New Media Law Threatens Free Speech In Angola—HRW
By Dipo Olowookere
Angolan President, Mr José Eduardo dos Santos, has been urged not to a new media law until parliament revises provisions restricting the right to freedom of expression.
According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday, the law threatens freedom of speech in Angola and grants the government and ruling party expansive power to interfere with the work of journalists, and potentially to prevent reporting on corruption or human rights abuses.
Parliament passed the Press Law on November 18, 2016, with minimal debate, together with a new Television Law, Broadcast Law, Journalists Code of Conduct, and statutes of the recently established Angolan Regulatory Body for Social Communication (ERCA, Entidade Reguladora da Comunicação Social Angolana).
The five laws constitute what the government called the Social Communication Legislative Package (Pacote legislativo da comunicação social).
“Angola’s new media law is the latest threat to free expression and access to information in the country,” said Daniel Bekele, senior Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “President Dos Santos should uphold his commitment to human rights and refuse to sign these media restrictions into law.”
A number of the Press Law’s articles violate Angola’s international obligations to respect media freedom, Human Rights Watch said. These include:
Article 29 gives the Ministry of Social Communication the authority to oversee how media organizations carry out editorial guidelines and to punish violators with suspension of activities or fines;
Article 35 imposes excessive fees to establish a media group of 35 million kwanzas for a news agency (US$211,000) and 75 million kwanzas (US$452,000) for a radio station; and
Article 82 criminalizes publication of a text or image that is “offensive to individuals.” Under the penal code, defamation and slander are punishable with fines and imprisonment for up to six months.
The law’s overly broad definition of defamation opens the door for the government to arbitrarily prosecute journalists who report about illegal or improper activity by officials and others, Human Rights Watch said. Criminal defamation laws should be abolished entirely, as they are open to easy abuse and can result in harsh consequences, including imprisonment.
ECRA’s final draft statutes and the other media laws were unexpectedly put forward for discussion just days before their November 18 approval, catching many media professionals unaware. Journalists and media freedom activists have criticized the process as lacking consultation and transparency.
“We were never officially informed about dates of the discussion or approval of this law – not even during the discussion of details,” Teixeira Candido, the head of the Angolan Journalism Union, told Human Rights Watch.
Parliament approved the establishment of the regulatory body, together with the first drafts of the other four bills of the Social Communication Legislative Package, in August at the initiation of the ruling party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which controls roughly 80 percent of the assembly’s seats. The first draft gave the body the authority to “enforce compliance with professional journalistic ethics” and to issue licenses to journalists, which are required for them to work. After criticism from the Journalism Union, however, the government agreed to limit this authority to a new body controlled by media professionals.
Under the revised statute, six of the ERCA members are to be appointed jointly by the government and the party with the most seats in parliament. The journalism union nominates two members and the other political parties in parliament appoint the remaining three.
The new media laws follow government officials’ complaints about what they consider an irresponsible media, including social media. In December 2015, President Dos Santos said, “Social networks should not be used to violate other people’s rights, humiliate, slander or convey degrading or morally offensive content.”
After parliament passed the recent package of laws, Social Communication Minister José Luis de Matos told the media that the new media law would ensure that journalists take more responsibility for their work because they “cannot assume that they have the right to do what they want.”
Angolan political figures, including members of the government, have used the defamation provision of the old 2006 media law to crack down on critics. In 2008, Graça Campos, a journalist and editor of the weekly paper Angolense, was sentenced to a six-month suspended jail term for publishing articles accusing three former ministers of involvement in corruption.
In March 2011, Armando Chicoca, a correspondent for Voice of America, was sentenced to a year in jail for articles critical of a judge in Namibe province.
In February 2014, Queirós Chilúvia, another journalist, was sentenced to a six-month suspended jail term for investigating screams and cries for help emanating from a police station. In May 2015, Rafael Marques, a prominent journalist, was given a six-month suspended jail term for revealing killings and torture in the country’s diamond fields.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has long called for the abolition of criminal defamation laws in the continent, saying that they open the way to abuse and can result in very harsh consequences for journalists who expose abuses of power, corruption, and human rights violations, all of which are rife in Angola.
