The Squeeze on African Media Freedom

Issue Date April 2020
Volume 31
Issue 2
Page Numbers 96-109
file Print
arrow-down-thin Download from Project MUSE
external View Citation

Nearly thirty years after governments loosened control over broadcasters and publishers, Africa’s media face increasing threats. New laws are resulting in the imprisonment of journalists and closure of media houses, while internet shutdowns and “social-media taxes” are increasingly common strategies to limit the mobilizing and informational potentials of digital technologies. These challenges are occurring in the midst of eroding public support for free media, as the latest Afrobarometer data show increased backing for government restrictions across the continent. Africans’ confidence in their media seems to be declining, potentially due to concerns over bias, hate speech, and disinformation.

When the television news begins with an image of the president’s head floating through the clouds like a god crossing the heavens as a swelling chorus sings his praises, what follows is not likely to be hard-hitting, independent journalism. This is what viewers in Zaire saw on their screens nightly during much of the dictatorship of President Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled that country from 1965 to 1997. As Michael Schatzberg wrote, “the media attribute all material progress and infrastructural development directly to the president’s magnanimous paternal solicitude.”1 Other African media at that time might have stopped short of such over-the-top divinizing imagery, but they nonetheless frequently made it their goal to promote those in power. In the 1960s and 1970s, not long after independence, governments often directly controlled print and broadcast media. Agencies such as the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Radiodiffusion Télévision Sénégalaise (RTS), and Zambia’s National Media Corporation saw to it that authoritarian rulers were presented as benevolent father figures bringing order and development.

About the Author

Jeff Conroy-Krutz is associate professor of political science at Michigan State University. He studies African media, focusing on how media affect electoral competition, ethnic and partisan polarization, and political engagement. He has conducted research in Central, East, and West Africa, and is editor of the Afrobarometer Working Papers Series.

View all work by Jeff Conroy-Krutz

When the global “third wave” of democratization reached African shores beginning with Benin’s national conference in early 1990, authoritarian systems were rocked and their grip shaken. A key if now often forgotten reform was the end of state media monopolies. In their place emerged more open and vibrant climates for public communication. African journalists meeting in Namibia in 1991 issued a declaration calling for a free, independent, and pluralistic press.2 Oppositions insisted that free and fair multiparty elections could not happen unless all competitors could share their ideas through mass media. Nongovernmental [End Page 96] organizations advocating “good governance” noted that corruption could not be exposed, nor citizens kept informed of officials’ doings, without a robustly independent press.

As governments eased media regulations, commercial enterprises energized by economic liberalization rushed to create new broadcasters and publishers. These businesses sought advertising revenue and, in some cases, political influence of their own. Religious groups, NGOs, and “community” media organizations added further diversity. State-owned newspapers and broadcasters, though no longer the only alternative, nonetheless remained and often gained editorial independence. Radio, television, and print outlets proliferated, providing broader perspectives and offering information and entertainment in a wider range of vernaculars. In 1993, Senegal had a single official radio broadcaster, run by RTS. Today, the country still has RTS, but can boast three-hundred radio outlets of various kinds.

Freedom House’s 1989 press-freedom report rated 41 of 48 African countries “not free” when it came to media. Just four years later, only 21 of 50 were so rated, even if the number of “free” countries rose only from two to six. Challenges remained, but the vast bulk of African countries had freer media environments as the 1990s closed than had been in place as the decade dawned.

That was twenty years ago, however, and more recent times have seen new challenges appear. Global and domestic watchdog groups have noted an upsurge in attacks on journalists and other content producers, politicized closures of media houses, and the passage of laws that many see as intended to reduce transparency and choke off speech critical of those in power. Such attacks on media freedom in Africa come at a time, moreover, when the tightening of limits on media independence and investigative journalism has become a global trend. Freedom House’s count of African countries with “free” media environments peaked at eight in 2006. The organization’s “Freedom and the Media” report for 2019 listed no African country receiving the top rating.

Perhaps more worrisome still is evidence that African populations are becoming less likely to defend media against these attacks. Findings from the latest Afrobarometer surveys, conducted between 2016 and 2018, suggest that support for media freedom is in sharp decline across the continent. Majorities in 18 of the 34 countries surveyed (Africa has 54 countries in total) said that they supported the right of government to limit media freedom. In three countries—Liberia, Mali, and Senegal—more than two-thirds of respondents took this position. As recently as the 2011–13 survey round, majorities said this in only four of the African countries surveyed.

