Africa's freedom: The good, and the bad in 2012 By LYNETTE MUKAMI in Nairobi | Wednesday, February 27   2013 at  09:55

The report was released on February 20.  

Sub-Saharan Africa made major advances in freedom and democracy in 2012, according to Freedom House’s (FH) Freedom of the World 2013 report released on February 20.

The most notable global decline was that of Mali which fell from 2 to 7, consequently shifting from the ‘free’ to ‘not free’ category, which is perhaps not surprising given the year the country has had.

Arny officers led by Captain Amadou Sanogo overthrew a democratically elected President, Amadou Toumani Toure, in March 2012, just ahead of an April election, marking the beginning of a tumultuous year for the country.

Even with Captain Sanogo allowing the interim President to remain so until the next election this year, the state of affairs has not translated to stability.

Meanwhile, the Islamist rebels began a looming advance towards the capital, Bamako, after taking over large swathes of the country’s north. In the northern areas that they had occupied there were reports of widespread suppression of civil liberties by the militants. These events have changed a once peaceful nation and African icon of democracy, turning it into a mere shadow of its former self.

Nigeria also declined in this year’s index owing mostly to the suppression of the civil society during the ‘Occupy Nigeria’ protests against the removal of fuel subsidies that would see the cost of fuel and transportation double.

Another factor for its decline was the effect of the activities of the outlawed Islamist Boko Haram in the north. The group promotes a form of Islam that makes it forbidden (haram) for Muslims to partake of any form of western-affiliated political or social activity. They created fear and insecurity in the northern parts, especially in Maiduguri, thus restricting freedom of movement.

Executed prisoners

The Gambia was in the news headlines quite a bit last year thanks to President Yahya Jammeh’s off the cuff actions. He attracted controversy when he announced he would execute the prisoners who were on death row at the time, most of whom were believed to have been political prisoners.

However, he still went ahead to execute nine prisoners, including two Senegalese nationals without fair trials or prior notification to their families. This contributed in great part to its fall in rating from 5 to 6 in its civil liberties rating.

Gambia's Jammeh had opponents executed. FILE

Meanwhile, in East Africa, notable decline included Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. Kenya’s civil liberties rating declined and can be attributed to the ethnic clashes that occurred in the Tana River Delta between the Orma and Pokomo communities that led to the deaths of well over a hundred people.

There was also a sharp increase in the number of Al-Shabaab related terrorist acts in some urban areas that curtailed movement into affected trouble areas.

As for Rwanda, the Freedom House report attributed the decline in civil liberties score from 5 to 6 to “numerous documented cases of unlawful detention, torture and ill treatment of civilians by military intelligence agents in secret locations.”

South Africa’s decline in freedom of association is because of the clashes between the striking miners and the police in Marikana last year that led to 34 miners being shot dead. The highly controversial proposed Protection of State Information Bill was also highlighted as a cause for concern for media freedom.

However, it’s not all bad news for Africa. Senegal, Sierra Leone and Lesotho moved from ‘partly free’ to ‘free’ owing to peaceful elections and smooth transition of power. In Senegal’s case, Macky Sall’s efforts at trying to ensure transparency and accountability of his new government did not hurt.

Biggest gain

Despite Lesotho’s pre-election violence, the peaceful transition of the premiership from Pakalitha Mosisili to Thomas Motsoahae Thabane improved the landlocked nation’s political rights rating.

However, the biggest improvement came from Libya whose political rights rating improved from 7 to 4 while its civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5. Consequently, its status moved from Not Free to Partly Free.

Freedom House attributes this to “successful elections for the General National Congress that included candidates from a range of political and regional backgrounds, increased transparency in drafting a constitution, and the proliferation and sustained activism of media outlets and civil society organisations.”

Morsy: Under scrutiny

The land of pharaohs also improved its status from ‘not free’ to ‘partly free’, which is very interesting given that their leader, Mohamed Morsy’s pharaoh-like antics since he got the presidency.

FH however explains that the status change is due to "a flawed but competitive election that led to the removal from power of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces."

Eritrea a police state

Côte d’Ivoire was yet another good news story that went from ‘Not free’ to ‘partly free’. It had a good year, what with the peaceful inauguration of a new parliament; the adoption of several important laws on transparency and corruption; the reopening of opposition newspapers, public universities, and courts; renewed if halting attempts to curb abuses by the military; and a general improvement in the security situation.

Nine countries in the survey were given the world’s worst rating of 7, of which 3 were from Africa: Equatorial Guinea, Somalia and Eritrea. The other is Western Sahara, a territory controlled by Morocco.

Eritrea, is a police state manned pretty closely by the thumb of their leader Isaias Afeworki, unsurprisingly makes it to this list. Interestingly, in early 2013, there were reports of a mutiny calling for political reform when armed officers seized the Information Ministry. It was quickly quashed and little is said of the incident anymore.

Meanwhile, the Moroccan government has come under fire over human rights abuses in its territory of Western Sahara. According to Amnesty International, “Human rights activists, journalists, members of the unauthorised political group Al-Adl wal-Ihsan, and Sahrawi activists continued to face harassment and politically motivated charges.”

Email - lmukami@ke.nationmedia.com