African leaders are being asked to make the safety of journalists a top priority. The call comes from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and other groups as the AU summit is being held in Kampala, Uganda.
Last year, 13 African journalists were killed, nine of them in Somalia. Six have been killed so far this year: three in Nigeria, the rest in Somalia, Rwanda and Angola.
Omar Faruk Osman, president of the Federation of African Journalists, says, “Our message is very clear. Since the African Union and its leaders have declared that this year is the Year for Peace and Security for Africa, we want all African citizens to enjoy this declaration.”
“Particularly, we are calling for the safety and security of African journalists to be guaranteed and to be protected and respected,” he says.
The journalist organizations want a continent-wide policy of protection.
“We feel that the safety crisis facing journalists in Africa is increasing day after day,” says Osman.
He says if the AU sets a policy for media protection, many country leaders will follow through with protections in their individual countries.
Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Its Transitional Federal Government (TFG) controls only a small part of the country and can offer little protection for journalists.
Osman says, “As a Somali journalist from the National Union of Somali Journalists, I fully understand the safety crisis that we face in… Somalia, particularly in Mogadishu.”
While the TFG may offer little protection, he says there could be another option.
“These peacekeeping troops do not have the mandate to protect journalists,” he says, “As a Somali journalist, who is fearing for his safety and security, if I go to the African Union troops today in Mogadishu, they cannot protect me.”
A free press
Without a free press in Africa, he says, “There would be no development… and there would be no stability.”
What’s more, Osman says, “A free press is a major component of democracy and good governance in Africa. And without a free press, this would not happen in Africa at all.”
Last year, the IFJ World Congress, meeting in Spain, “pledged solidarity with African colleagues” and called on African governments to protect journalists.