Across the 31 countries that were covered in both 2011–13 and 2016–18, moreover, the average share of respondents supporting media freedom declined from 56 to 46 percent, while the average share supporting [End Page 97] government restrictions rose from 39 to 49 percent. This drop in support for media freedom is occurring in spite of—or perhaps due to—increasing perceptions that media freedoms are on the rise. Can it be that Africans, upon seeing increasingly free media environments, have decided that they do not like them?3

Why is Africans’ support for media freedom declining? Are people taking cues from leaders, domestic and foreign, who are media critics? Are Africans responding to perennial concerns that print, the web, and the airwaves carry too much extreme partisanship, hate, and disinformation and too little sober, accurate reporting? Is poor content, in other words, undermining popular support for that essential liberal-democratic institution, a free press?

Media Freedom Under Fire

Attacks on media freedom in Africa vary in form. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), two-dozen of the region’s journalists have been murdered since 2014 in retaliation for their work, with ten killed in Somalia alone and a further five in South Sudan. In 2015, radio producer Daud Ali Omar and his wife were shot dead as they slept in the southwestern Somali town of Baidoa. In Ghana, investigative journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale was killed in early 2019, just days after a legislator called for violence against him.4 Six more journalists from as far apart as Libya and Tanzania have gone missing since 2014.5 Dozens of other journalists have been injured, many while working in the field and others in targeted attacks.

Governments also selectively enforce laws to silence or intimidate the press. The CPJ reports that 165 journalists have been imprisoned in Africa since 2014, about a third of them (54) in Egypt.6 As of late 2019, about sixty were still behind bars, including twenty-five in Egypt. Ethiopia, long a notorious jailer of journalists, has been doing much better under new premier Abiy Ahmed. Most of 2019 passed without a single journalist in prison—something that no one could have said about Ethiopia for the fifteen years prior.7

Sometimes there are direct criminal charges of defamation, or accusations that reporting has incited disorder or otherwise harmed “national interests.” In other cases, journalists find themselves charged with financial crimes such as money laundering. Even as Ethiopia, the second-biggest country in Africa, eases media restrictions, the biggest one is tightening them. In Nigeria (population 201 million), authorities have arrested multiple journalists in recent years. They include Jones Abiri of the Weekly Source, Agba Jalingo of CrossRiverWatch, Jacob Dick-son of the Authentic News Daily, and Samuel Ogundipe of the Premium Times. In December 2019, Omoyele Sowore of the online publication Sahara Reporters was violently and publicly rearrested at the Federal [End Page 98] High Court in Abuja less than a day after his release following 125 days in jail on charges of money laundering, treason, and “cyber-stalking” President Muhammadu Buhari.8 The latter charge is reminiscent of the case of Ugandan academic Stella Nyanzi, who was sentenced in August 2019 to eighteen months in prison for “harassing” President Yoweri Museveni. She had called him, among other things, “a pair of buttocks.”9

Entire media houses have been targeted as well. Damaging raids on publications or broadcasters have been launched for failure to have proper licenses, though tax charges and appeals to “public order” or “national interests” are also popular with authorities. One of Uganda’s most popular radio broadcasters, CBS FM, had long been a thorn in the government’s side when the police raid came in September 2009. Charged with stoking violent protests by supporters of the traditional leader of its owner, the Buganda Kingdom, CBS was shut down for more than a year.10

On 10 October 2019, listeners to Henry Costa’s talk show on Monrovia’s Roots 102.7 FM could hear his live reaction as Liberian police burst through the station’s gates, intent on seizing computers and other equipment. Costa is a vocal critic of President George Weah. Costa’s station had come under attack by gunmen twice in January, while another station (Joy FM) had had its transmission cables cut one night in March. To justify the October police raid, the solicitor-general claimed that the station had been “engaged in broadcasting specifically hate messages at peaceful Liberian citizens and other forms of extortion and blackmail.” Although the Press Union of Liberia had cited Roots FM for breaching journalistic ethics, the Union had also cited a station favorable to the government—Freedom FM—for similar derelictions. Yet Freedom FM never became the target of police repression.11 The same month as the Costa raid, authorities to the north in Guinea-Bissau shuttered two radio stations owned by Africa FM. There was a presidential campaign going on, and the stations had become prominent vehicles for critiques of the incumbent, José Mário Vaz.12

