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An uprising in a camp in occupied Western Sahara, freedom of speech in Morocco and Ethiopia, and ‘the need to change the sorry state of education in SA’ are among the topics covered in this week’s roundup of the African blogosphere, by Sokari Ekine.

The Western Sahara conflict with Morocco is one of those almost forgotten conflicts. It is one that is an unbelievable 35 years old – and still the Moroccan government remains intransigent. A Moroccan About a World around him reports on recent uprising in one of the camps in Laayoune the main city in occupied Western Sahara. Prior to this King Mohammed VI had accused Algeria of human rights violations against Saharawis in Tindouf camps ignoring his country’s central part in why they are there in the first place.

‘The violence was triggered when a battalion-size security force descended on the camp in the early hours of Monday in an attempt to raze it and disperse its residents using tear gas and water cannons. The protests seeped into Laayoune and resulted in substantial material damage and loss of life as a group of the camp’s residents that an official Ministry of Interior statement described as wanted criminals and subversive agents clashed with the security forces. Black smoke bellowed over the city and debris littered its arteries. The number of people injured and killed could not yet be confirmed. According to the BBC, about seventy people have been injured and over ten have died.’

According to media reports, Morocco blamed the uprisings on Algeria and the Saharawi liberation movement, the Polisario Front. However according to the blogger, none of the media – Moroccan, Algerian or Spanish – were objective in their reporting. There are a number of ironies in this post – Morocco accusing Algeria of human rights violations in the camps and then militarising the camps in the occupied region. And Spain’s criticism of Morocco’s treatment of Saharawis, whilst at the same time reaching an agreement with the Moroccan government to act as a proxy immigration control, and its silence on the treatment of migrants trying to reach Spain.

This month’s Talk Morocco them is ‘The State and Reglion’.

‘Freedom of religion is considered by many to be a fundamental human right. Though the Moroccan Constitution provides for the freedom to practice one's given religion, Islam is the official state religion and conversion from it and proselytizing to its practitioners are strictly forbidden. This month we are asking: What role should the state have in defining Islam in Morocco, or should this be a matter left entirely to individual conscience? What about Moroccans who don't consider themselves Muslim, or who want to be free to interpret their faith in a unique way?’

Free Kareem was set up by the Committee to Protect Bloggers as a campaign site for Egyptian blogger Kareeem Amer who was arrested and imprisoned for four years. Kareem’s crime was to criticise religious leaders in his writings on political repression and religious extremism in Egypt. Kareem was released on 15 November after serving 1,470 days in prison. He is yet to speak of his case and his ordeal.

Staying with the theme of freedom of speech, Abbay Media and a number of other Ethiopian blogs report on journalist Sisay Agena who was awarded the ‘Freedom to Write’ award by PEN USA. Agena has been arrested and imprisoned many times by the Ethiopian government including spending time in solitary confinement. He was unable to accept the award in person as the US refused to give him a visa. Abbay publishes the full text of his speech delivered on his behalf.

‘In Ethiopia, the freedom to write has been shrunk to a license to write given as a privilege by the government. Perhaps not even that. It is a permit that is given and taken at a moment’s notice.

‘I believe the freedom to write for a journalist is the freedom to write about what is wrong and what is right in his or her society. President John Kennedy was right when he said, the role of the press is to “to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mo[u">ld, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.”

‘I, and my other colleagues in Ethiopia, have been denied licenses to publish our newspapers for the past three years, even though the Ethiopian Constitution says that in the exercise of press freedom, “censorship in any form is prohibited.”

‘Could there be a more severe form of press censorship than requiring a license to publish newspapers?

‘Some people say, “Freedom isn’t free.” In Ethiopia, the freedom to write is not free. It comes at a very high price: loss of peace of mind resulting from a constant campaign of harassment and intimidation; loss of professional practice by being prevented to do what one is trained and passionate to do; and the daily struggle to survive under the cloud of fear and enforced silence.’

South African blogger, Julie Reid, author of The Big Media Debate writes about the state of the media in South Africa. First the Public Service Broadcasting Bill has been put on hold. Second, ANC MP, Pallo Jordan who was formerly in favour of a Media Appeals tribunal has now changed his mind and jumped ship on the issue leaving Ms Reid to conclude:

‘The two developments of today make me think that perhaps, all the discussions, workshops, debates, conferences and colloquia are starting to pay off. Perhaps the Department of Communications and the ANC were always more open to listening to the various arguments presented to them by academics and civil society than some of us assumed them to be. Perhaps this is a first step to working together at finding reasonable solutions to fixing the things that are 'broken' in the South A[f]rican media.’

I’m going to round up with two posts which have only very slight connections to freedom of speech but which I feel are important. One of them provides an interesting reflection on blogging, which is what this column is all about, while the other Daraja, is a communication tool for a small rural NGO working in Tanzania.

Loudrastrass by Pumla Gqola has an excellent post on the issue of African languages being spoken and taught in South African schools and ‘the need to change the sorry state of education in SA’.

‘South African children should be able to speak various languages in their country – more than their parents can, even when their parents are polyglots. The school system should play a leading role in this. But it does not. This is a topic that has come up in various conversations with other parents in my own life. I was aghast, when my partner and I started looking at possible schools for our child, to learn that most schools we would have preferred – many with ‘progressive credentials’ – teach English and Afrikaans at first language level, and all other official languages at third language level until the end of primary school. I have various friends who did Xhosa third language at school. Many of them did so for twelve years. None of them can speak Xhosa beyond tentative understanding and elementary small talk. Learning a language at third year level does not teach you how to speak it no matter what your grades say. The fact that languages are taught at third language level at all is an insult.’

A year in the history of a blog - Blog.Daraja – explains their entry to social media first with a blog, then facebook page and finally a twitter profile. According to Google Analytics, during the year, 1,153 people have visited the blog in 2,086 sessions.

‘Daraja is a recently-formed organisation, working in rural Tanzania, aiming to make local government more responsive to the communities they serve. We believe in bringing government closer to the people, and are committed to making democratic local government work for the poor.’

They know who the readers are, how they arrive at the blog and which posts are the most read.

‘There's no doubt that the blog has helped Daraja stay in the loop of donor, civil society, media and activist circles in Dar es Salaam. Through the blog we have a presence there, despite being based 10 hours away in Njombe. This acts as something of an replacement for coffee-break networking on the meeting circuit, but with the advantage of not having to sit through the meetings themselves.’

‘Similarly, the blog has developed into Daraja's foremost internet presence and communications mechanism to those beyond Tanzania's borders. That includes existing supporters as well as, potential partners and donors, many of whom have commented to us that the blog helps them feel in touch with our work, to understand it on a practical level and to get a sense of the context Daraja's working in. For a young NGO based in a relatively remote part of Tanzania, this connection is very valuable.’


* Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.