By Kemo Cham
T
he African Union has come under a scathing attack by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) for its failure to help counter increasing persecution and killing of journalists in Africa. A report published by Reuters said that the IFJ, through its sister organization, the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), named Gambia among five countries notorious for their intolerance for the press – Tunisia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Eritrea, the last two being the worst in terms of their record for slaying and persecution of journalists respectively. The report is the outcome of a survey compiled by the FAJ. The report which said that African journalism is in ‘‘crisis’’, listed 13 journalists as having been murdered with 32 jailed in the year 2009 alone, yet the African Union is doing nothing to reverse the trend. “This report outlines in clear, bald terms the scale of the crisis that faces journalists across the continent,” Aidan White, secretary general of the IFJ, told Reuters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. “The African Union needs to demonstrate that its members are committed to press freedom. They’re not now. The situation in Africa is intolerable.” According to the report, in lawless Somalia alone, nine (9) journalists were murdered in 2009, and in Eritrea, with one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes, 19 journalists were held incommunicado. What set Eritrea apart from the rest is that its government does not appear accountable to anybody, and they do not even want to negotiate their stance. That makes it even more difficult to come near to tackling the issue. “We have been knocking on the door of Eritrea for talks. They haven’t opened the door yet. But we’ll keep knocking,” White said, and he added, “We want dialogue with governments and for governments to stop thinking the media are a political instrument rather than a force for democratic change.” The report was launched in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, another country whose leadership does not have any respect for the rule of law. It also has a record of cracking down on its media. The best example of which was witnessed in the government’s widely disputed 2005 election victory. This is the very same country that hosts the AU.