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Arrests and murder in Somalia, Facebook fact-checking in South Africa, and questioning official statistics in Tanzania – a crime?

Africa in October: Somali journalist shot and killed, how Tanzania's new law on statistics impacts freedom of expression, the Gambia sets up a truth and reconciliation commission, and the West Africa Conference on Investigative Journalism.

Gambian President Adama Barrow delivers a speech during his visit to Faraba Banta on 22 June 2018, where three protesters were killed by police in an anti-pollution rally a few days before
Gambian President Adama Barrow delivers a speech during his visit to Faraba Banta on 22 June 2018, where three protesters were killed by police in an anti-pollution rally a few days before

CLAIRE BARGELES/AFP/Getty Images


Somali journalist shot and killed

University student and journalist Abdullahi Mire Hashi was shot and killed soon after attending afternoon prayers at a mosque. The 26-year-old producer hosted a daily show - This Morning on Darul Sunnah - on the privately-owned Somali radio station Darul Sunnah. The show focused on local context with listeners calling in to describe conditions in their part of town.

According to a CPJ statement: three local journalists, who prefer to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, said that prior to his murder, Abdullahi had been receiving anonymous phone calls asking why the station was not covering the Al-Shabaab's operations in the region. The town of Elisha Bihaya where the incident took place is located 17km from Mogadishu and is often under assault by Al-Shabaab militants.

While the Human Rights Journalist Network along with other media lobby organisations are demanding an investigation into the murder of Abdullahi, it is doubtful that the perpetrators will ever be caught. CPJ's 2018 Global Impunity Index, released to mark the International Day to End Impunity (November 2) places Somalia at the top of the list of countries with the worst record of prosecuting the killers of journalists.

In stark contrast to Somalia's unstable environment, Gambia's political and media landscape is undergoing an encouraging transformation. As the unlikeliest candidate to come into power, President Adama Barrow has surprised citizens with his more open style of leadership as he pushes for transparency, accountability and democratic reforms. Dissent and criticism of the State or former president Jammeh's authority were not tolerated during the 22 years he was in power. His trademark tactics were arrests, torture, rape and enforced disappearances.


Gambia launches Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission

Primed "to liberate the country of its dark past", President Barrow officially launched the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in mid-October. The commission, which has a two-year mandate to cover human rights violations and abuses that took place from July 1994 to January 2017, was established through an Act of Parliament passed in 2017.

In Letters to Africa, Lamin Cham, a former BBC reporter and now editor of Gambia's Standard newspaper, is adamant about testifying to the TRRC. Even though his torturers have died, Cham believes his testimony will expose other accomplices and prevent this type of oppression in the future.


Tanzania's amendments to law prohibit questioning of statistics

Tanzania, on the other hand, has become adept at amending or crafting laws that are seemingly innocuous, while pushing to include clauses aimed at suppressing dissenting information.

Amendments to Tanzania's Statistics Act of 2015 were finally approved by lawmakers at the end of September. Along with progressive changes, the government managed to slip in a clause that prohibits anyone from publishing statistical information which is either not approved or does not comply with the National Bureau of Statistics methodology. Anyone challenging official statistics will be prosecuted and will have to pay a fine or face at least three years jail time, or both.

Objections expressed by civil society organisations when the revisions were initially introduced earlier in the year went largely ignored. Earlier this month, the World Bank issued a statement expressing concern while highlighting the fact that the amendments were contrary to international standards. Particular reference was made to the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the African Charter on Statistics.

The statement added that: "It is critical for Tanzania, like any country, to utilize statistics laws to ensure that official statistics are of high quality and are trusted, and also protect openness and transparency in their use, to further public dialogue for the benefit of the citizens."


Promoting cross-border collaborative investigative journalism projects

Journalists from across the region gathered in Accra, Ghana on 10-11 October for the West Africa Conference on Investigative Journalism organised by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in conjunction with DW Akademie.

The 60 journalists examined a variety of topics which included the state of journalism in Africa, building safety nets for investigative journalism, cross border collaborative projects and the lessons learned from West Africa Leaks and The Panama Papers.

The conference ended on a high note, with journalists adopting a 7-point resolution aimed at promoting cross border collaboration and using investigative journalism to deal with issues of good governance, accountability and socioeconomic development in the region.

The resolution included a commitment to the creation of a vibrant and dynamic cross-border network of West African investigative journalists to facilitate collaboration both at the national and international level, to tackle the pressing issues of good governance, democracy, transparency, accountability and overall socioeconomic development in the region.


Facebook strengthens fact-checking with new partnership

At the beginning of this month Facebook announced the launch of its third-party fact-checking programme in South Africa, in partnership with Africa Check and Agence France-Presse. The initiative is aimed at countering misinformation and disinformation prevalent on online platforms and specifically on Facebook.

Africa Check announced its involvement in the initiative in a hard hitting blog criticising Facebook for failing in its responsibility as a publisher for many years, and highlighting the drawbacks of its previous fact-checking programme.


In brief: DRC, Zimbabwe and Zambia

There were numerous arrests and an abduction of a journalist reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Civil society sources reported the abduction of a reporter from a local radio station in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the province of South Kivu (northeast) by unidentified gunmen.

Five journalists from AfricaNews in Kinshasa - Octave Mukendi, Bruce Landu, Roddy Bosakwa, Dan Luyila and Laurent Omba - were arrested in the early hours of 19 October, and held at the national police intelligence department headquarters. It is believed that these arrests may have been a reaction to an AfricaNews report on an internal affairs investigation into the alleged misappropriation of food at a police training academy.

Sylvanie Kiaku, a reporter for the weekly La Percée, also based in Kinshasa, was arrested, detained and charged with criminal defamation.

Police in Zimbabwe arrested a group of well-organised youth who attacked vendors and burnt newspapers which were part of the privately owned Alpha Media Holdings stable.

Journalists were attacked outside Kitwe Magistrate Court in Zambia. They were covering a court case involving the misappropriation of property by a prominent businessman and his associates. Friends of the businessmen hurled insults at the journalists and assaulted Kashete Sinyangwe, a cameraman with the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation.

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