Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Investigative journalism: a deathtrap for journalists in Africa

26.07.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Investigative journalism in Africa has paved the way the development of content which has been able to highlight issues neglected during normal reports. The growth of investigative journalism has been possible due to the agenda-setting role of the media. But the lack of press freedom in sub-Saharan Africa is posing a threat to the practice of journalism as a whole. In countries like the DRC, only the bravest of journalists would delve into investigative reporting. None the less, some journalists have been able to take the bull by the horns and have used investigative journalism to denounce several ills in their various countries, but this however, has not gone without consequences.

Investigative journalism in Africa is not for the feeble-hearted. This is because the life of an investigative journalist is characterized by police harassment, hostile officials, social exclusion and forced exile, imprisonment and worst of all, kidnapping.

Authorities in most countries have made the practice of journalism unbearable with very repressive press laws. According to Reporters without Borders, Somalia is the deadliest country for reporters in sub-Saharan Africa. The Committee to Protect Journalists in Tanzania also reported that the government has in the past 3 years implemented severe legislation and carried out harassments on journalists and bloggers.

Despite this clampdown on journalists, some have been bold to take up the challenge and played a key role in exposing corruption, human rights abuses and, other societal ills. Africa is now witnessing the establishment of nonprofit investigative journalism organizations. The continent welcomed the first center dedicated to investigative journalism in South Africa in 2010 known as the AmaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism. Similarly, the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism was created in Nigeria in 2014, as well as the INK Centre for Investigative Journalism created in 2015 in Botswana. Other centers have been set up in Malawi, Namibia, Ghana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and, Zambia.

Dangers of Investigative journalism in the continent

Delving into investigative reporting in Africa only means putting one’s life at risk because, some countries in the continent such as Eritrea, Djibouti, Burundi and Somalia are still void of press freedom.

As a result of constant threats and attacks on reporters in 2018 during demonstrations in Chad, journalists staged a “Day without Press” protest to decry the treatment meted out on pressmen. In Tanzania, a country where the president John Magufuli tolerates no criticism, a reporter involved in the investigation of a series of murders of local officials went missing in November 2017.

According to the 2018 RSF Index on the dangers of reporting in Africa, Sudan remains one of the riskiest countries for journalists. In January 2018 alone, close to 18 journalists were arrested while some media houses were closed. A journalist in Madagascar was sent to jail for carrying out an investigative report that succeeded to expose corruption in the country.

The former head of the Ghana-based Media Foundation of West Africa, Kwame Karikari, revealed that the practice of investigative Journalism is almost like imposing a death warrant on yourself. This is a result of the fact that investigative journalists face intimidation, physical violence, and arrest. In 2017, the organization, Journalist in Danger (JED) in the Democratic Republic of Congo documented 121 cases of abuses against the media. Some journalists in Cameroon who were trying to uncover the atrocities committed by soldiers in the English speaking regions of the country were arrested while others fled the country.

The fate suffered by journalists in most countries has caused many to shun investigative reporting and focus on mainstream reporting. But those who have succeeded in venturing in this area of reporting have received accolades for the job carried out. Rafael Marques, an Angolan journalist received the 2018 IPI World Press Freedom Hero award for his role in fighting corruption in the country.

Government clampdown on press discourages investigative journalism

Authorities in most countries have never relented their efforts in carrying out press censorship. Tanzania is one of those countries where the government has implemented harsh legislation against the press.

Equally, the decriminalization of press offenses in Senegal which has been long anticipated was not included in the new press code approved in June 2017.  Meanwhile, Ethiopia and Nigeria still use Terrorism laws to arrest and try journalists.

However, new leaders who emerged in some countries have promised to liberalize the press and adopt less repressive press laws. The new Gambian president, Adama Barrow, promised a less restrictive media law and the inclusion of free speech in the constitution. The interdiction of defamation has been declared unconstitutional in the country and new media outlets are now sprouting as journalists are gradually returning from self-imposed exile. Malawi has equally promulgated a law facilitating access to information about elected officials and government institutions. Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed who became prime minister in 2018 overhauled some laws which were repressive for journalists. He equally released journalists who had been jailed and lifted a ban on several websites and media outlets.

Investigative reports which unearthed bad practices in Africa

Despite the unfriendly treatment of journalists and investigative reporters in the continent, some journalists in sub-Saharan Africa produced impressive investigative reports which unraveled social mischiefs in their countries.

One of such reports which made news across the continent was done by the Ghanaian journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas. In June 2018, the undercover journalist released a documentary in partnership with the BBC’s Africa Eye, indicating how football referees and officials were taking cash bribes ahead of important matches. His report led to the suspension and the later resignation of the president of the Ghana Football Association, Kwesi Nyantakyi.

BBC Africa Eye and collaborators also made use of digital investigative tools to prove that Cameroonian soldiers were involved in the killing of two women and children in 2015 in the northwest region of the country. The government had earlier denied the involvement of the Cameroonian soldiers in the viral video which showed how the women and children were executed. The BBC team used open-source intelligence investigators, freelance journalists, and the Bellingcat community. They used satellite imagery tools to verify timing and location and also analyzed the uniforms and weapons to find the identities of the soldier.

An investigative report was also released on how officials working with the Ugandan police and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees were trading refugee girls for sex in hotels around Kampala. The report also uncovered how people from refugee communities were smuggling girls into Uganda for sex work.

In Kenya, the Daily Nation released a report that portrayed how Kenya Power, the energy utility company of the country was buying and installing defective transformers, which overestimated bills of their customers.

Generally, the media environment in Africa has proven to be very unfavorable with strict media laws and policies. Some countries in the continent still lack freedom of the press and journalist are subjected to inhumane treatment in some cases. This has however not deterred some journalists to fully exercise their profession and venture into investigative reporting to shun bad practices in the continent.

Article from AFRIC editorial

Photo credit: google images/ illustration

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