to make informed choices, which is the forerunner of democratic governance, he argues. From this perspective, “peace journalism” can have the following positive functions:

• Constitute a means of communication between the protagonists;

• Correct the misperceptions of personalities and lead experts to explain themselves clearly;

• Show a more human aspect of the other;

• Highlight the human dimension of the conflict by associating names and voices with it and providing personal accounts;

• Provide an outlet for listeners, readers, viewers but also the protagonists. Get them to consider the problem in a different way or give them the opportunity to learn from solutions found elsewhere;

• Generate solutions. Peace building includes all activities that help overcome organised violence and maintain peace.

The general aim of peace building through peace journalism is therefore to prevent the eruption of violence in conflict, or to transform armed conflict or crisis in the long term into peaceful and constructive forms of dispute resolution. Peace building, through journalism that promotes peace, could appear in three structuring phases of crisis or conflict situations:

1. Prevention to avoid the escalation of violence before the crisis or the conflict;

2. Conflict management or restoration of peace to put an end to violence and lead to a peace treaty (the media and journalists are mediators and moderators);

3. The consolidation of peace to stabilise it after conflict or war.

Media that participate in war discourse play a considerable role in spreading hawkish attitudes, and thereby help to underwrite a public view that is favourable to war. In this mode, media produce symbolic warrior identities that engage members of the public as actors engaged in war. An enemy is presented as a collective threat, a collective identity to be destroyed. This can be the case with respect to bearers of the same nationality, as is the case in civil wars. During the 1990-1991 Gulf War, US and British war-supporting media accentuated the delegitimisation of the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. Following the 9/11 attacks in the US, some politicians presented hostilities against Al-Qaeda as legitimate, with their attacks seen as a declaration of war. Media were an integral part of the war apparatus, with the aim of legitimising the American intervention in Iraq. So, a belligerent state was instituted as an actor legitimately wielding violence, and the adversary is demonised. The case of Radio Television Libre de Milles Collines (RTLM) in Rwanda is a much-quoted example of “hate media”.

This private radio station helped to create a climate of terror among the population that culminated in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. RTLM served to legitimise the massacres of Tutsi and Hutu opponents, directly incited the massacres and provided practical information to the perpetrators of the genocide to facilitate the killings. According to Marie- Soleil Frère, hate propaganda reinvents history, manipulates facts, and uses victimisation, dehumanisation and animalisation of the Other. Contrary to such a stance, peace journalism does not hold a hawkish discourse, not in designating an enemy to kill, or in legitimising conflicts, but in acting upstream to avoid a risk system often resulting from the combination of four factors highlighted by Philippe Hugon (2006; 35):

• Structural: linked to underdevelopment, characterised by the vulnerability and exposure to risk of populations with low resilience due to insufficient availability, market failures, absence of rights and capacities or dysfunctions in the allocation of resources;

• Cyclical, exogenous and endogenous shocks: linked to sudden and unexpected events leading to a strong disturbance of the system and to an unregulated propagation;

• At an institutional and political level: characterised by absences or shortcomings in prevention (monitoring cells, alert systems) and regulation, by instrumentalisation (unemployed young people, religious, politics, or ethnicity);

• Informational: the paroxysmal crisis always responds to a lack of information and to propaganda carried by the political powers and the media.

During wartime, the media, from a “peace journalism” perspective, ensure minimal expression in public space of the expression of symbolic identities and political representations. They ensure the sustainability of the commitments that underpin us, to the extent that, in wartime, the expression of identities is stronger because war is a time of exacerbation of political cleavages and symbolic identities. The media construct, in a way, the symbolic permanence of the institutional fact, at a time when political institutions and sociability are in crisis and, in a way, in a waking state. Communication, whether through the media or through institutional actors, consists during the war of pursuing the representation of the country and the state and, thus, in perpetuating the situation of political and social secularity which allows inhabitants of a country, even in a state of suspension of the institutional relations, to recognise themselves in their common identity and to recognise powers and institutions. The media ensure a permanent confrontation between the realities of the war. Doing so, they allow the symbolic appropriation of the war by members of the public, and, consequently, the confrontation of their effective practices of sociability with the events which threaten their collective identity.

In this sense, the media ensure the symbolic presence of war in public space, they prevent the state, the country, the game of identities, from foreclosing war, or to be foreclosed from it, by obliging us, by its presence in the media, to take a position in relation to it and to institute our political identities in relation to the war. Finally, the media build the memory of the war as it unfolds: they have a function of recording events, both for the memories of those who experience them, and who, thus, will keep their memory after they are finished, and for those who do not know them, but who will be the depositories of this memory in the political conscience of their identity. What emerges from these positions is that conflict-sensitive journalism must ensure inclusive and impartial coverage of information. In this way, the media and journalists do not appear only as mere informants or observers of the crisis or conflict situation, but also and above all as “appeasers”. This role of appeaser is all the more remarkable since the latter must not lean towards one or the other of the parties of the conflict, but must contribute to bringing calm by reporting facts without comment.

