By Tabani Moyo
The 2022 World Press Freedom Day commemorations are and will remain a critical milestone in the lifespan of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) as they took place when the organisation turned 30.
This is by no means a mean feat! In the previous year, I had the lifetime honour of moderating the Africa Forum deliberations, as the Windhoek Declaration for the development of a free, independent and pluralistic press marked its 30th anniversary.
This led to the birth of Windhoek +30 as its successor framework on media development in the age of an increasingly fast-paced and ever-changing environment. The significance of such a milestone underscores the evolving nature of media freedom, freedom of expression, access to information and how MISA as an agent of change has been at the forefront of this evolution.
In essence, this illustrates how the organisation has managed to present itself as the shield of free expression for the peoples of Southern Africa, and a strategic player in regional, continental and international interventions on the issue.
Suffice to note that MISA’s footprints during the World Press Freedom Day commemorations have been indelible and highly pronounced. This comes in the wake of the organisation’s five-year strategy, which was rolled out in Gaborone on 4 March 2022 by the organisation’s Regional Governing Council (RGC).
Speaking at the launch of the three-in-one five-year strategic document, which combines the Strategy; Advocacy and Communication Plans, the chairperson of the RGC Golden Maunganidze noted:
“With this strategy document, we are now engaging the “business unusual practical gears” in shaping and establishing our footprints towards the attainment of the bigger picture…
“In essence, we are part of the conscious army of builders of people-centred advocacy and a freedom of expression movement that has endured 30 years and continues to set a concrete foundation for the evolution of this great organisation…”
It is in pursuit of these unusual practical heavy gears that MISA came together with its collaborative allies in partnering the Southern Africa Chief Justices’ Forum (SACJF) in a historic symposium in Nairobi, Kenya, where it managed to bring together 12 Chief Justices under one roof for the first time since the forum’s formation in 2003.
MISA was one of the five collaborative partners with SACJF at the symposium which took place on 21 and 22 April this year. The symposium was on digitisation and internet governance, key themes that are part of MISA’s strategic pillars.
Fast forward, MISA was at the epicentre of the 2022 World Press Freedom Day commemorations, more so when it launched the second edition of the regional report The State of Press Freedom in Southern Africa 2021. The report is the most comprehensive evidence-based tracking tool for both stakeholders and decision-makers within and without Africa.
The 2nd edition of the report was first launched in Bulawayo at the regional meeting held on 2 May 2022. Ambassador Salah S. Hammad, the Head of the AGA-APSA Secretariat at the Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Security African Union Commission launched the report.
The Government of Zimbabwe was represented by the Deputy Minister and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information Publicity and Broadcasting Services Honourable Kindness Paradza and Mr Nick Mangwana, respectively. UNESCO Southern Africa was represented by its Regional Director General Lidia Arthur Brito. The report was also launched in Arusha Tanzania at the continental commemorations by MISA Regional Treasurer and MISA Tanzania Chairperson Ms Salome Kitomari.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Commissioner Ourveena Geereesha Tospy-Sono, shared her solidarity speech with the organisation though she failed to join in through the online platform to address the delegates on the state of access to information and freedom of expression in the Southern African region.
The commemorations also highlight the significance of the MISA Chapters in the eight countries we have a presence. During the countries’ commemorative events, all the Chapters managed to engage their respective members of the executive, parliament, civil society, and media, among other critical stakeholders.
In Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia, the Chapters reached the highest office of their respective countries through engagements with their Heads of State and Government.
In Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and Angola, they engaged their respective ministers and permanent secretaries in their lobby and advocacy efforts for the democratisation of the regulatory frameworks while calling for a holistic approach toward the safety and security of journalists, which are constitutionally provided for rights.
This year’s theme: Journalism under Digital Siege, highlights the need for governments in Southern Africa to recommit to the very fabric of our civilisation – the need for an enlightened citizenry.
This can only be achieved through ensuring that journalists continue shining the light in the dark spots of our human civilisations. This is why in March 2022, MISA dispatched an eight-member delegation, in solidarity with the Botswana Chapter, to engage with the Government of Botswana on the dangers of the highly contentious Criminal Procedure and Evidence (Controlled Investigations) Bill.
During the engagements with the Minister of Defence Justice and Security, Thomas Kagiso Mmusi, MISA underscored the need for the proposed law to be in tandem with the provisions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information which recognises internet as a human right. MISA also restated the need for the Bill to adhere to Principle 41 of the Declaration on Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which provides, among other things, that states should not engage in or condone acts of indiscriminate and untargeted collection, storage, analysis or sharing of a person’s communications.
The same is true with the proposed Communications (Subscriber Identity Module & Mobile Device Registration) Regulations of 2021 in Lesotho.
MISA and the Lesotho Chapter actively engaged the Parliament of Lesotho and the Executive on the need to rethink regulations on interception of communications in line with regional and international best standards. This led to the Parliament of Lesotho rejecting the bill until wide consultations were conducted.
As early as 9 June 2021, the MISA Chairperson wrote to the then Prime Minister Themba Masuku of Eswatini warning the government of the deteriorating press freedom environment in the country, before the country plunged into protests at the end of that month.
MISA went on to mobilise regional, continental and international organisations to petition the government to imperatively stop attacking journalists and the media and not to switch off the internet, regardless of the protests.
As Lesotho, slowly but surely, drifts towards elections in September 2022, MISA is already preparing to dispatch an observation team to engage stakeholders and interlocutors on the ground on how the media will be performing and the operating environment.
In August 2021, the organisation observed the Zambia elections and released its preliminary report.
At the beginning of 2022, I made projections on attacks on freedom of expression in Southern Africa. What is scary as we move towards the half-year mark, is the scope and scale with which these attacks are taking place.
For example, how might one account for a country like Botswana, one of the remaining countries with a semblance of democratic standing in the region, falling from number 38 in 2021 on the global rankings to 95 in 2022 in the Reporters Without Boundaries 2022 World Press Freedom Index?
This is a fall of 57 places in a single year.
Malawi fell from 62 to 80. In 2021, Botswana, Malawi and Zambia positively scaled the ladder and were raising high hopes that we were going to increase the number of shining examples in the region. Clearly, we celebrated too early.
This year, only Zambia, of the three countries highlighted, retained its momentum. MISA is justified to express concern with such a trajectory.
In concluding my reflections on the footprints of MISA during this year’s World Press Freedom commemorations and attempting to gaze into the future, I am guided by our strategy for 2021-2026.
The document points out that there is a need for deliberate efforts to convene forces in the Southern African region to defend this shrinking space. In this I quote the concluding paragraph of the Chairperson Golden Maunganidze in the same document:
“This strategic document is a MISA pledge to reach out across the continent and globe towards building a movement of solidarity in favour of freedom of expression, access to information, right to privacy and media freedom. To this we make a declaration that we dare not and will not fail!”
Indeed, with these indelible footprints, we will not fail!
Tabani Moyo is the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Regional Secretariat Director. He can be contacted at email@example.com. MISA is a regional non-governmental organisation with members in eight (8) of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries. Its Regional Governing Council (RGC) Chairperson is Golden Maunganidze (MISA Zimbabwe Chairperson); Deputy Chairperson, Nkoale Oetsi Tsoana (MISA Lesotho Chairperson) and Treasurer, Salome Kitomary (MISA Tanzania Chairperson) For more information pertaining to MISA’s work, visit www.misa.org