Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, Swaziland’s King Mswati III, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema, and other heads of state such as Djibouti’s Ismael Omar Guelleh and Eritrea’s Issaias Afeworki have been listed by the Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) World Press Freedom Index 2013 as Africa’s biggest media predators.
“These are members of an exclusive club of authoritarian African leaders, some eccentric others stern, who hold their countries in an iron grasp and keep a firm grip on news and information,” the Paris-based media watchdog said in its press freedom index published last week.
“Their countries Gambia (152nd), Swaziland (155th), Rwanda (161st) and Equatorial Guinea (166th), respectively, are all among the bottom 30 in the index. Media pluralism has been whittled away and criticism of the head of state discouraged,” RSF said.
In Rwanda, where several journalists, independent commentators and opposition politicians have been jailed, editors Agnès Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi are serving years-long terms on charges they defamed President Kagame and incited violence, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
CPJ said Uwimana and Mukakibibi published a series of stories in 2010 on several sensitive issues the Kagame government does not want scrutinised. “The articles criticised government agricultural policy, examined the July 2010 murder of journalist Jean-Léonard Rugambage, described the falling-out between Kagame and two now-exiled military leaders, probed divisions within the army, and pushed for justice for ethnic Hutus killed in the 1994 genocide,” CPJ said.
In Gambia, journalists shake when Jammeh barks. The ‘stubborn’ head of state, who claims to be God’s anointed witchdoctor who cures Aids, has so far swept away all attempts by the international community and media fraternity to properly investigate past media killings and bring the perpetrators to book.
Eritrea, a country listed this year at the bottom of the index for the sixth successive year, is Africa’s biggest prison for journalists, with at least 30 currently languishing behind bars, according to RSF. “No journalists were killed (this time), but some were left to die, which amounts to the same thing. Of 11 journalists incarcerated since 2001, seven have died as a result of prison conditions or have killed themselves,” the report said.
“Since the independent media were abolished more than 10 years ago, there are no independent Eritrean news outlets, other than outside the country, and terror prevails.” Djibouti, ranked 167th and where Guelleh rules with an iron-fist, also has no independent media, RSF said, adding that security forces detained a correspondent of the foreign-based news site La Voix de Djibouti (Voice of Djibouti).
Another media predator cited in the report is Sudanese head of state Omar al-Bashir. Sudan, which is ranked 170th out of 170 countries in the report, has seen more newspapers seized and many journalists arrested, RSF said in its 26-page report.
*Photo by www.inyenyerinews.net. Rwanda President Paul Kagame.