In Mali, Radio Daande Douentza has made a large contribution to the transformation of a conflict between breeders and farmers in the Timbuktu region. Conflict-sensitive journalism was illustrated through journalistic production on three levels. Initially, the station reported incidents between breeders and cultivators to allow the regional administration to react quickly; then it allowed farmers to announce on the radio when they had finished harvesting. The herdsmen who listened to the radio thus knew when they could cross the fields without damaging them, and therefore in complete safety. Finally, a series of programmes was repeatedly broadcast reminding breeders and farmers of the collaboration that had always existed between the two groups. Here, media served as a link between conflictual parties. In addition, they were able to make the link between the community and the central government or with other actors. By creating a dynamic of exchange, the media facilitated interactions between the different actors. The post-crisis period is always a period of transition. Discourses and communication strategies can be used to prepare for the post-war period, by fair representations of the actors, thus organising, on the symbolic level, a real implementation of political power and institutions.

The media represent an international public space: they stage a kind of diplomatic activity which can help to organise the powers and political actors of the post-war period. By reporting on the negotiations and the preparation of peace, they reveal the reformulation of the political identities restructured during the conflict and provide the instruments which allow the assessment of the balance of powers born during the war. This was the logic behind the Talking Drum Studio radio programme Leh wi mec salone (Let’s build Sierra Leone) founded in 2000. Hosted by veterans from opposing factions, it was initially intended to encourage combatants to return to civilian life. In addition, the peace media approach can also articulate an internal public space dominated by local actors and political identities. By doing so, they help to mediate these elements with institutional strategies and practices in international public space. In other words, in this phase the media represent internal political identities to the external world, which includes other countries, mediators of the international community, and actors of stakeholder organisations. This approach is sometimes said to constitute a kind of appeasement, and it can be precarious. Specifically, it means implementing a journalistic practice capable of reconciling the parties involved in the conflict or crisis.

The main objective is to contribute to the (re) construction of thoughts, visions and hearts that have been suppressed, or hidden. Peace journalism aims to have a positive impact on conflicts and to contribute to their prevention, or resolution. It can be a difficult concept to delimit. Mainly, the challenge is to identify the necessary skills and the criteria of a journalistic practice encouraging peace. In Galtung’s terms, these criteria can be understood as the opposite of journalistic work that encourages violence against those who promote peace. The major challenge for journalism in the West African zone is to advocate, through professional practices, a real model of information processing that corresponds to that of peace media and “peace journalism” while guaranteeing the independence of the media in times of crisis or in conflict zones. By contributing to sensitive information processing in conflict situations, the media can begin to provide solutions to the challenges of peace.

Media freedom under siege

African governments are using anti-state, false news and cybercrime laws in their attempts to silence journalists

A protester outside Nigeria’s National Assembly in Abuja, November 2019 April – June 2020

Cameroon news anchor Samuel Wazizi, one of 39 journalists jailed in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) latest prison census, has not been seen or heard of since the police detained him and handed him over to the country’s military in August last year. While the census is only a snapshot of those behind bars for their work on a single day – December 1 of each year – it is a tragically representative window into the tools used throughout the year by governments across the region, and globally, to arrest and prosecute journalists. From accusations of false news in Cameroon and Nigeria, terrorism in Rwanda, and colonial-era laws still used in Tanzania, to newly drafted legislation designed to muzzle media online, repressive governments are spoilt for choice. As a result, citizens are denied the right to diverse and credible information or to make informed decisions based on facts, rather than government propaganda or disinformation.

As Nigeria’s cybercrimes act shows, it doesn’t take long for governments to twist legislation ostensibly designed to ensure public safety to silence critics. Within a year of becoming law in 2015, Nigerian authorities arrested and charged several bloggers with cyberstalking for their journalism. Several years later, journalist Jones Abiri from Nigeria’s Bayelsa state is similarly on trial for cybercrime, as well as sabotage and treason. Abiri was first arrested in July 2016 and detained in secret without trial for more than two years with no access to his family or lawyers. His wife and sons feared he had been killed. It was only after local and international pressure that President Muhammadu Buhari’s intelligence service presented Abiri in court in July 2018. Two months later, a magistrate’s court in Abuja dismissed the case against him over a jurisdictional issue. A federal court separately ruled that the journalist’s rights had been violated and awarded damages. Abiri returned home to the city of Yenagoa to try to rebuild his life and resuscitate his newspaper, the Weekly Source.

