Monday, October 18, 2021

Do not shackle the Fourth Estate – African journalists

No government across the world can be celebrated as a beacon of democracy without respect for the rights and freedoms of its citizens and allowing institutions to work without intimidation, victimisation and harassment. 

One such institution that needs to be protected and given the freedom and responsibility to operate without fear or favour is the Fourth Estate. 

This was the message by journalists from across 25 African countries at the just-ended 49th Training Course for Young African Journalists hosted by the Union of African Journalists (UAJ) in collaboration with the Egyptian government. 

“As journalists we also take note of the threatened media space across the continent. More journalists are working in harsh environments; some brave death while others are arrested and incarcerated in discharge of their professional duty without counsel,” the journalists said in a joint statement, delivered by Ghana’s Maxwell Kudekor. 

Although way ahead of most African countries in terms of infrastructural developments and being hailed as the mother of civilization, Egypt still lurks behind as far as freedom of journalists is concerned. 

Recently, a US-based advocacy group filed a petition with the United Nations demanding the immediate release of Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein. The journalist has been detained by the Egyptian government since December 2016.

The Robert F Kennedy Human Rights organisation was reported to have filed a petition for relief with the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, citing the violation of Hussein’s basic rights and challenging the unsubstantiated preliminary charges levelled against him. 

African journalists at the training course, held in Cairo, called on African progressive economies like Egypt to be on the frontline in tackling issues affecting journalists in the African continent since the media role in development cannot be underestimated. 

“It is said that, the one creating a footpath may not know that his back is crooked. For this reason you always need a watchdog to straighten your path. Hence leaders must get a big stomach to accommodate criticism,” they said in the statement, adding that, “yes, sometimes the truth is painful but it is better to take a bitter pill and be healed than to be pampered on your sick bed and die”.   

They said no journalist in this 21st century should be behind bars for criticising governments. 

“Any enactment or regulations that puts shivers down the spine of journalists or curtails freedom of expression must be done away with.” 

The journalists also praised Egypt for its developments calling it a beacon of Socio-Economic advancement and civilization. 

“Our three weeks stay and training in Egypt has given us a different impression about the unflattering stories we hear all the time about this country,” the journalists said. “We, however, believe that there is more to be done in strengthening the media here in Egypt and across Africa,” they said.

They said as the world has become a global village the UAJ and government of Egypt couldn’t have developed a more suitable course outline or content in the midst of issues confronting the African continent and the world at large. 

“The Grand Africa Free Zone, Conflict Prevention on the Continent, Climate Change in Africa, its impact on Water Bodies, Tools for Terrorist Thinking Impact and Confrontation, Cultural Diversity; Unity, Afro-Arab  Cooperation, Corruption in Africa, Media Tools and Foreign Policy in Africa, and the role of media in the aforementioned topics are worthwhile. It has built our capacity and called us to duty once again.”

They said various educational visits they embarked on during their stay have equally broadened their horizon on issues related to their profession and the success story of the people of Egypt. 

The visits included the Nilesat, Media Production City and other media houses, Smart Village, Pyramids, The Media Technology Institute, Alexandria Library, Egyptian Museum, and the Head Office of Union of African Journalists, teaching the African journalists about the success story of Egypt and the need for the rest of Africa to emulate the same. 

The journalists said one of the things that caught their attention is the arable dry lands (desert) that is being used to cultivate varieties of food stuff for consumption. Many African countries with rich tropical rainfall and fertile lands are starving but Egypt has proven that, even on the desert, agriculture can flourish with the right technology. 

They also made reference to the Egyptian success story that is the Suez Canal. “It would be disappointing to talk about success stories in Egypt without mentioning the 72km New Suez Canal that was built in a record period of one year. We are astonished by the sense of patriotism exhibited by Egyptians in taking their destiny into their own hands.” 

They said the spirit exhibited by the people of Egypt in raising funds and sponsoring the project is an indication that Africans are capable of managing their own affairs if they unite as one people with a common destiny devoid of greed, wickedness and corruption. The training program wrapped up on May 21, 2017.

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