#BringBackOurGirls

More than 200 girls were abducted from their school on 14 April by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Even though the abduction occurred almost a month ago, the media coverage has been limited. However, the social media campaign, #BringBackOurGirls, has brought global attention to the abduction in Nigeria’s north.

Gathering at Union Square in New York City to rally for the release of the kidnapped girls. Photo by Michael Fleshman

Gathering at Union Square in New York City to rally for the release of the kidnapped girls. Photo by Michael Fleshman

The motive of the abduction is clear as the groups name, Boko Haram, loosely translates to “Western education is forbidden”. The group initially wanted to make sure the girls were not going to school and would instead marry them off.

However, Boko Haram’s demands have now changed, as they today released a video where the leader Abubakar Shekau demanded that all militants must be freed from prison before he would let the girls go. Many commentators have seen this as a good sign, that the group is changing its demands and is more willing to negotiate could work in favor of the girls’ release.

Several politicians and celebrities have voiced their opinion and demanded the release of the 276 girls captured. Among them, the United States’ first lady, Michelle Obama.

 

Nigeria’s former vice-president (1999-2007), Atiku Abubakar

 

 *UPDATES WILL FOLLOW*

10 years on: forgotten atrocities in Darfur

Susanne Østhus talks to Luse Kinivuwai, director of Darfur Australia Network, about the lacking media coverage of the war in Darfur and its implications.

After ten years the conflict in Darfur is still ongoing and has seen an increase in bombings. However, mainstream media’s coverage has shifted in recent years and is now mainly focusing on the Arab spring uprisings.

“The media coverage of the Darfur conflict has reduced in the last 4 years,” director of Darfur Australia Network (DAN), Luse Kinivuwai says.

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Source: Flickr
Courtesy of: katmeresin

The conflict in Darfur is still violent and in July seven UN peacekeeping soldiers were ambushed and killed, 17 soldiers were wounded in the attack in Sudan’s western region. Later, in September, the Sudanese air forces (SAF) allegedly bombed Sudan’s east Jebel Marra for three days straight.

According to United Nations information service Vienna it is estimated that the genocide has claimed 200,000 lives and caused 2 million to be displaced from their homes (There are only estimates so far, no confirmed accurate numbers).

“There is still a lot of unrest in Darfur, the Sudanese air force continues to bomb parts of Darfur, rebel and government forces continue to clash in the region and tribal conflicts are ongoing making it a very complicated layered conflict,” Kinivuwai says.

What sparked the conflict in 2003 was an uprising launched by non-Arab ethnic groups, Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), against the Sudanese government. To which the government responded in orchestrating the mass murder of civilians by arming the Janjaweed militia.

At the height of the conflict, media worldwide had its eyes on the mass murders in Darfur. Kinivuwai says the active campaigning from celebrities such as George Clooney helped keep media interested in the atrocities happening in Darfur.

George Clooney told the Sun that the case of Darfur has “been the greatest failure of my life”.

Ten years on and little has changed for the better in Darfur, a conflict worryingly similar to the Rwandan genocide.

The International Criminal Court has laid ten charges against President Omar al-Bashir and issued a warrant for his arrest. Bashir has rejected these charges, but more problematic is that he is still president in Sudan, which is a huge hindrance to UN’s peacekeeping mission (UNAMID).

The lack of progress by UN’s peacekeeping mission, unsuccessful arrest of Omar al-Bashir and the emergence of new uprisings in the Middle-East has made Darfur into a forgotten conflict.

“The media has turned its attention to the Arab Spring movements across Arab countries such as Libya, Egypt and now in Syria,” Kinivuwai says.

The mass killings continue in Darfur, but the eyes of the world are elsewhere.

Commentary: Press freedom in Liberia

Sometimes it is not the case that a conflict is forgotten, but rather governments taking measures for the information not to reach the public, writes Susanne Østhus.

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Photo credit of ugaldew

In 2010 the editor of FrontPageAfrica, Rodney Sieh, was sued for accusing former agriculture minister, Chris Toe, of corruption.

