Africa: People Power Under Attack 2020 – Africa

An excerpt from the CIVICUS Monitor report:

Of Africa’s 49 countries [covered in the report], six are rated as closed, 21 as repressed and 14 as obstructed. Civic space is open in the island states of Cabo Verde and São Tomé and Principe and narrowed in six countries. Since the previous update, civic space ratings have deteriorated in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Niger and Togo and improved in the DRC and Sudan.

Civic space in Central Africa remains affected by armed conflict, weak rule of law, impunity and entrenched authoritarian governments. In Cameroon, where conflict in the Anglophone regions continues unabated with serious human rights abuses perpetrated both by armed separatist groups and the military, civic freedoms remain severely restricted. 2020 saw for example the ordering of closure of bank accounts of a COVID-19 solidarity fund initiative set up by opposition leader Maurice Kamto, the arrest of some of its volunteers who were handing out masks and sanitisers and accusations by the Minister of Territorial Administration that some CSOs are ‘destabilising the country’. An improved rating in the DRC reflects initial steps under the administration of President Tshisekedi to open democratic space, although much more must be done to fulfil the president’s promises made in his inauguration speech in January 2019 to respect the fundamental freedom of people and media freedom.

As the decline in ratings for Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Niger and Togo indicates, civic space continues to decline in West Africa, where several countries held disputed elections. Pro-democracy and anti-corruption groups and activists have increasingly been targeted and protests have been met with excessive force. In Benin, the 2018 Digital Code has increasingly been used against people expressing critical views. Following mass anti-government protests in June and July 2020, in which at least 11 protesters were killed, Mali’s military toppled the government in a coup. A transitional government, appointed in October 2020, will rule for 18 months until elections take place in 2022. Attacks and threats against journalists have become commonplace in Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

In Southern Africa, protests – on issues of labour rights, service delivery and gender-based violence – were dispersed by force, including in Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa. In Eswatini (Swaziland) and Zambia, the freedom of expression continues to face severe constraints, with the authorities targeting media outlets with suspension and their employees with arrest. Protesters advocating for good governance and democracy in Zambia were intimidated by the authorities, while those in Eswatini were harassed with house raids. In Zimbabwe, amid a declining economy and regular workers’ strikes and boycotts, the government has continued to restrict the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly.

In the East and Horn of Africa, the authorities in Tanzania continued to crack down on civic space ahead of the October 2020 elections, with harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and judicial prosecution of political opposition, human rights defenders and journalists. Media coverage on COVID-19 has been silenced and it has become increasingly difficult for human rights organisations to operate. Positive political changes in Ethiopia in 2018 have been undermined by a renewed clampdown on independent media and opposition and a violent response to protests amid worsening intercommunal and ethnic tensions. The improvement of Sudan’s civic space rating reflects an opening up of space for activists and journalists following the formation of a transitional government and initial reforms, although much work, including the repeal of restrictive laws, still needs to be done. In a negative development, individuals and CSOs in three countries will no longer be allowed to appeal directly to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights: Tanzania withdrew this vital accountability route in December 2019, followed by Benin and Côte d’Ivoire in April 2020.

In a negative development, individuals and CSOs in three countries will no longer be allowed to appeal directly to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights: Tanzania withdrew this vital accountability route in December 2019, followed by Benin and Côte d’Ivoire in April 2020.

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