The worse the corruption in a country’s public sector, the more dangerous it is for the media. On average, one journalist is killed per week in a country that is highly corrupt, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
In Southern Africa, a region where the average CPI score is just 34 out of a possible 100, this means that journalists and other working to expose corruption face an unacceptable level of risk.
Across Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic has created extraordinary challenges for civil society organisations too. In several countries in Southern Africa in the past few months, journalists, media outlets and civil society organisations, including Transparency International’s chapters, have come under attack for exposing corruption and sharing information that is in the public interest.
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In August, a group of arsonists broke into the offices of Canal de Moçambique, a leading weekly newspaper in the country with a reputation for exposing corruption. The group poured fuel over office equipment and ignited it with a Molotov Cocktail.
According to an Amnesty International report, “the attack came four days after the newspaper published an investigative story alleging unethical procurement by politically connected individuals and senior government officials at the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy.” Earlier in the year, Canal de Moçambique had reported on an alleged secret deal between government ministries and a gas company that appears to have earned kickbacks for the minister of defence.
Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the corrupt with opportunities to line their pockets, as trillions of dollars' worth of international aid and financial assistance is released and oversight is relaxed under state of emergency legislation.
In Zimbabwe, investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono reported on alleged COVID-19 procurement fraud within the health ministry, leading to the arrest and sacking of Health Minister Obadiah Moyo. President Emmerson Mnangagwa fired Mr Moyo for "inappropriate conduct" over the $60m (£47.5m) medicines supply scandal, according to the BBC
Now out on bail, Chin’ono faces trial on charges of inciting public violence.
The government of Zimbabwe is also pushing ahead plans for a new Cyber Security Law that would mandate five years in prison for sharing false information online. In a country where journalists like Chin’ono and whistleblowers have brought corruption to light through social media, this is an unacceptable deterrent that would stop wrongdoing being brought to light.
A series of corruption scandals in South Africa’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, have forced a long-overdue reckoning with corruption among the country’s leadership and long-ruling ANC party. The current anti-corruption drive by the country's President, who is also sitting Chair of the Africa Union, should be used as a platform to influence other African leader to adopt similar transparency and accountability measures.
But corruption will only be effectively brought under control if the media is free to report on matters in the public interest, without facing legal challenges or coming under surveillance by the state, as has happened in the past.
In Madagascar, our national chapter obtained an invoice showing that the Minister of the Interior used development aid for the COVID-19 recovery to purchase supplies from the company where his wife is a director.
Soon after the head of the chapter discussed the case on television, coordinated attacks began on social media against her and her family.
For all those who target journalists, harass civil society and seek to restrict their work, we have a simple message:
Exposing corruption is in everybody’s interest
Journalism is not a crime
The public have a right to know how public resources are being used
Across Africa, more than half of people believe that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption, yet two thirds fear retaliation for reporting corruption.
Transparency International’s chapters in South Africa, Zambia, Madagascar and Zimbabwe run Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs), allowing the public to report corruption safely and in confidence, and access legal help.
In the past nine months, more than 1,800 people have contacted our ALAC network around the world to report corruption and seek support on issues related to COVID-19.
- We call on Southern African Governments to support civil society organisations in their efforts to promote transparency, accountability and fight corruption.
- We urge the Southern African Development Community to take the lead to prioritise press freedom and the preservation of safe journalism in Southern Africa.
- We urge civil society organisations to advocate collectively to ensure freedom for those wrongfully and arbitrarily detained.
- We call for all attacks against civil society organisations to be duly investigated and for perpetrators to be called to book.
- We call for the charges against Hopewell Chin’ono to be dropped.
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