8 out of 10 countries in Africa have major restrictions on basic civic freedoms

Johannesburg, 4th December 2019

Findings based on data released today by the CIVICUS Monitor a global research collaboration which rates and tracks respect for fundamental freedoms in 196 countries.

The CIVICUS Monitor has today released  People Power Under Attack 2019, a new report showing that civic and political rights are slipping in many of the 49 countries in Africa. In this region, 41 countries are curtailing civic freedoms – 8 countries are rated as closed, 15 as repressed and 18 obstructed. In reality, this means that the basic freedoms of speech, peaceful assembly and association are not being respected across the vast region of Africa.

CIVICUS is alarmed by the fact that civic space ratings have deteriorated in three countries: Nigeria, Madagascar and Comoros have all been downgraded.

Civic space in Central Africa continues to be negatively affected by authoritarian governments, armed conflict and weak rule of law. In this region, 5 countries have a ‘repressed’ rating and 3 are ‘closed’. Some countries in West Africa, where most countries are rated as obstructed, saw a decline in fundamental freedoms, most notably demonstrated by Nigeria’s downgrading from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’. An investigative journalist was shot and killed in Ghana, amid a deteriorating climate for the safety of journalists, while in Guinea protests against the perceived attempts of President Condé to replace the 2010 Constitution in order to run for a third term were banned and repressed.

In Southern Africa, protests against steep hikes in fuel were severely repressed in Zimbabwe, while in the East and Horn of Africa authorities continued to be intolerant to dissenting voices. In Tanzania, civic space further deteriorated under hardline President John Magufuli, where people who criticise the government are often harassed, intimidated or prosecuted under several repressive laws that have been enacted since 2015.

The CIVICUS Monitor is extremely concerned about the curtailment of civic and democratic rights in Nigeria – its civic space rating has been downgraded from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed.’ This rating reflects an increasingly hostile environment towards protestors and journalists. In Nigeria, serious concerns exist about the respect of freedom of expression as this year saw several journalists attacked and/or arrested and charged under repressive laws such as the Cybercrime Act and Terrorism (Prevention)(amendment) Act 2013 while offices of the newspaper Daily Trust were raided in January. Certain protests, such as the #RevolutionNow and Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) protests were repressed. Omoyele Sowore, the main organiser of the #RevolutionNow protests, calling for good governance, was arrested before the protest and was charged on seven counts, including treason, cybercrime and money laundering, and remains in prison despite a court order for his release on bail.

Across the continent, it has been a contentious year for activists and civil society. Several mass protests took place across Africa - from Guinea, Sudan, Malawi to Zimbabwe - and protesters were at times met with excessive use of force, the detention of protesters and protest bans. In fact, the most common civic space violation registered by the Monitor in the last year has been protest disruption – which was documented in 39 percent of Monitor updates for the region - together with the arrest of protestors, which was documented in 29 percent.

In Zimbabwe, a 150 percent spike in fuel prices and dire economic conditions led protesters onto the streets in January 2019. These nationwide protests were met with repression and excessive use of force, leading to at least 15 deaths, while over one thousand were arrested. In Cameroon, opposition protests against what they call electoral fraud were banned and at least 100 people were arrested during the ‘marches blanches’ (‘white marches’) in January and at least 350 in June 2019.

In Sudan, sustained protests, in which women played a substantial role, sparked a revolution which also ousted President al-Bashir after 29 years in power. From December 2018, initial protests against an increase in fuel prices and dismal economic conditions, and against President Al-Bashir, erupted across the country. Although dozens of protestors were killed when the security forces used tear gas and live ammunition, and thousands were arrested, protests continued to demand that power be handed over to a civilian-led administration. Things got worse in June, when over one hundred protesters were killed by security forces during a sit-in outside the Ministry of Defence in Khartoum. After this turbulent period, Sudan eventually set-up a power sharing Transitional Council in August 2019 for three years until elections are to be held, which promise to bring institutional and legal reforms.

Positive developments were also noted in Ethiopia, where draconian laws that were used to repress civil society were reviewed or replaced, such as the repressive 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation. Human rights activists have been returning from exile to Ethiopia and efforts are being made to rebuild civil society after a decade of oppression.

Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space on all continents. The Monitor has posted more than 536 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2019. Civic space in 196 countries is categorized as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology which combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

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