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Survey: Africa 'Bleakest' in Freedom

Freedom House shows Africa fared poorly in 2009, with 16 African countries showing declines in political rights, civil liberties

The U.S. human rights monitoring group Freedom House says Africa ranks as the "bleakest" region in a bleak year in terms of political rights and civil liberties in 2009. But positive developments did take place in one country, often cited as among the world's least free.

Freedom House Research Director Arch Puddington says Africa fared very poorly in its latest survey.

"This past year, the year 2009, Africa declined more than any other region in the world. There were a total of 16 countries in Africa that showed declines and the number of improvements was considerably smaller than that," he said.

Coups, constitutional changes to extend presidential terms, repression, poor governance and a lack of the rule of law marked many parts of Africa last year.

Puddington says the data Freedom House collected is worrisome because erosions of freedom were recorded in what had been reform-minded countries such as Lesotho, Botswana and Mozambique, and regional heavyweights like Nigeria and Kenya as well as in some of the lowest ranked countries like Guinea, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Despite massive United Nations and international foreign assistance, Puddington says the Democratic Republic of Congo remains in very bad shape in terms of freedom.

"We have seen very little evidence of improvement there. This past year, there were many threats against journalists. There were threats against opposition political candidates. We did not see things moving in the right direction," he said.

According to Puddington, a rare spot of improvement was often-derided Zimbabwe.

"This past year, we did see evidence of improvement. We saw the coalition government," said Puddington "It is not terribly successful, but there have been some positive developments. There is less violence. There is less violence against the political opposition. You have got a sitting parliament now that is dominated by the political opposition. You have got Morgan Tsvangirai as the number two man in the government. So all these things do lead to improvements in their political rights situation and we hope they can build on those in the future."

But Puddington cautions that Zimbabwe remains one of the world's most repressive countries. And according to the Freedom House survey, it has more company on the African continent than in recent years.