The United States Constitution makes it possible for citizens to express our true beliefs, a freedom we constantly take for granted. We go to the store wearing the shirt of our favorite political candidate; we passively share a Facebook post that expresses our strong view of a certain corporation or industry; we work at organizations that fight against an injustice that affects the nation. Some of us even participate in protests, gathering in large crowds and demonstrating our beliefs, which is truly the best way to embrace our freedom. We are able to do all of these things because of our first amendment right to the freedom of speech, religion, press and assembly. However, this is not the case throughout Africa. While some African peoples might live in democratic nations, their right to free speech and protest is violated when citizens stand up against the large corporations that try to steal land from Africans across the continent in a phenomenon known as land grabbing.
Activists across the country are standing up against the local government and these large farming corporations, gathering the support of concerned citizens and advocating for their rights. They organize peaceful protests where supporters simply wear t-shirts or carry signs, yet these activists and organizers are being arrested by their government and charged by these corporations for expressing dissent. This happens more often than you might think, and these activists become targets for the government and law enforcement. They are often arrested without due process, held without bail and charged with outlandish fines; sometimes they even serve time in prison.
Below are a few stories about activists who have faced this unfair backlash while practicing their freedom of speech in attempt to protect their fellow citizens.
Mr. Nasako Besingi: Cameroon
Mr. Nasako Besingi is the director of the Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE). He was arrested when he was protesting against Herakles Farms, a New York-based agriculture company, and was brought to court in 2011. More recently, in 2012 he held a peaceful protest at a farm where protesters were wearing group t-shirts. Mr. Nasako was arrested and currently faces up to three years in prison and up to $16,000 in fines. On the other hand, the protestors were forced to remove their shirts, leaving some women half-naked.
Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor: Liberia
Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor is the director of the Sustainable Development Institute in Liberia. He risked his life to obtain evidence of falsified logging practices and arms smuggling associated with a timber industry. With threats on his life, he was forced to flee the country in 2003.
Djeralar Minkeol: Chad
Djeralar Minkeol is the Director of Association Ngaoubourandi (ASNGA), an organization that focuses on opposing land-grabbing and oil production issues. He was arrested in July 2015 without a warrant following a radio interview where he condemned the corrupt actions of some judicial officers. He was charged with “insulting the judiciary,” but the Amnesty International deputy regional director of West Africa said that he must be released immediately. Twenty-three days after his arrest he was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of approximately $167.
Obang Metho: Ethiopia
Obang Metho is the leader of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia. As a result of his advocacy he has been completely exiled from Ethiopia by the government. He advocates for those who are arrested and tortured by the government for resisting the land grab agreements, educates the locals of Ethiopia of their rights and encourages them not to cave to the government and big business
The stories above only scratch the surface of all of the people who have faced unfair punishment for simply expressing their freedom of speech in Africa. The stories of these advocates need to be shared so that their efforts towards fighting injustice can be recognized. People can take a stand to support them by supporting organizations such as the Africa Faith and Justice Network who assist these advocates in their efforts through the legal system and fighting for justice.
By: Rebecca Short