After being unable to pay the damages of the lawsuit Rodney Sieh was jailed. The paper’s offices were also shut down a few days after his arrest, but not their online news publication.

I can understand that the accusations can be defamatory for Chris Toe, if they were not backed up with evidence. However, FrontPageAfrica published government findings of Chris Toe being corrupt along with the report.

This conviction of Rodney Sieh is surprising as the Liberian government signed the Freedom of Information Act to become law in 2010. The act was implemented to enable both journalists and members of the public to obtain government documents.

The act was to go into effect two years later, therefore it did not apply in Rodney Sieh’s case.

The Supreme Court ruled that Rodney Sieh is to pay US $1.5 million (approximately AU $1.7 million) in total for damages.

In July 2013 an appeal was attempted, but according to Liberian law the appeal can only be held if the prosecuted has payed two per cent of the damages, which Sieh has been unable to do.

FrontPageAfrica reported that they also would be unable to pay the court ordered damages cost.

However, considering Liberia’s constitution article number 21 it states that “(ii) Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor excessive punishment inflicted”. Considering this law  it is evident that such an excessive fine should not have been issued in the first place.

The paper accused the jurors of being corrupt and the court of being biased. FrontPageAfrica believes that the government is unfairly targeting their publication because of the investigative reports they have published.

According to Press Union of Liberia no news organisation has won a libel since Ellen Sirleaf was elected president in 2005. Human rights watch reported that Sirleaf’s administration had issued several lawsuits against local newspapers in recent years.

In 1989 during the civil war journalists in Liberia were targeted and the government put a ban on media coverage of the war. After the war Liberia has been seen as the ideal state in Africa when it comes to the process of democratisation.

Nevertheless, with the case of Rodney Sieh it is clear that although Liberia is democratised the freedom of press is under attack and reform in the legal system is needed. Several organisations, such as Committee to protect journalists (CPJ), have put pressure on the Liberian government to release Rodney Sieh, but it has been rejected.

Do you think this was a lawful arrest? What is your thoughts on freedom of press in Liberia? Please share your opinion in the comment section it is open for discussion.

Increased Africa aid to enhance financial transparency

Norway’s minister of international development, Heikki Holmås, and president of the African development bank group, Donald Kaberuka, signed the agreement in Oslo last month.

The agreement outlined a 30 million NOK (approximately AU $5 million) increase in Africa support.

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Norway’s parliament building in Oslo during wintertime
Source: The Norwegian perspective

“Norway is seeking to help turn Africa’s ‘resource curse’ into a ‘resource blessing’ by supporting the negotiation of better contract terms,” minister of international development Heikki Holmås said in a government press release.

Many African developing countries are rich on natural resources, but the population still live in poverty.

“Norway will support African countries in the negotiation of fair agreements with international companies that are exploiting their natural resources,” Holmås said.

Africa

Source: zatrokz

To ensure that the aid is spend on addressing legal issues between multinational companies and authorities in African countries the work was delegated to African legal support facility (ALSF).

“This work also enhances financial transparency surrounding contracts which is crucial to be able to uncover and stop illicit financial flows. Every year ten times as much money disappears out of developing countries through illicit financial flows as is received in the form of aid and development support,” Holmås said.

The contribution will be used in the African development bank group’s strategy for 2013-2022. The two main objectives of this strategy is inclusive African growth and transition to sustainable growth. In this strategy there will be particular emphasis on supporting fragile states, agriculture and food security, and gender.

Several countries in Africa are currently requesting the support of the African legal support facility, so far the ALSF is working on projects with 20 African countries.

“The aim is for the countries to strengthen their own revenues and economies, and in the long term for them to be able to manage without aid,” Holmås said.

BBC’s Africa debate

BBC opens for debate about their Africa coverage with audience/readers on Twitter, writes Susanne Østhus.

In the upcoming Africa debate programme hosted by BBC, you get the chance to get your questions answered by Peter Horrocks, director of the BBC World Service. The topic for discussion this time will be revolving around the news coverage of countries in Africa and whether media is getting it right. Everyone can ask questions and almost through every social media platform. The programme is aired 30 August and 1 September and the questions asked today will be the basis for the debate. Get on it and ask questions, ends at 1 am Australian time.

