These are the worst African countries for press freedom in 2019

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Earlier this week, Eritrea ranked as the world’s most censored country in a report released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Equatorial Guinea also featured in the world’s top ten most censored country, coming in at eighth in the list which also featured North Korea (2), Turkmenistan (3), Saudi Arabia (4), China (5), Vietnam (6), Iran (7), Belarus (9) and Cuba (10).

For those involved in press freedoms, the CPJ list doesn’t feature any great surprises and for anyone with interest in African press freedoms, Eritrea topping the list will fee all too familiar.

Press freedoms in Africa have changed a lot in recent years with countries like Ethiopia and Gambia making great progress under new political regimes. We’ve also seen welcome (albeit more moderate) change in Angola and Zimbabwe but the overall state of press freedoms in Africa continues to deteriorate, dragged down by the continent’s worst performers – as well as a number of governments ramping up their efforts to suppress the free media.

Here are the worst African countries for press freedoms, based on data from Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF’s) Press Freedom Index 2019.

#1: Eritrea

Source: By Voice of America – http://www.voanews.com/english/news/africa/Eritrea-Calls-Anticipated-UN-Sanctions-Travesty-of-Justice–134996438.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17579398

Eritrea doesn’t quite rank as the world’s worst country for press freedoms in this year’s Press Freedom Index but it comes close at 178th out of 180 nations. Only North Korea (178) and Turkmenistan (200) perform worse than Eritrea, which RFS describes as “a dictatorship in which the media have no rights”.

As the press freedom report says, last year’s peace deal between Eritrea and Ethiopia hasn’t led to the improved press freedoms many people were hoping for and journalists in Eritrea continue to find themselves trapped in a regime “that leaves no room for freely-reported news and information.”

#2: Sudan

Sudan doesn’t perform much better than Eritrea in the press freedom index, taking the 175th spot either side of Syria (174) and Vietnam (176).

“Sudan’s journalists and media are among the leading victims of the regime’s crackdown on the big anti-government protests that began on 19 December 2018,” RSF notes in this year’s report.

#3: Djibouti

Only two places higher than Sudan, Djibouti ranks 173rd in the index and RSF points towards judicial harassment, illegal searches, exorbitant fines and arbitrary detention as common features in Djibouti’s restricted media environment.

This is compounded by the fact that no privately-owned or independent media outlets operate within the country.

“The only Djibouti-based media are used for propaganda purposes by President Ismaël Omar Guelleh’s government,” RFS says.

#4: Equatorial Guinea

Source: “Malabo Montpellier Panel Forum” flickr photo by IFPRI https://flickr.com/photos/ifpri/39090832821 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Jumping up eight places we have Equatorial Guinea at 165th, either side of Somalia (164) and Azerbaijan (166). The Central African nation maintains “total control of the media,” according to RSF, which cites the case of Ramón Esono Ebalé, a cartoonist who was held for five months after being arrested “on trumped-up charges” in September 2017.

“Tight control of the media and prior censorship are the norm under Obiang, who has held sway in Equatorial Guinea for the past 40 years and was re-elected for a fifth seven-year term in April 2016,” RSF explains in its summary of press freedoms in Equatorial Guinea.

“Under his authoritarian rule, it is impossible to criticize the president and the security forces.”

#5: Somalia

Finishing just one place above Equatorial Guinea, Somalia ranks 164th out of 200 countries in the 2019 Press Freedom Index. The report says Somalia continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists with media personnel facing suppression from all angles: the government, security forces and militant group al-Shabaab.

“In 2018, three journalists eluded or survived murder attempts and three others were killed in connection with their work,” RSF says. “The first was gunned down by a police officer at a checkpoint, the second was stabbed to death after receiving death threats from the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab and the third was killed by a car bomb for which Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility.”

#6: Egypt

Egypt places 163rd – just one spot above Somalia – and RSF describes the North African country as “one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists.”

“The press freedom situation has become more and more alarming under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who engineered a second term as president in early 2018,” the group says. “Egypt is now one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists. Some spend years in detention without being charged or tried. Others have been sentenced to long jail terms or even life imprisonment in iniquitous mass trials.”

#7: Libya

Source: By ليبي صح – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20550012

The North African state of Libya ranks 162nd in the index, one position higher than Egypt in this year’s standings, but the situation for journalists is no better. Political instability and civil conflict have only added the dangers facing media personnel in the country, which has become “a black hole for news and information,” according to RSF.

#8: Burundi

Just three places higher than Libya, Burundi takes the 159th spot with the Central Asian nations Kazakhstan (158) and Uzbekistan (160) finishing either side.

RSF puts it simply when it says Burundi has “no media freedom” whatsoever. The situation has deteriorated rapidly since political turmoil erupted in May 2015 and, despite the country being in a relative state of peace, press freedoms haven’t recovered at all.

“Most independent radio stations are still closed,” RSF says. “Dozens of journalists are still unable to return from self-imposed exile, and those who stayed find it hard to work freely because they are often harassed by the security forces, which are encouraged by an official discourse associating non-aligned media with enemies of the nation.”

#9: Rwanda

Rwanda comes in at 155th in the index, having made moderate progress in recent years. Reports of journalists being killed, kidnapped and tortured are rare these days but the government retains a tight grip on press freedoms. Paul Kagame’s regime continues to target journalists and public figures who criticise the government, many of whom are arrested and detained without charge or imprisoned over ambiguous charges.

#10: Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) places at 154th, one position higher than Rwanda in the index. However, RSF does acknowledge the potential for improved media freedoms under the rule of newly elected president Félix Tshisekedi, who replaced long-time ruler Joseph Kabila earlier this year.

In 2017 and 2018, the DRC was the sub-Saharan African country where RSF registered the most press freedom violations, including violence, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, media closures and the ransacking of media outlets.

Rights groups are hoping for improvements under President Félix Tshisekedi but we’re yet to see any tangible changes.

Negative progress in Africa

With ten African countries ranking among the world’s worst 52 nations for press freedoms, the continent’s overall performance remains poor in 2019. Progress in countries like Ethiopia and Gambia has been countered by deterioration in the likes of Burundi and Tanzania. While ongoing violations against press freedoms in Eritrea, Djibouti and other nations notorious for attacking journalists mean the overall landscape in Africa continues to get worse.

Featured image: By ليبي صح – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20550012

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.