In 2013, in a landmark judgment Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso, involving a criminal libel conviction of a Burkinabe journalist, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled that imprisonment for defamation violated the right to freedom of expression and that such laws should only be used in restricted circumstances. The court also ordered Burkina Faso to amend its criminal defamation laws.
After 40 years of independence, the Angolan media remains largely controlled by the MPLA. The government owns the only radio and television stations that broadcast across the entire country, as well as the official news agency.
Reporters Without Borders ranks Angola, 123rd out of 180, in its 2016 World Press Freedom Index. In August 2013, Human Rights Watch urged the government to repeal the country’s criminal defamation laws and stop using them to harass journalists.
“The predominance of the Angolan government and the most powerful political party undermine the independence of the journalism regulatory body and risks making it a mechanism for censorship and control rather than media freedom,” Bekele said. “Unless this new media law is revised, the precarious situation of the media in Angola will only get worse.”
Cote d’Ivoire Launches Startup Act to Support Ecosystem
By Adedapo Adesanya
Nigeria’s West African neighbour, Cote d’Ivoire, may be the latest country in the African continent to get a Startup Act as the Ivorian government unveiled the framework designed to support the country’s most talented start-ups.
The journey began in 2018, and after much deliberations, in August 2021, startup ecosystem players gathered in the capital Yamoussoukro to develop a local law fostering startups in the West African country.
Two years later, the bill was approved by the Ivorian Council of Ministers, the country’s top executive decision-making body.
The bill, among other things, establishes the terms of financing and support for digital startups under Ivorian law. Its special goal is to support the development and sustainability of these vulnerable enterprises’ creative activity until they reach maturity in order to maximise their contribution to the transformation of the national economy and the quality of life of the people.
To give more weight and visibility to young innovative companies, Côte d’Ivoire announced a new legal framework. The Ivorian Startup Act, which is awaiting parliamentary approval, should soon bring a wind of change in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Speaking on this recently following a meeting with stakeholders from Tunisia, the first African country to pass a Startup Act, Florence Tahiri Fadika, who is a technical advisor in charge of innovation and change at the country’s Ministry of Communication and the Digital Economy, said, “A meeting with our Tunisian counterparts during a benchmarking study at the end of 2022 accelerated the process. Tunisia is one of the first countries in Africa to have implemented a Startup Act. Their model is inspiring because it is very operational. The benchmarking mission, organized by the NTF V project, enabled us to benefit from Tunisia’s experience and to identify good practices.”
Following Tunisia’s model, the Ivorian Startup Act is driven by a strong political will and intends to bring concrete results.
“While waiting for the law to be officially voted by our assemblies, we are already working to make the Startup Act a tangible reality. The idea is not to copy the Tunisian legislation but to adapt it to the reality of our economy. A mapping study is underway and should enable us to precisely target the needs of our ecosystem,” Fadika said.
“At the same time, we are developing construction projects for new technology parks and start-up campuses,” she said. “Under the Startup Act, eligible start-ups will be able to benefit from state-of-the-art infrastructure and numerous amenities in order to succeed both regionally and internationally.”
The beneficiary start-ups will be able to access new opportunities in terms of training, financing, promotion, and access to public contracts and international markets.
When it becomes a law, the country will join Tunisia (April 2018), Senegal (December 2019), and Nigeria (October 2022) as African countries with startups backing the legislation.
Africa is Against Economic Colonization—Mudenda
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
Parliamentarians from Russia and Africa discussed issues of development of economic cooperation during the first day of their conference March 19 to 20, in Moscow.
The objectives of the conference are to strengthen parliamentary cooperation with African countries in the conditions of formation of a multipolar world, to develop relations and develop common approaches to legal regulation in the economy, science and education and security.
Round table discussions on the topic “Legislative Response to Economic Challenges” was held as part of the International Parliamentary Conference Russia-Africa events.
First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma, Alexander Zhukov, stressed that Africa “is a rapidly developing region with great prospects and that Russia is currently actively working to enhance cooperation with the countries of the African continent.”
“Unlike many Western countries, Russia does not have colonial experience, and the contribution of the Soviet Union to the liberation of African countries from colonial dependence is also well known to everyone,” he explained.