The government, meanwhile, has yet to pay the court-ordered sum. Instead, it rearrested Abiri after six months and the journalist is back in federal court. Also charged with cybercrime and terrorism in Nigeria is Agba Jalingo, whose trial in the city of Calabar has been shrouded in secrecy since the judge ruled to limit the public’s access to the court room and granted anonymity to individuals expected to testify against him. It seems like harsh treatment for a journalist in jail simply for reporting on allegations of government corruption. Tanzania has similarly adopted a tough cybercrime law that is being used to try to silence journalists, opposition politicians and activists critical of the government of President John Magufuli. Among them is Maxence Melo, CPJ’s 2019 International Press Freedom Award honoree. Melo was detained and charged in 2016 under the country’s cybercrimes act and the 2010 electronic and postal communications act, two laws that he unsuccessfully challenged after his arrest.

He was charged, among other things, with managing a domain not registered in Tanzania and for refusing to disclose the identities of the users on his online forum and the breaking news website Jamii Forums. The cases have dragged on for three years with Melo appearing in court more than 137 times. Tanzania’s cybercrime act includes sections on criminalising false news. Over the past year, journalists Sebastian Atillo and Erick Kabendera have been held on charges that include accusations of propagating false news. Kabendera’s charges have since been changed to economic crimes in retaliation for his critical journalism. Amid heightened rhetoric about false news, particularly by United States president Donald Trump, CPJ has documented an uptick in the number of journalists charged with false news, from nine in 2016 to 30 by 1 December, 2019. The majority of cases are in Africa, brought by “strongmen” who include Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Cameroon’s Paul Biya and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.

Egypt tops the list with 21 journalists in jail for false news, followed by Cameroon with four, Rwanda with three and Nigeria with one. The only other country outside Africa with a journalist in jail for alleged false news is in Iran, according to CPJ’s census. Mimi Mefo, an award-winning journalist and former head of English news for the privately owned Equinoxe broadcaster, is arguably Cameroon’s most-high profile journalist to be detained on allegations of false news and cybercrime. Mefo’s November 2018 arrest and three nights in detention caused an international outcry and she was eventually released. The charges were dropped two days later on the orders of President Biya. However, that same year, four other Cameroonian journalists were sentenced to jail on anti-state charges and false news after reporting on Cameroon’s English-speaking minority’s push for greater autonomy.

One of them, Elvis McCarthy, was eventually released in December 2018, but the others – Mancho Bibixy, Tsi Conrad and Thomas Awah Junior – remain behind bars in the overcrowded Kondengui prison in Yaounde. This trend of criminalising and discrediting journalism has had consequences beyond the clear abuse of the rights of individual journalists. An Afrobarometer survey released last year found that for the first time across Africa, popular support for media freedom has dropped to under 50%. Tragically, this may help to explain the lack of outrage and solidarity from citizens in countries where governments continue to jail journalists and violate the right to media freedom. The spectre of journalists finding themselves charged with criminal defamation continues to haunt the region, despite at least five countries striking the law from their penal codes following the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights 2010 resolution calling on member states to repeal criminal libel.

Courts in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Gambia have all ruled criminal defamation to be unconstitutional. And in Liberia, where the editor of Front Page Africa, Rodney Sieh, was sentenced to 5,000 years for criminal defamation in 2013 before he was later released amid international outcry, the government of George Weah finally repealed the law in 2019. Despite these successes, defamation remains a crime in several sub-Saharan countries. Journalists in Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad have all been jailed under laws inherited from colonial governments. While fewer journalists appear to have been arrested for defamation, the same cannot be said about anti-state charges like terrorism, treason, insurrection and sedition. Among those behind bars for allegedly trying to undermine state security are four Burundian journalists from the independent newspaper Iwacu, who were sentenced on 30 January this year to two-and-a-half years in prison and fined $530 each.

They were arrested in October last year, along with their driver, while on assignment in Burundi’s western Bubanza province. The group, who were travelling to cover unrest in the area, includes the only female journalists jailed in sub-Saharan Africa at the time of CPJ’s census: Agnés Ndirubusa and Christine Kamikazi. Similarly, Eritrea and Cameroon, the two worst jailers of journalists in the sub-region, continue to use anti-state charges to target independent press, with no regard for the rule of law or due process. Following a major crackdown on the private press on 18 September, 2001, Eritrean authorities rounded up several journalists and detained them in secret locations, with no access to their families or lawyers. No charges have been publicly disclosed in more than 18 years, during which time at least 16 journalists have remained in detention without trial.

Eritrean officials have offered vague and inconsistent explanations for the arrests, accusing the journalists of involvement in anti-state conspiracies or violating press regulations. For these reasons and more, CPJ has labeled Eritrea as the most censored country. Such lack of empathy, and disdain for the rule of law, has also been displayed in Cameroon’s refusal to disclose the charges against, whereabouts or health of Samuel Wazizi for more than five months. Little wonder that Wazizi’s family and colleagues fear that he has been killed in custody. After all, murder is the ultimate form of censorship.

Angela Quintal is head of the Africa programme at the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York. She worked for more than two decades as a journalist in South Africa, including as editor of the Mail and Guardian, The Witness and The Mercury newspapers. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism and a Bachelor of Laws from Rhodes University.