In DepthThe QuestionAbsolute monarchs and ?the freedom of the press


Posted on Monday, 23 March 2009 11:30

Absolute monarchs and ?the freedom of the press

By Bouba Diallo, Journalist and editor in Niamey, Niger


Bouba DialloMy children, it is with great sadness that I explain to you why I can no longer carry on with my work.?


It is with a heavy heart that I sit at this table, not to write news stories as is normally the case, but to tell you something in confidence: it is no longer feasible for me to carry on working in journalism, no matter how honourable people around the world think this profession is.


?In Niger, as in most parts of Africa, this job is hard, very hard. Working for the press is tantamount to being a prisoner. We are viewed by governments and lobby groups alike as pestilential spoilsports. This could be because we try to influence the expenditures of our officials in the public interest and that this is simply not acceptable to African leaders. Even when they reach power through the ballot box, our leaders are impervious to good governance and to any criticism by a journalist. Once in power, they become absolute monarchs. They believe themselves to be above the law and claim power over life and death.


So-called democrats can send a journalist to jail or have him beaten up for a misplaced comma. Pius Ndjawé has been arrested 126 times by President Paul Biya’s regime in Cameroon. Others less fortunate have been killed, as was the case in Burkina Faso with Norbert Zongo or in The Gambia with Haidara Daida. In some countries in the continent, reporters have simply gone missing, notably in Eritrea and Ethiopia.??


The situation may not be quite as alarming in Niger, but last year, eight of our journalists were in prison and one was in exile. This year we have already seen four journalists jailed in Niamey, one of whom is being detained for two months. In addition, on 21 February two Nigerien citizens were arrested and held in custody for having drawn a caricature of our president. Charged with having insulted the head of state, after seven days in detention they were eventually released. Niger’s Higher Communication Council – a supposedly independent administrative authority meant to “guarantee and assure the freedom and the protection of the press” – has become an instrument of repression. Getting access to information from the public administration is next to impossible.?


Another factor is the sheer difficulty of survival for our newspapers. As the papers have no financial support, they have no economic independence.


?Part of the blame, too, can be placed on us journalists. Many entered the job as fortune hunters and so the basic rules of the job are blithely ignored, leaving real journalists ashamed to be associated with the business. We are faced with a choice between mediocre content or empty newspapers.?


After so many years of hard work, my hopes have been dashed. I wanted to bring about change, to eradicate the growing ignorance in our society and to encourage the exchange of ideas to achieve development. But I have reached the end of the road, which is why I ask you to understand. Please reassure yourselves, my dear children, writing has become a drug for me, so I can write something else…??


Your loving father. 

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