Perhaps no country’s private media have suffered as have Burundi’s. In 2015, as President Pierre Nkurunziza was facing a July presidential election amid violent protests and after a failed coup attempt, security forces shut Radio Publique Africaine (or RPA, actually a private station) as well as a consortium of stations carrying campaign coverage. For those closures, authorities claimed a legal warrant. In other cases, government backers appear to have used extralegal violence against independent media. Four stations, including RPA, came under attack, in some cases by arson. Nor were incumbents the only assaulters of media: Protesters opposing the president’s bid for a third term destroyed Rema FM, a station that supported him. With dozens of journalists fleeing into exile, Burundians were left with few places to turn for independent news and commentary.13 [End Page 99]

A newer tactic drawing significant domestic and international attention is the full or partial internet shutdown. African governments know the key role that Facebook played in the Arab Spring, when longtime rulers were toppled in two North African countries. In February 2011, as the Arab Spring was in full swing, the Ugandan Communications Commission asked carriers to block messages including the words Egypt, Tunisia, Mubarak, or “people power” prior to Uganda’s own general election.14

Since 2015, authorities have ordered disruptions of online service in 22 African countries. In 2019 alone, there were shutdowns in Algeria, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Gabon, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Again, campaign and voting time (including the period after ballots were cast) was the prime time for such steps.15 Since 2017, the government of Cameroon has been cutting off restive English-speaking areas from the internet.16 Chad’s March 2018 to July 2019 web blockage is probably a record. The likely motive was to squelch public discussion as President Idriss Déby, in power since 1990, sought constitutional changes that would allow him to rule until 2033.17 Benin, where the third wave began in Africa but where recent trends have been negative, cut nearly all web access during April 2019 parliamentary elections from which President Patrice Talon’s government had barred the opposition.18

The Gravest Threat

Of all the gathering dangers facing media freedom in Africa, the worst one comes from the new or proposed systems of media law forming in many countries. These legal regimes typically cite national security or public order as grounds for media control, but watchdog groups fear that the new laws are being used to restrict free speech.

Tanzania has seen a particularly large number of such laws instituted in recent years. The Statistics Act of 2015 criminalizes the publication not only of “false statistics,” but also of any statistical information not authorized for release by the National Bureau of Statistics. The Cybercrimes Act of the same year bans the dissemination of “false, deceptive, misleading, or inaccurate information” and insulting or inflammatory speech. In 2017, the government updated the broadcasting-services code to require that television programs include only such information as the government deems “interesting and relevant” while avoiding “inflammatory, defamatory and divisive matter.” Print journalists, meanwhile, cannot “breach peace” or “hurt the feelings of any person.”

The Tanzanian government also barred the publication of opinion polls “within 30 days before polling day” and ruled that on election day, news programs may not carry “discussion and analysis of referendum and election issues” or announce “results of the voting in any constituency.” Finally, the 2018 Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations require bloggers to register, pay an annual fee of [End Page 100] more than US$900, and, at times, have content approved in advance. Freedom House and Amnesty International have criticized these regulations as aiming to chill antigovernment speech on the pretexts of guarding public order and fighting disinformation.19

In Ethiopia, so recently lauded for Prime Minister Abiy’s reforms, a draft law that the Council of Ministers approved in November 2019 would criminalize “hate speech” and “fake news.” Facebook posts have played a role in stoking interethnic violence, but the draft law’s critics offer the perennial objections: Punishable language is hard to define, and such laws give the government a handy stick to use against anyone it dislikes.20 Ethiopia’s 2016 Computer Crime Proclamation bans the dissemination of “defamatory content” (punishable by up to ten years in prison), language that “incites fear, violence, chaos or conflict” (up to three years), and even sending spam (up to five years).21

Such laws are already resulting in fines and jail terms. In Benin, journalist Ignace Sossou of Benin Web TV was found guilty in August 2019 of spreading “fake news” by reporting on a prominent businessman’s alleged involvement in tax evasion. Sossou’s conviction came under the 2017 Code du Numérique (digital law).22

