Reporters Without Boundaries has released the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, which points to worrying signs for freedom of expression in Southern Africa, with a number of countries recording sharp declines.
Botswana, long regarded as a bastion of democracy, saw a sharp decline in its rankings falling from 38 to 95. This was the steepest decline among countries in Southern Africa.
Worryingly too, South Africa recorded a decline for the second year in a row, falling three places on the rankings from 32 in 2021 to 35 in 2022.
Malawi, which last year recorded a rise thanks to the enactment of its access to information law, also recorded a decline from 62 to 80.
Mozambique also recorded a sharp decline, falling from 108 in 2021 to 116 in 2022.
Zimbabwe also recorded a decline, falling from 130 in the previous year to 137 this year.
Lesotho remained unchanged as it was rated 88th in both 2021 and 2022.
It was not all gloom and doom as some countries recorded impressive gains in this year’s rankings.
Namibia cemented its position as the region and Africa’s best ranked country. In 2022, Namibia was ranked 18th, an improvement from the 24th recorded in the previous year.
Angola moved from 103 to 99th, while Eswatini gained 10 places from 141 in 2021 to 131 this year.
Tanzania gained one place from 124th to 123rd. Zambia was also another gainer, moving from 115 to 109.
The RSF World Press Freedom Index is reflective of the State of Press Freedom in Southern Africa Report that is published by MISA.
The State of Press Freedom in Southern Africa Report noted that Botswana, for instance, was quietly toughening its stance on freedom of expression, quite a departure from its position as one of the leaders in democracy in the region.
The State of Press Freedom in Southern Africa Report was launched on World Press Freedom Day.
Botswana recently introduced an amendment to the Criminal Procedure and Evidence (Controlled Investigations) Act, which has the potential to infringe on freedom of expression and of the media.
The report also noted the improvements in Tanzania and Zambia.
Furthermore, the report noted the improvement in Zimbabwe’s media environment but raised concern that a raft of new laws such as the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill and the mooted Patriot Bill had the potential to sound the death knell for freedom of expression. The government of Malawi is also in the process of coming up with an NGO legislation, with the potential to further shrink the civic space in the country.
The decline in the freedom of expression environment in Southern Africa is particularly worrying for MISA, as in the past years the region seemed to be on an upward trajectory.