“An important part of the cooperation should be the exchange of legislative experience with African countries in key areas,” he said.
“Our mutual economic interests include investments, cooperation within production chains, cooperation in strategic infrastructure projects, energy, medicine, financial technologies, and that, of course, along with the traditional supply of grain and fertilizers,” said the First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma.
Africa stands for an equal partnership
Jacob Mudenda, the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Zimbabwe, stressed that there should be a “specific approach” to provide a legislative response to economic challenges.
“Africa has resources, including those that cannot be found in other countries, even in developed ones. That is why Africa is the best investment option,” he said.
“Africa is against economic colonization; Africa stands for equal partnership,” said Jacob Mudenda.
Speaking about legislative issues, he said that the continent needed infrastructure and its development, such as road improvements, rail and air transport.
“If there is no infrastructure, it will be impossible to trade even with developed countries such as Russia and with Africa,” said the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Zimbabwe.
He also noted the necessity to develop the energy sector for industry and sufficient water for agriculture.
The Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Energy, Pavel Zavalny, said that signing intergovernmental agreements was an important tool of political support for enhancing energy cooperation between Russia and African countries.
He emphasized that energy was one of the most promising areas of economic cooperation between Russia and African states. Economic growth and energy demand are shifting to Asia and Africa in global economic and geopolitical transformation conditions.
“One of the tools for intensifying economic cooperation is political support. Currently, there have been established economic cooperation with 14 countries of the continent at the state level, there were created high-level bilateral commissions, and signed intergovernmental agreements,” stressed Zavalny.
“The development and harmonization of energy legislation can play an important role in enhancing mutually beneficial energy cooperation between Russia and African countries. And that is the work that we should do in the interests of our nations,” concluded the Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Energy.
Multipolar world instead of hegemony
Jean-François Buzonni, a deputy spokesman assistant for the Union of the Congolese Nation (Congo) political party, said he was very pleased that Russia had turned its attention to the African continent, “which for many years has been under the yoke of Western countries.”
“The world no longer lives under the hegemony of one country. We see the transformation processes of a multipolar world,” he stressed.
“I am glad that Russia is seeking to develop equal partnership relations with the countries of the region for the common benefit,” added Jean-François Buzonni.
Transition to national systems of settlement
According to Maxim Topilin, the Chairman of the Committee on Economic Policy, the sanctions and pressure that Russia is experiencing just prove that “any situation in which a country maintains its independent position can lead to the destruction of all economic ties.”
“That should be a lesson to us,” he added.
Topilin said that in relations between Russia and Africa, it is necessary to focus on national systems of settlement. “It is very important not to be based on those standard principles, use those currencies that we used in the framework of joint projects,” he said.
Topilin is convinced that for further cooperation between Russia and Africa, it is necessary to create new international organizations. “We should think about new supranational institutions for recognition, certification, and admission to the markets of certain goods. There is a lot of work that should be done,” said the Chairman of the Committee on Economic Policy.
Topilin also recalled that a draft law on Islamic banking was being prepared for the second reading, and members of the State Duma plan to adopt it during the spring session. “From the point of view of cooperation with Islamic countries, that definitely will be a very serious breakthrough in the financial strategy,” he added.
More than 40 parliamentary delegations from African countries arrived at the conference, which was also attended by members of the State Duma, senators of the Federation Council, and representatives of the educational and business community. The conference was held just a few months before the second Russia-Africa summit, which is planned to be held in July 2023 in Saint Petersburg.
Russian, African Parliamentarians Stand Against United States in Africa
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
Russia and African parliamentarians continue forging solidarity against growing neo-colonial tendencies in Africa. The parliamentarians, far ahead of their symbolic gathering, have intensified political dialogue and support for Russia’s war on neighbouring Ukraine and further expressed readiness to support Africa’s economic development.
Russia has come under stringent economic sanctions from the United States and Europe due to the ‘special military operation’ that it began in February 2022, more than a year that has adversely affected Africa. It has also divided Africa’s voting at the United Nations, with some experts arguing that such sharp divisions, in terms of voting either for or against, abstaining or keeping neutral, could influence Africa’s unity in the continent.