Emergency web shutdowns have high public-relations and economic costs, so several countries are quietly working on subtler ways to limit everyday social-media access. In July 2018, the government of Ugandan president Museveni (in power since 1986) instituted a social-media tax that requires users of Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and dozens of other platforms to pay 200 Ugandan shillings per day, a significant amount for most citizens of that country. Billed as a way to finance rural internet services, the tax has by the government’s own count shrunk the number of web users about 30 percent.23 Zambia followed soon after with taxes on voice calls made via social media.24 In September 2018, Benin repealed such a tax after protests.25

Protests against the tax in Uganda were met by police firing tear gas. Singer and opposition lawmaker Robert Kyagulanyi (known as Bobi Wine) faced charges for organizing the demonstrations. In May 2019, the government suspended more than thirty journalists for reporting on his trial.26 The layers of silencing—of journalists reporting on trials of protesters against social-media limits—suggest how badly digital technology frightens longtime African rulers.

What Do Citizens Think?

While watchdog groups worry about declining media freedoms in Africa, citizens have a different take. I am affiliated (as a publications editor) with the Afrobarometer survey, an independent research effort that has been gauging public opinion through regular, nationally representative surveys since 1999. In the latest round, conducted via more than [End Page 101] 45,000 interviews across 34 countries between 2016 and 2018, Africans were more likely to see media freedoms in their respective countries as growing rather than shrinking. Specifically, 60 percent of respondents said that “the media’s freedom to investigate and report on government mistakes or to criticize government actions or performance” was either greater “compared to a few years ago” (43 percent) or about the same (17 percent). Only 32 percent said that media freedoms had declined.

Of those who saw media freedom as expanding—they formed majorities in eleven countries—nearly half believed that the media had “much more” freedom than before. Yet this development was not welcomed by most of these respondents, at least if views on official press restrictions are any indication. Afrobarometer respondents have long supported media freedoms. In the survey’s fifth round (2011–13), a 56 percent majority spanning 31 countries agreed that “media should have the right to publish any views and ideas without government control,” versus 39 percent who agreed that their “government should have the right to prevent the media from publishing things that it considers harmful to society.”

The 2016–18 round is the first in which more Africans backed the concept of government restrictions than endorsed media freedoms. Across the same 31 countries that had been surveyed in 2011–13, support for media freedoms had dropped ten points, to 46 percent, while support for restrictions had grown ten points, to 49 percent. This marked a significant decline in support for media freedoms and continued a slide that had first shown up in the 2014–15 round.

As the Figure shows, 25 of 31 countries saw statistically significant drops in support for media freedom between the 2011–13 and 2016–18 rounds. Fifteen countries saw drops of at least ten percentage points, with Tanzania’s being the deepest (-33 percentage points).27

Four things make these declines especially worrisome. First, some of the deepest have come in countries, including Tanzania and Uganda, that have enacted the gravest new limits. To be sure, the survey data predate many of these new regulations, some of which (Uganda’s social-media tax, for instance) have roused opposition. Yet could it be that governments stepped up attacks on media because officials sensed that populations were ready to accede to or even support such moves?

Second, these changes over the last decade mean that, in many countries, support for media freedom, at least as measured here, is now the minority position. In 2011–13, majorities supported media freedom over [End Page 102]


[End Page 103] government control in 24 of 31 countries surveyed. By 2016–18, that number had shrunk to fifteen. In four countries, more than two-thirds of respondents backed government-imposed limits on the press. The four were Senegal (79 percent), Mali (75 percent), Liberia (66 percent), and the Gambia (66 percent). Only in Madagascar (70 percent) and Malawi (67 percent) did support for media freedoms exceed two-thirds.

Third, support for government restrictions on media is broadly spread. Women (50 percent), the young (49 percent of those aged 18 to 25), and urbanites (48 percent) are roughly as likely to support press limits as men (48 percent), seniors (49 percent among those over 65), and rural dwellers (50 percent). Only levels of education seem to matter much, with 55 percent of those without formal schooling backing limits versus 47 percent of those with postsecondary schooling. As that latter figure suggests, however, even the most educated Africans are clearly not overwhelmingly supportive of a free press.

Finally, the way that dropping support for media freedom coincides with a perception of rising media freedom suggests that substantial numbers of Africans want to see their governments push back against media that seem increasingly unfettered. Among those who assessed media freedoms as increasing in their country, more supported government limitations (54 percent) than backed media freedoms (43 percent).

