Last Tuesday, Freedom House published its annual report on the state of political and civil liberties around the world, titled “Freedom in the World 2010”. In this entry I will briefly highlight some of the aspects related to sub-Saharan Africa, but first, a couple of points on the global situation.
Thus, in the overview essay that accompanies the release of the report, FH points out how:
“For the fourth consecutive year, declines have trumped gains. This represents the longest continuous period of deterioration in nearly 40-years…Declines for freedom were registered in 40 countries, representing 20 percent of the world’s polities.” This essay also points out four different trends which constitute the most serious threats for civil and political liberties world wide. One of these, the re-emergence of coups d’etat, appears as a throwback to the past, while the other three are rather new trends, and include: “authoritarian crackdowns on front-line human rights defenders”; “authoritarian crackdowns on journalists and bloggers” and the “challenges from nonstate actors, including religious extremists and drug lords”.
Regarding sub-Saharan Africa, the region is signalled as the one which has “suffered the largest setbacks, with 15 countries registering declines and only 4 securing gains”. According to FH, “the most disturbing trend” is how “influential” states in the region, such as Nigeria and Kenya, despite an apparent improvement in the past, continue their recent backsliding. Other countries mentioned in the report which had managed democratic achievements, but appear to be turning around, include Botswana and Lesotho, with “Lesotho moving from Free to Partly Free status”. Also three countries in the region experienced coups: Guinea, Madagascar, and Niger. And “in the case of Guinea, the military takeover was followed by a terrifying rampage in which soldiers massacred and raped peaceful protesters.” Meles Zenawi’s government in Ethiopia is also criticised for having “persecuted the political opposition, tilted the political playing field, and suppressed civil society”.
Also extremely disheartening is the continued existence of countries with the worse record possible (a score of 7 for both political and civil liberties). In fact, of the nine countries of the world which receive this rating, five of them are in Africa: Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia. Declines were also recorded in other repressive states such as Gabon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On the positive side, improvements were noted in four countries: Malawi, Burundi, Togo, and Zimbabwe. On Zimbabwe, the report points out that “harsh conditions eased somewhat after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was brought into a unity Government” but that the regime remains “among the continent’s most repressive.”