For the past 273 days spanning January-September 2021, eleven journalists have been killed across sub-Sahara Africa in an orgy of repression that has scores of other acts of violation against press freedom.
Aside from the killings of journalists, there have also been incidents of physical attacks, illegal arrests and detentions, including legal harassment and persecution of journalists.
These assaults were perpetrated by unknown individuals, terrorists and security forces across eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Also, in countries confronted with insurgency, the safety of journalists has been highly at risk as a result of threats posed by terrorists and state security forces.
In the West Africa region, Nigeria and Burkina Faso have made the headlines regarding the killings of journalists; a local journalist and two foreign journalists respectively.
Accorded less publicity but equally disturbing was the killing, in the evening of August 23, 2021, in Ghana and in the line of duty, of British journalist, Syed Taalay Ahmed, 31, who was working for London-based Muslim Television Ahmadiyya International (MTA).
Ahmed was in Ghana working on a documentary when his car was ambushed by armed men who stole his money and mobile phones near the town of Tamale. The journalist was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
In Ibadan, the capital city of Oyo State in the southwestern part of Nigeria, on June 19, unknown individuals gunned down Titus Eja Nla Badejo, a journalist working with Naija FM. The assailants ordered Titus who was leaving a nightclub with some friends in his car, to get down. After shooting him at close range, the assailants left without taking any property nor attacking any of the journalist’s friends. While this suggests a targeted attack, the killing of Titus adds to a tall list of incidents of attacks, and assassination of journalists in Nigeria. For instance, from 2017 to 2020, Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), documented seven incidents of killing of journalists in Nigeria.
The Nigerian authorities have so far not come up with any findings on investigations into any of these killings, with the culprits yet to be arrested or prosecuted according to the law.
On April 26, a terrorist group in Burkina Faso attacked and killed members of a convoy, including David Berian and Roberto Fraile, both Spanish journalists. The journalists were heading towards Pama national park near the border with Mali to shoot a documentary.
In the eastern region of Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia also recorded killing of journalists.
The Tigray conflict has heightened the incidents of arrests and detention, including harassment of journalists reporting on the abuses of human rights related to conflicts in Ethiopia.
On May 9, Sisay Fida, a journalist working for the regional government of Oromia in Ethiopia, was reported shot by two unidentified gunmen. It is however not clear why the journalist was killed, and who is the mastermind of this crime. There were allegations that Fida was murdered by a hit-squad of the Oromia Liberation Army armed group. Others alleged that the journalist was killed by the authorities of the Federal government of Ethiopia. However, according to CPJ, two suspects were identified by the police, but as of now, there has been no report of thorough investigations.
Five months preceding the killing of Fida, one other journalist had been killed. On January 19, 2021, Dawit Kebede Araya, a journalist working with the state-owned media, Tigray TV, was killed reportedly by government security forces. Araya was returning home in Mekelle, the capital town of Tigray state when he was gunned down. One of his friends was also killed, while two people in the car disappeared.
In Somalia, on March 1, 2021, Jamal Farah Adan, was reported killed by two unidentified gunmen. Farah Adan is a broadcast journalist in Galkayo, central Somalia. He used to report on political issues on social media platforms and contributed to programmes on local radio stations Radio Daljir, Radio Galkayo, and Radio Garowe. Before his killing, he stated on Facebook that he was receiving threats from the Al-Shabaab militant group. The killing of the journalist was subsequently claimed by the terrorist group.
Still in the Eastern Region of Africa, on April 7, 2021, Betty Mtekhele Barasa was killed by three assailants who raided her house and assaulted members of her family. Barasa was working with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. The murderers also took away the journalists’ laptops and mobile phones, an indication that her killing could be linked to her journalist’s work.
In the Central Africa region, three incidents of killing of journalists were documented by Journalist en Danger (JED), a member of the AFEX network based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the space of four months.
On August 7, Heritier Magayane, a journalist working with the state-owned Radio-Television Nationale Congolaise (RTNC) in the city of Rutshunu, in the region of North-Kivu, was murdered by unknown assailants. Before the 26-year-old journalist and father of two met his untimely death, he used to promote peace in the conflict-torn region of DRC, through the radio platform. The murderer took away Magayane’s phone. The authorities are yet to investigate this heinous crime against the journalist and bring the perpetrators to book.
Seven days later on August 14, another journalist of the same radio station of RTNC, Joël Musavuli Mumbere was murdered in his house, in Rutshuru. His wife was killed alongside. Musavuli and his wife were killed by unknown persons wielding machetes. According to UNESCO, the journalist had over the years been receiving threats for his media reportage on human rights issues and the Ebola virus.
Barely one week after the world celebrated Press Freedom Day, on May 9, Barthelemy Kubanabandu Changamuka, a journalist working with the Kitshanga Community Radio (CORAKI FM), was attacked in his house by two unidentified gunmen. The assailant shot him at point-blank range, eight times. It is not yet clear what could have led to the assassination of the journalist. After the outrageous crime, the assailants made away with the journalist’s mobile phone. Another indication suggesting that Changamuka was probably targeted for his work as a host of the radio programme titled ‘’Food Security’’ on CORAKI FM.
The killing of journalists in DRC is appalling, looking at the total impunity surrounding crimes against journalists in the country. The last three deaths of journalists in the country, add to 14 other assassinations, bringing it to 17 journalists killed over the last two years.
”The spate of violence, particularly the murder of journalists across the continent is sending a chilling signal that freedom of press and expression are at unprecedented high risk and in danger because of the total impunity that goes with these crimes. If these crimes are left without resolving them and bringing the culprits before the court, the work of public information is seriously in danger ”, said Edetaen Ojo, the chairperson of AFEX.
The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) is appalled by the continuing silence of state authorities over crimes against journalists and demands governments to take swift actions to fight the worrying trend of crimes against journalists by investigating thoroughly these crimes and bring the culprits before the law.
The continuing impunity for these crimes is a threat to the public right to information, stifles public debate and undermines citizens’ ability to participate in governance, thus putting the very foundation of democratic governance at risk.
AFEX also urges media managers to put in place safety and security measures to ensure the protection of their staff at all times, particularly for those reporting in conflict zones and volatile security environments. We demand journalists to be mindful of their security at all times while reporting and mingling with the public.