Are the Media to Blame?

In the most recent Afrobarometer survey, 43 percent of those who say that they trust their country’s leader “just a little” or “not at all” still back government restrictions on media.

The implication of this striking finding is clear: Africans are withdrawing support for media freedom not because they are taking cues from the political class, but because they independently hold an unfavorable view of what the media produce. It is hard to fault citizens for this negative assessment of media content.

First is the problem of bias. The demise of formal state-run monopolies did not end media bias so much as spread it around. New broadsheets and radio stations, prone to cater to perceived audience leanings and often owned by politicians and their allies, pushed narrow partisan views. In the thin advertising markets common in Africa, media enterprises need paid government announcements and other forms of political patronage. Journalists, poorly paid, are easy targets for bribery.

Party-dominated media are on full display in Ghana. Each of the two main parties has its own set of media outlets to carry salacious and unfounded stories about the sex lives and alleged crimes (including drug dealing) of figures from the other party. In 2005, a scholar who had worked at several Ghanaian newspapers wrote of their taste for “sensational and ad hominem stories,” and use of “rumor and anonymous [End Page 104] speculation” as primary sources. She credited the media for exposing official corruption, but regretted a press tendency to dwell on the doings of big-city politicians to the neglect of broader trends and rural concerns.28

As a result, many Africans came to see journalists and media outlets as beholden to political figures and parties, rather than as servants of the public interest. The media seemed full of material that had little to do with most people’s daily lives and concerns. The Kenyan cartoonist Gado echoed many of these sentiments: “A lot of people say that reporting is dead. We need more analysis and investigative journalism, more focus on features, journalism that informs.” Tellingly, #Githerimedia, a hashtag that means “useless media,” trends frequently on Kenyan Twitter.29

In their most extreme form, biased media can cross the line into hate speech and incitement to violence. Before and after Kenya’s bitterly contested 2007 election, several radio stations called for ethnic cleansing and worse. One radio personality, Joshua arap Sang of KASS FM, was among six people whom the International Criminal Court indicted in 2011 on charges that they had helped to launch postelection strife that killed as many as fifteen-hundred Kenyans and displaced hundreds of thousands more. (The case against Sang was dropped in 2016.)

In Rwanda, Radio Milles Collines became infamous for spreading anti-Tutsi fanaticism starting in July 1993. As actual genocide broke out the following April, Radio Milles Collines was involved in organizing mass killings of Tutsis and Hutu moderates. At a lower but still disturbing level of intensity, hateful language intended to set ethnic, religious, and partisan groups against one another is all too common on African airwaves. The Media Foundation for West Africa identified cases of “indecent expression” on a tenth of the radio stations that it monitored during a portion of Ghana’s 2016 general-election campaign.30

Finally, perhaps the topic of greatest concern most recently is “fake news.” That term can apply to incorrect information shared by individuals who are not aware of its inaccuracies (misinformation) and to falsehoods deliberately invented and distributed with the intent to mislead (disinformation). Certainly, this issue is not new, as the era of “yellow journalism” in the United States more than a century ago attests. Yet in the internet age, the scope of the challenge is daunting. Actors foreign and domestic use disinformation to stoke fear, denigrate opponents, obscure responsibility, and mobilize supporters. The internet conveys information so quickly and at such vast scale that anonymous messages can sway minds and affect public discourse while efforts to identify and assess sources and provide countering information trail far behind.

Although hardly unique to Africa, these problems loom especially large there given the fragility of many of the region’s political systems. Nigeria’s 2019 elections, for example, generated myriad reports of social media being used to spread disinformation, much of which [End Page 105] took on overt ethnic tones. One WhatsApp rumor had President Buhari, who did seek medical care abroad during his first term, dying and being replaced by a Sudanese clone.31 A tweet accused opposition vice-presidential candidate Peter Obi of “deporting” northerners during his brief 2006 stint as governor of Anambra State in the southeast. Tweets falsely accused Yoruba of burning Igbo-owned shops, while a Facebook post along similar lines used images from a 2017 incident in South Africa.32

That country itself had to respond to an August 2018 tweet by U.S. president Donald Trump claiming, without substantiation, that there had been “large scale killing of [white] farmers” in South Africa.33 In September 2019, seven died in xenophobic riots that were fueled by—and were the subject of—false images and stories shared on social media.34

In 2011–13, only 7 percent of respondents told Afrobarometer that they used the internet daily for news. In 2016–18, that figure was 18 percent. Social-media use is growing too, and with it exposure to disinformation.