Some policy experts still expect high symbolism at the 2023 Russia-Africa summit as official working visits have become more frequent and Africa receives greater coverage in Russian media. The experts say instead of measuring the success of the summit by African leaders’ attendance, as happened in 2019, the parties give greater attention to the substance of the agenda, which is under development. Russia should try to increase its presence in Africa while avoiding direct confrontation with other non-regional and foreign players.
According to the experts, Russia’s efforts, for now, are not practically showing tangible results. Russia has to open its doors more to African visitors and tourists; these could bring together anyone interested in expanding all-inclusive dialogue and anyone who is ready to help promote initiatives possibly for increasing socio-economic development between Russia and the African states and raising the well-being of their citizens.
That however, undeterred by the pressure from the United States ‘to cancel Russia’ in their relationship, African parliamentarians have arrived in Moscow for a two-day working gathering to methodically develop Russian-African relations in various fields. In addition, to the political dialogue, they are also focusing on economic, cultural, humanitarian and scientific cooperation.
According to the plan, Russian parliamentarians and African colleagues fixed topical issues of the international parliamentary agenda for discussions: parliamentary support of scientific and educational cooperation, a legislative response to economic challenges, indivisible security: capabilities and contributions of parliaments, and neocolonialism of the West: how to prevent the repetition of history.
On March 20, the main conference entitled “Russia-Africa in the multipolar world” at the State Duma (the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions). More than 40 official parliamentary delegations from almost all African countries have already arrived for the conference. Representatives of the scientific, educational and expert communities from Russia and African countries, members of the State Duma, federal executive authorities, senators of the Federation Council, and chairmen of the legislative bodies of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation.
There was a bilateral meeting of the Chairman of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin and the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Parliament of South Africa, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, at the State Duma. The Speaker stressed that the Republic highly appreciated the dialogue with Russia.
Speaker Volodin noted that attempts by Washington and Brussels to isolate Africa and Russia have failed. He is convinced that the parliaments could do a lot for further development of relations on the principles of respect, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and mutually beneficial cooperation.
He stressed that relations between Russia and the Republic of South Africa were developing with the help of cooperation between the presidents of the two states. “We have great capabilities, and we should use the parliamentary dimension to do everything to enhance our cooperation in various areas,” added Volodin. He suggested preparing and signing a relevant agreement between the State Duma and the National Assembly of the Parliament of South Africa, as well as creating a high-level commission. Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula supported his suggestion.
Mapisa-Nqakula thanked Vyacheslav Volodin for sending the invitation to take part in the Parliamentary Conference before adding “It is very important for us that Russia gives priority to the African continent. Many countries consider Africa as a great possibility to get African resources. But taking into account the history of our cooperation, we, like many other African countries, believe that Russia has other, more genuine interests in Africa.”
“Our cooperation started decades ago. And we felt your support in the worst times for us, during apartheid. We understand that now it is a difficult time for Russia as a country. But I would like to assure you that South Africa will continue cooperation and discuss areas of cooperation that are important for us. We look forward to its start,” said Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
The speakers also discussed issues of cooperation within the framework of the BRICS, as it is South Africa’s chairmanship. “For us, the cooperation between the parliaments within the BRICS framework is very important, as we can discuss issues of common interest,” emphasized the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Parliament of South Africa.
“Our Conference will be an important stage in the process of preparing for the second Russia-Africa summit, which is planned to be held in Saint Petersburg this summer with the participation of the heads of state,” concluded the Chairman of the State Duma.
According to reports monitored by this author, there are 17 specialized working groups that focus on various areas of cooperation between Russia and Africa. The expectation is that these working would come up with useful initiatives to be incorporated into an action plan for 2023-2026 and further cement the entire complex of relations between Russia and the African countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will speak at the Russia-Africa parliamentary conference on Monday, Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov told reporters. “On March 20, when the president receives the Chinese leader, he will address the 2nd parliamentary conference Russia-Africa,” Ushakov, who heads the organizing committee of the summit, said, adding that the event would pave the way for the 2nd Russia-Africa summit, scheduled to take place from July 27-28 in St. Petersburg, second largest city of Russia.
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