I have sent in a couple of questions myself: Does censorship in countries in Africa, such as Liberia, affect your news coverage? Which conflicts in Africa does mainstream media seem to “forget”?

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Stock.XCHNG: vlambi

To ask a question on Twitter, you use the hashtag #mybbcafrica at the end of your tweet. They also have a Facebook group, BBC Africa Page. Or you could do it by filling out this form on BBC’s site. Let the questions begin!

UPDATE

I sent in questions through every social media platform available, but was not lucky enough to get a reply. But I did get a retweet from BBC though.

I am a big advocate of using Twitter as a news source, because you are able to digest a lot of information in a short amount of time. Although, when using Twitter as a news medium it is important to be able to distinct verified information from rumors and hoaxes. Open debates such as this one by the BBC are great for a two way communication between media and the audience/readers. You can also be certain that the information tweeted by news organisations is in most cases verified.

All the questions answered by Peter Horrocks can be seen here. I have picked out three questions that I thought were particularly good.

Do you think Twitter is an improvement of media and audience/reader relationship or not? Please share your opinion in the comment section or tweet me at @SusanneTunge

Election in Zimbabwe

After the election in Zimbabwe on 31 July there has been worldwide debate whether or not the election was free and fair, writes Susanne Østhus.

From 1980 to 1987, Robert Mugabe was prime minister, but became head of state in 1987. Mugabe has a history of excluding other parties from the elections, which is one of the main reasons why this year’s election raises a red flag.

Robert Mugabe

Source: Flickr
Photographer: Gregg Carlstrom

Mugabe won the election with 61 per cent of votes, while opposing candidate Tsvangirai had 34 per cent of votes.

The opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, has called for a nullification of the election results.

“Simply because no one was killed, it does not mean the election was free and fair. People were heavily intimidated and there was massive fraud,” leader Morgan Tsvangirai said.

Many voters could not find their name on the electoral roll and therefore were unable to vote. The electoral commission has not yet explained this problem.

Southern African Development Community (SADC) has observed the election and approved of the procedures and called the election free and peaceful.

Australia has also entered the debate and foreign minister Bob Carr was concerned about the voters roll and procedures.

“Given our doubts about the results, Australia calls for a re-run of the elections based on a verified and agreed voters roll”, Carr said.

The US says the election is not credible and has consequently decided to maintain their sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Norway is awaiting the final report before deciding whether it will shape their relationship with Zimbabwe or not.

“It is very important for Norway that countries we cooperate with show a genuine willingness to promote democracy and human rights,” minister of international development, Heikki Holmås said.

The election in 2008 also caused a major international uproar. Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round of this election, but lost the second round to Robert Mugabe.

SADC concluded that the pre-election phase in 2008 was affected by political violence, intimidation and displacement. Therefore the will of the Zimbabwan people was not evident in the election results. Is history repeating itself again in Zimbabwe?

Continuing information on the aftermath of the election will be up when the African Union and SADC releases its final report on observations during the election.

Until then, I would really like to hear your opinion on the election. Fair or a farce? Please comment or vote on my poll, I promise it is not rigged.

Kevin Rudd visit La Trobe for Africa dialogue

Kevin Rudd visited La Trobe University in May for a dialogue about Africa. This was around the same time the Gonski reform had been published and students were upset by the cuts to university funding. Some students therefore organised a protest for when Rudd arrived at La Trobe. What these students did not realise is that Rudd had nothing to do with the Gonski reform, as he resigned from his role as foreign minister in the labor government last year. I understand that students were upset and angry by the reform, but their protest was largely misplaced. The attention shifted to a student protest instead of the important Africa dialogue that was happening. Instead of talking about war, Rudd chose to focus on the good things happening in Africa and explaining the growth of the continent. Finally there can be some attention to all the good things that are happening in Africa.

You should check out this article written by a PhD student from La Trobe, it focuses on Rudd’s speech and why it is important to focus on the good that is happening in Africa.