Disinformation can warp individuals’ decisions, and rumors can cause intergroup violence. The apparently increasing frequency with which falsehoods are spread via social media may make people discount even reputable information sources and in favor of the types of media restrictions now appearing in Africa. The governments that push these restrictions, meanwhile, cite real problems with bias, hate speech, and disinformation, finding in them ample grounds for suppressing speech critical of incumbents.

Protecting the Press

Democracy cannot survive without free and independent media. Citizens must have accurate information about what their representatives are doing. Around election time, all competitors—not just incumbents—must be able to reach voters. The raft of new media restrictions now being implemented across the continent carries real threats to democratic and accountable government.

What, then, is to be done? Much of the attention of late has rightly been on social-media companies themselves. They need to do more to remove inflammatory, hateful, and misleading content from their platforms. But at least three other sets of actors could also play important roles in bolstering public confidence in the media and pushing back against self-interested officials’ attempts to limit free speech and transparency, particularly given that Africa’s media crisis is about more than just the digital realm.

First, foreign governments and international organizations, including major donors, must make media freedom a priority when dealing with African states. Governments that jail journalists, cut off the internet, and [End Page 106] shutter media houses must be named and shamed. Sweeping regulations billed as a means of fighting hate speech and disinformation must be called out for what they often are: attempts to chill speech hostile to incumbents. Sadly, the hostility that many world leaders have shown to independent media in recent years generates understandable skepticism that the international community will robustly defend Africa’s media freedom.

Second, civil society and quasi-governmental agencies are putting increased focus on educating populations to avoid spreading misinformation and hate speech while countering the effects of such messages by means of their own conversations and behavior. Media literacy and active-bystander training need to be central to civic-education campaigns, and indeed public education itself. Donors need to support such efforts, as well as rigorous studies to find out which approaches work best.

Finally, African content producers must shoulder a measure of responsibility for doing better. Shoddy reporting fueled by extreme partisanship erodes public confidence in the media. Forward-thinking publishers and broadcasters are participating in efforts, such as the African Media Initiative, to promote professionalism and social responsibility in journalism. The status quo gives self-interested politicians too many opportunities to make sweeping attacks that are unfair to the thousands of journalists, broadcasters, and bloggers who work hard, despite slender resources and threats to their personal safety, to bring fair, accurate, and in-depth reporting to people throughout Africa.



1. Michael G. Schatzberg, The Dialectics of Oppression in Zaire (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 79–80. A clip of the introduction to the nightly “Zaïre Actualités” broadcast can be seen about 39 minutes into the 1999 documentary Mobutu, roi du Zaïre at

2. The day the Windhoek Declaration was adopted, May 3, is now World Press Freedom Day.

4. Committee to Protect Journalists, “Daud Ali Omar,”; Joel Gunter, “Murder in Accra: The Life and Death of Ahmed Hussein-Suale,” BBC, 30 January 2019,

5. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Kenya, and South Africa recorded one murder of a journalist apiece during this period. See

6. Between one and five journalists have gone to jail at some point over the same period in Algeria, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, eSwatini, the Gambia, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tunisia, and Zambia. See

7. Jon Temin and Yoseph Badwaza, “Aspirations and Realities in Africa: Ethiopia’s Quiet Revolution,” Journal of Democracy 30 (July 2019): 145.

8. Josiah Oluwole, “Analysis: World Human Rights Day: Nigerian Govt Clamps Down on Free Speech,” Premium Times (Abuja), 10 December 2019,; Yomi Kazeem, “The Controversial Rearrest of a Prominent Activist and Journalist Is Testing Press Freedom in Nigeria,” Quartz Africa, 6 December 2019,

9. Al Jazeera, “Ugandan Academic Stella Nyanzi Jailed for ‘Harassing’ Museveni,” 3 August 2019,

10. Florence Brisset-Foucault, Talkative Polity: Radio, Domination, and Citizenship in Uganda (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2019).

