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Let us join together against the restriction of civic space in French-speaking Africa

Posté le  27/03/20 à 07:40  - Mis à jour le 27/03/20 à 07:40 /  Par   tournonslapage  

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Repression is crashing down on dissident voices in French-speaking Africa while the region is preparing to hold many elections this year. While several members of Tournons la Page are currently in prison in Niger, the citizens´ movement calls for mobilization and solidarity!

 

Street action in Niamey - 2019

For several weeks, human rights activists from all over Africa have watched with concern the brutal restriction of civic space and the repression of civil society actors in French-speaking countries, particularly in Togo, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Niger. Through arbitrary arrests and acts of intimidation, the authorities of these countries intend to muzzle civil society organizations while elections are being held or planned for 2020. Although the electoral period should be synonymous with excitement as well as rich flow of ideas and projects, it rhymes more and more with violence and constraint. Are the French-speaking countries of West Africa, once considered as more advanced than the countries of Central Africa in terms of democracy, also taking the path towards flagrant authoritarianism?

In Togo, after holding, under suspicious circumstances, the presidential election of February 22, 2020 that was contested by civil society organizations and some opposition parties, the authorities prohibited all demonstrations and used disproportionate force to put down street manifestations. After the election, as demonstrators were protesting against the results proclaimed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), the police used tear gas to disperse them, beating some of them as they were gathered in front of the Saint Joseph College in Lomé. On Monday, March 16, the Togolese National Assembly lifted the parliamentary immunity of Gabriel Agbéyomé Kodjo, unsuccessful candidate in the presidential election, but who still claims victory. His supporters now fear for his arrest.

In Guinea, bans on street demonstrations in the name of public safety are increasing. At the same time violence against leaders of civil society and political parties united within the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC) intensifies. On March 6, Sékou KOUNDOUNO and Ibrahima DIALLO, two civil society leaders and members of the Tournons La Page movement, were arrested at the home of the latter by armed, masked police officers wearing bulletproof vests. This arrest, akin to a kidnapping, did not take place without violence: police officers broke the front door of Mr. DIALLO's home and ransacked his house, brutalizing his wife in the process. After mass protest and rejection by the international community, and, above all, the recommendation of the International Organization of la Francophonie and ECOWAS to remove 2.5 million voters from its electoral register in a few days, there is room to believe that the general elections and the referendum on the constitution will be nothing more than a further step towards illegitimacy of a desperate regime.

In Ivory Coast, 10 members of Tournons la Page-Côte d'Ivoire were arrested in Yopougon Siporex on March 11, while they were organizing peaceful awareness-raising activities against the amendment of the Ivorian constitution, without consulting the people, planned and announced to take place in the coming days by President Alassane Ouattara. This is a proof that, even when some presidents, such as Alassane Ouattara, assure that they will leave power after their second mandate, the field of public and civil liberties is not always accessible to citizens and defenders of human rights. In order to secure elections without violence in Ivory Coast, opening public space to all stakeholders is a condition just as important as respecting presidential mandates.

On March 15 in Niger, during a meeting against the wasting of billions of FCFA (millions of euros) involving businessmen and government officials in the purchase of military equipment intended for the fight against terrorism, clashes between police and demonstrators resulted in the deaths of three people. Between March 15 and 17, 8 members of civil society organisations, including the national coordinator of Tournons la Page Maïkoul Zodi, were arrested for participating in this anti-corruption rally and prosecuted for "participation in an unauthorized demonstration". The day before, a government press release had admittedly banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people because of the coronavirus pandemic, but no official ban by Niamey administrative authorities had been sent to the organizers of the meeting, as the law stipulates. There is no doubt that the coronavirus is used as a pretext to muzzle dissenting voices. A few days earlier, the journalist and whistleblower Mamane Kaka Touda, who had relayed on social networks the fact that a suspected case of coronavirus was being treated at the hospital in Niamey, was arrested for “dissemination of false information intended to disturb public order”.

The human rights activists that we are, condemn and deplore this manifest restriction of civic space in West Africa. We give our full support to our brothers who are unjustly detained and we recall all the admiration that we have for them. 

Faced with this situation, we cannot give up. The authoritarian disease that strikes Africa is not a curse! It calls for a surge of strength, solidarity and unity. It urges us to even more courage and determination. Together, we can! Let us unite in order to deal with and propose democratic alternatives everywhere in Africa.