As an "old timer" in African Press circles, A.B. Assensoh (who worked for the Press in Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, U.K., Sweden, and the United States) finds solace in what he sees as Dr. Edmund Abaka's very timely and useful discussion of the media and accountability in African Politics.
Although, for more than two decades, I have been teaching (at college level) history and, sometimes, media-related courses, I very often use in my classrooms, in my research and in lectures information gleaned from the published works of African literary writers, who are somewhat far removed from my main academic-cum-intellectual disciplines. The main reason is that such writers discuss issues that are very relevant to the salvation of Africa, and also they are very much quotable when it comes to lack of political leadership, oppression, tyranny, corruption, abject poverty, etc. We still remember the "stern" or "tough" writings about these sad situations in Africa by the Soyinkas, the Achebes, Ekwensis, Ama Ata Aidoos, Ayikwei Armahs, the Enahoros, the Solarins, the Jakandes, Emechettas and several others! Aldo, since charity should often begin at home, please permit me to cite a few examples from my own experiences!
In fact, having worked as a Journalist in several countries (including some of those in Africa), I can easily say that I have seen or tasted "it all" when it comes to bad governance, ego-mannia, sycophancy, self-promotion, corruption and several of its twin evils, and utter despotism. That is why I am happy about Dr. Abaka's great and fresh discussion in USA/Africa Dialogue No. 212. Without mincing words, I too can underscore promptly that Africa has a long way to go if many of our scholars really think that only economic or political theories and discourses are needed for either the growth or total liberation of the continent, but with utter disregard for press freedom and freedom of speech. My late maternal grandfather, in frustration, used to say to some of us, as his grandchildren, and end it with a query: "The whiteman from Europe came to cheat us, but he allowed us to have the crumbs; our own indigenous politicians, after independence, take everything from us and put some of it in Swiss banks for future use, yet when we complain, we are either dead or we end in political prisons. Can't we bring the whiteman back, as I prefer his type of oppression...?" Mr. Joe Appiah of Ghana called it "replacing the European's Raja, with an African Raja." Rene Dumont says it similarly in his book, False Start in Africa!
Then, for example, part of Ghana's late President Kwame Nkrumah's clarion calls, during his political heydays, were for his fellow Ghanaians (1) to "seek ye the political kingdom, and all other things will be added unto it..," and (2) to accept that "the independence of Ghana would be meaningless unless it was linked up with the total liberation of Africa." These, of course, were great political slogans at the time. However, in the midst of all of these slogans and clarion calls, several Journalists and Editors were being dragged at night to political prisons and detention camps in many places in Africa, mostly for expressing contrary views and sometimes seeking accountability. The late Pioneer newspaper City Editor Kwame Kesse-Adu (of Ghana) spent almost five years in Nkrumah's Nsawam detention camp, and his bitter experiences are recorded in his autobiographical book, The Politics of Political Detentions. Of Course, since that happened in the politics of the 1960s, maybe some Afro-Pessimists want us to forget about it!
Still, between the 1970s and now (2005), African Journalists and their Editors continue to suffer arrests, detentions and all forms of humiliation at the hands of some politicians and their security agencies, in most cases merely for using editorials and comments to seek accountability from their political leaders. In fact, there was a recent sad situation that I learned from my membership on the "Freedom to Write Committee" of P.E.N. USA (a branch of the U.K.-based International P.E.N. writers' association): that when an Ethiopian Journalist was reportedly arrested by his own government and charged with an offence under the country's press laws, his bail-bond money, as reported, had to be paid by a foreign embassy for him to escape instant imprisonment from his own government.
In 1972-73, for example, the Kumasi-based Pioneer newspaper, for which I served as the Sub-Editor at the time, was banned by a military decree of I.K. Acheampong's National Redemption Council (NRC) regime, which had overthrown the late Professor K.A. Busia's elected Progress Party government. The newspaper's then Business Manager (Mr. Ofori) and I (as the sub-editor, who wrote an anti-military corruption editorial) were arrested and detained at a military barracks for several weeks, where we suffered all sorts of humiliation, including having had our hairs crudely shaved off our heads! Not very long after our release from military detention, Mr. Ofori allegedly died from his wounds! I left Ghana, and I have never returned to live there permanently!
In recounting some of these sad situations, when it comes to the obvious lack of press freedom and freedom of speech, many countries in Africa are very notorious for both. Yet, many of our scholars seem not to see clearly that no amount of economic development and political progress can be made when the African press (or media) and its practitioners are in total bondage. I am wondering what others think, or are many of us simply saying that only the economic and political kingdoms are necessary in African governance? Above all, I applaud Dr. Abaka's discussion, as it deserves a lot of Amens!