11. The quote from the solicitor-general as well as the details about the January and March incidents are from Kate Hairsine and Evelyn Kpadeh Seagbeh, “Liberia’s Contradictory Attitude to a Free Press,” Deutsche Welle, 17 October 2019, For Costa’s 10 October 2019 show, see

12. Media Foundation for West Africa, “Guinea Bissau Authorities Must Reopen FM Stations,” 28 November 2019,

13. Freedom House, “Burundi,” Freedom of the Press 2016,

14. Elias Biryaberema, “Uganda Bans SMS Texting of Key Words During Poll,” Reuters, 17 February 2011.

15. Election-related web shutdowns or slowdowns occurred in the DRC in 2011, Burundi in 2015, the Gambia and Uganda in 2016, Equatorial Guinea in 2017, Mali and Sierra Leone in 2018, and the DRC again in 2018–19. The internet was throttled to help prevent or quell mass protests in Egypt in 2011; the DRC, Niger, and the Republic of the Congo in 2015; Morocco and Uganda in 2016; Egypt again as well as Mali in 2016 and 2017; the DRC, Egypt, and Togo in 2017; Sudan in 2018–19; and Zimbabwe in 2019.

16. Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), Despots and Disruptions: Five Dimensions of Internet Shutdowns in Africa, February 2019,

17. Bukola Adebayo, “After a 16-Month Blackout, Chad Is Back on Facebook, Twitter and Other Social Platforms,” CNN, 17 July 2019,

18. Amnesty International, “Benin: Internet Shutdown on Election Day Is a Blunt Attack on Freedom of Expression,” 28 April 2019,

19. Freedom House, “Tanzania 2017,”; Amnesty International, “The Price We Pay: Targeted for Dissent by the Tanzanian State,” 2019,

20. Rahma A. Hussein, “Ethiopia Must Stop Hate Speech, Not Free Speech,” African Arguments, 26 November 2019,

21. Freedom House, “Ethiopia,” Freedom on the Net 2018,

22. Committee to Protect Journalists, “Journalist Ignace Sossou Convicted of False News in Benin,” 23 August 2019,

23. Simone Schlindwein, “Uganda: One Year of Social Media Tax,” Deutsche Welle, 20 July 2019,; Rebecca Ratliffe and Samuel Okiror, “Millions of Ugandans Quit Internet Services as Social Media Tax Takes Effect,” Guardian, 27 February 2019,

24. Lynsey Chutel, “To Protect Big Telcos, Zambia Wants to Tax Calls Made over Social Media Apps,” Quartz Africa, 28 August 2018,

25. Fatima Moosa, “Benin Repeals Social Media Tax After Protests,” Mail and Guardian (Johannesburg), 25 September 2018,

26. Sarah Steffen, “Ugandan Government Clamps Down on Journalists for Reporting on Bobi Wine Case,” Deutsche Welle, 2 May 2019,

27. The only country to buck this trend was Sudan. There, support for media freedom rose from 49 to 61 percent. At the time of the study, the 2018 World Press Freedom Index ranked Sudan as 174th of 180 countries—in other words, it was among the most repressive places in the world for media. The Afrobarometer finding is more evidence that popular demand for democracy was rising in the months leading up to the April 2019 popular protests that ousted President Omar al-Bashir.

28. Jennifer Hasty, The Press and Political Culture in Ghana (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 94.

29. Dickens Olewe, “Media in Kenya: The Radical Shift,” Deutsche Welle, 19 August 2019,

30. Media Foundation for West Africa, “Monitoring of Indecent Campaign Language on Radio: Findings for the Period September 1–30, 2016,”

31. Jamie Hitchen et al., “WhatsApp and Nigeria’s 2019 Elections: Mobilising the People, Protecting the Vote,” July 2019,, 31

32. Nwachukwu Egbunike, “Twitter Was a Minefield of False Information During the 2019 Nigerian Elections,” Global Voices, 8 November 2019,

33. Gabriele Steinhauser, “Trump Tweet on South African Land Overhaul Draws Government’s Ire,” Wall Street Journal, 23 August 2018.

34. “From Bomb Attacks to a Deadly Blaze: The Fake News Coming out of South Africa,” France24, 12 September 2019,

Image Credit: Vladan Radulovicjhb/Shutterstock