News / Africa

War, Violence Drives African Journalists into Exile

William Eagle

The Committee to Protect Journalists says in the past year, 55 journalists in 21 countries have gone into exile because of violence, threats and imprisonment.  An official of the committee says an estimated 40% of those who’ve fled are from sub-Saharan Africa.                                                       

 A new report by the CPJ says most journalists who have fled violence or repression come from Iran and Somalia,  followed by Ethiopia, Syria and Eritrea.
They’re also found at the head of the CPJ’s annual Impunity Index.  It ranks countries according to the degree to which attacks against journalists are investigated, and perpetrators punished. 

Tom Rhodes is the Eastern African consultant for the Committee to Project Journalists.  

Somali journalist Hassan Mohamed died in exile of diabetes when he could not get proper documentation for medication. (CPJ)Somali journalist Hassan Mohamed died in exile of diabetes when he could not get proper documentation for medication. (CPJ)
Somali journalist Hassan Mohamed died in exile of diabetes when he could not get proper documentation for medication. (CPJ)
Somali journalist Hassan Mohamed died in exile of diabetes when he could not get proper documentation for medication. (CPJ)
He says the government of at least one of the top five – Somalia – has promised to look into threats against reporters.
"[It’s] been a great disappointment for us at CPJ," he said, "once we saw this new government sworn in and some very promising pledges made by the prime minister, for example,  to set up a task force to investigate these murder, even giving bounties to the public to report these cases. We still haven’t seen any changes ."
Some governments say journalists threaten security and the stability of the state, especially in countries at war.  Rhodes says others offer an economic angle for the continued crackdown on press freedom.

"There is one trend especially in Ethiopia and Uganda where they accuse the press of being against development.  It seems to be the new catch phrase," he said.

"Rwanda has fallen into this thinking where they believe freedom of the press is a luxury – and that you have to develop the economy first before you can have a critical press.  Whereas, I’ve always been under the impression that you can’t develop where you don’t have checks and balances, and that’s what the press does."
In East Africa, many journalists flee to large urban areas like the capitals of Kenya and Uganda.  Other regional hubs for exiles include South Africa in the southern Africa region and Senegal in West Africa.
Rhodes says Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country and one of its largest economies, is not a primary destination for exiles:  With five unsolved murders of journalists,  Nigeria also has the second-worst impunity rating in Africa behind Somalia.

"Nigeria is a sleeping problem that the world needs to wake up to," he said. "We have journalists who are threatened by Boko Haram in the north and journalists who self-censor in the Niger region when they try environmental reporting, and we have a number whose murdered journalists [whose cases] have not been solved.  So, ge nerally speaking, I’d say Nigeria is less and less a hub for any exiled journalist."
Rough welcome
But life is often difficult in their host countries.
Hasan Gesey was an editor for the leading private radio station in Somalia, Somaliweyn.  He spent three years in Nairobi before returning to Mogadishu as director of Dalsan radio.
"It is difficult to explain the life of an exile.  It is beyond human imagination," he said. "There is a threat on every corner…for exiles in Nairobi, there are special problems. For me, I had to pay one thousand Kenyan shillings [to corrupt police officers]. They want to take money from the Somali community in Nairobi, especially journalists."
The new destinations are not always safe.
The CPJ says security agents from Ethiopia and Rwanda are active in some East African cities.  
One Ethiopian media exile in Nairobi, who asked that his name not be used,  comments on the fear of being apprehended.  Before leaving Addis Ababa, he was an anti-corruption activist and had prior work as a government broadcaster.
"Ethiopian security agents took two Oromo Liberation Front members back to Ethiopia from Nairobi,  and prosecuted them. That shows they can take anyone they want," he said. "We are afraid because they might get us, and we don’t know what they’d do if they [succeed].   For that reason,  we don’t move around in most cases, and we can’t continue our media work and our human rights activities."
Somali journalist Ahmed Nur, now living in Minnesota,  says threats also come from supporters of al-Shabab, the extremist Islamic group waging war against the government.  
"They do have some supporters living in Nairobi [and Kampala] and they still harass – through text messages and phone calls –those who fled Somalia saying ‘we are following you, we know where you are,  and we will try to harm you,‘" he said.

"Actually, they wounded one journalist in the neighborhood of Eastleigh [Nairobi] using knives.  So there are still some supporters of al-Shabab in neighboring countries."
Nur,  who lived in the Kenyan capital for four years, says safety issues, along with government regulations, make it difficult to earn a living.
"When you’re an exiled journalist," he said, "it’s very difficult to find a job. Even if you find one, you are not allowed to work. The policy of the Government of Kenya is that you need a work permit, and they don’t allow foreigners to get (one).  If you don’t have a job, it’s hard to find an apartment or place to live."
Some complain that international refugee policies and  host country policies are making their ordeal even tougher.
The CPJ notes it can take months for governments and the UNHCR to register refugees and give them access to basic services like health care and primary education.  The CPJ notes the case of veteran Somali journalist Hassan Mohamed who died of complications from diabetes in 2011.  His illness went untreated for months as he waited for the documents he needed to get his medication.

Kenya’s  Department of Refugee Affairs has ordered all refugees, including exiled journalists, to live in camps.  Tom Rhodes says the CPJ is working to have the policy changed for journalists:
"This could be a death sentence for especially Somali journalists in exile in Nairobi because the camps are not secure," he said. " A lot of journalists in Nairobi and especially Somali ones are nervous because they don’t know where they are going to end up based on this directive.  It’s currently being challenged in court."
The CPJ is working to help exiled journalists in a number of ways.
One is working with the UNHCR to speed up the registration process for refugee journalists   .
"The benefit we have is that we know these guys, we work with them and communicate with them often,"  he said.   
"We try to lobby for them with the UNHCR whether it’s a referral letter or going to the offices ourselves to advocate on their behalf.  I’ve had to go to police stations and try and get exiled journalists out of jail where Kenyan police have blatantly arrested journalists for the sole purpose of getting a bribe without any genuine case against them."

The Committee to Protect Journalists also provides limited financial support for journalists in distress. It provides funds through its Journalists Assistance Program and is part of a collaborative effort with other press freedom groups.

There’s some optimism as many continue to blog or work for diaspora media.  And sometimes,  says Rhodes,  there’s enough peace back home that exiles can return and resume their contribution to development.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs