Speaking for freedom in the global village
At the 2014 World Village Festival, taking place in Helsinki, in Finland, members of the Suomi/Africa network participated in a panel discussion alongside the Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja. Suomi/Africa journalists Simon Kaheru, Dommie Yambo-Odotte, and Robin Tyson spoke at a session moderated by Helsingin Sanomat Foreign News Editor Heikki Aittokoski to discuss human rights and press freedom in Africa.
Human rights in global families
Mr Tuomioja considered the Finnish interest in human rights in African countries. "Human rights are not internal issues. They are the issues of everyone," he said. He spoke of violence against women, which is an issue in Finland as much as it is in other countries. He spoke of poverty, and the need for social and economic rights to be observed in Africa as elsewhere. He spoke, passionately on civil rights, also, as a key to achieving economic development.
Dommie Yambo-Odotte is Senior Media Advisor and Producer at Development Through Media in Kenya. Dommie highlighted gender issues in African contexts, and the cultural conventions that dictate inequalities with respect to treatment of promotion of women in civil society and in commercial environments, as well as protecting and supporting their role as homemakers and guardians of family. Dommie contextualised broader developmental issues with Kenyan history from independence through to the adoption of a new constitution in 2010. She highlighted a path or progress, but added a note of caution with respect to the interpretation of the new constitution.
As a stakeholder in development communication, Ms Yambo-Odotte expressed her concerns with respect to the ICC's pursuit of Kenya's president, following the violence surrounding Kenya's elections in 2010. The ICC's relationship is ambivalent; however, Ms Yambo-Odotte stressed that lessons can be learned with respect to new development of civil society.
"We must be able to create a structure that people can be held accountable within," she said.
Society, experience and truth
Robin Tyson is Media Studies Lecturer at the University of Namibia, and former chair of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). Robin spoke on the successes achieved in Namibia with respect to press freedoms, and a government that embraces a culture of openness. He compared the freedom to criticise government in Namibia with the lack of such freedoms in other African countries - and specifically spoke of a key member of the Suomi/Africa network, Bheki Mukhubu. Bheki's homeland, Swaziland, is amongst the least democratic nations in the world, and Bheki has been locked in prison, in leg shackles, for having the audacity to criticise the Swazi judiciary. The media is bound to representation of the Swazi king's views, and so Bheki's case has been marginalised. Bheki has tremendous courage, and stands for "speaking the truth to power", to quote his paper The Nation.
On the situation in Robin's own land, in Namibia there is both great affluence and extreme poverty, and this a point of significant concern. Robin extended the analysis of media freedom with the lack of response to media critiques of government policy in failing to develop a middle class, to raise the poor to a better quality of living.
Simon Kaheru is Lead Analyst at Media Analyst in Uganda. Simon addressed particular concerns with human rights in Africa, and aligned his concerns on lack of economic development underpinning a lack of human rights with his own particular experiences of life in Uganda. There are many in his country who are comfortable; however, too many do not have any level of wealth, and do not have the facility for access to expression through media. Furthermore, the cultures of societies can inhibit civil freedoms and the example of legislation prejudicial to homosexual communities reflects this. He noted that much of Ugandan society displays negative behavioural traits with respect to homosexuality, and suggested that Ugandan society is on a path to understanding new societal and civil concepts, not unlike that already travelled by such countries as the USA, and that time is needed for civil society in such African nations to assimilate conventions that are increasingly normalised in Western countries."
We are free to communicate, with a vibrant media. But we need to focus a lot more on developing media to support the development of society," Mr Kaheru said.