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Trump is endangering Africa’s free press


US President Donald Trump / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON

In his first year of office President Trump has waged a relentless war with the free press which is dangerous and perfidious. His insalutary speech designed to create strong feelings of antipathy towards certain media organizations is well documented, with the latest round of barrages calling for a “fake news trophy contest.”

According to him this should involve all the top U.S. purveyors of political news except for unapologetically fawning Fox news as they espouse subjective views, strongly coloured and tilted in his favour. This is Presidential malfeasance at its worst. Not only does it impact the U.S., but with universal coverage of the 24 hour International news cycle accessible by smart phones and other electronic telecommunication devices, there is an over saturation of news.

It goes without saying that pronouncements of the President of the U.S. and de facto leader of the free world, are accorded the most serious attention and highest regard ubiquitously. His words could be imprinted indelibly in the unsophisticated minds of some of Africa’s teeming masses and viewed as supremely authoritative.

Therefore, Trump’s statement calling the media the enemy of the people, may well be taken to heart and not discerned as political chicanery or demagoguery.

In the light of current political unrest in Kenya on the heels of a bitterly contested Presidential election, potential political instability in Zimbabwe following the military ouster of the dictator for life, Robert Mugabe, the recent deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt and looming 2019 Presidential elections in Africa’s most populous and worryingly fragmented nation, Nigeria, African democracies are teetering tenuously on the brink.

Any untoward incident could ignite an out of control conflagration. This may very well include politically motivated fatal or non-fatal violence perpetrated against members of the free press, who along with their International brethren risk their lives in search of the truth and for the betterment of humanity.

Trump’s incessant attempts ranging from the distasteful to the ridiculous, to muzzle the U.S. free press and his tolerance limited to news reportage or information, which parrots him or paints him in the most favourable light is well documented. His laborious efforts to achieve this anti-democratic end goal is all-consuming and can be likened to inured victims of addiction chasing their high at all cost.

In his quest to be portrayed only in the best light and as a leadership epitome, he is seeking nothing less than to be recognized domestically and globally as an unrivalled genius. Much like a world renowned canvass artist would create a “piece de resistance “with sweeping flourishes or painstaking attention to the tiniest details, Trump views the press as a tool to portray him in the most flattering way. Truth be damned!

As a matter of fact by virtue of his injudicious, false and inflammatory statements against the U.S. free press, Trump is putting the lives and livelihoods of their peers everywhere in danger daily. An argument can be made that he is denying them their Fundamental Human Rights which include the following: Right to life, liberty and personal security; Right of peaceful assembly and association; Freedom of opinion and information; Right to desirable work; Right to free movement in and out of the country; Freedom from discrimination and Freedom from State or Personal Interference in the above Rights.

If we cannot have smooth and peaceful transition of power in Africa and thereby avoid civil conflict and widespread mayhem, the threat of which always percolates below the surface of the political landscape, the current African refugee crisis in Europe will be child’s play as the catastrophe will increase a thousand fold. Traditionally the U.S. is the bastion and chief exponent to the world of sacrosanct pillars of democracy. A free press is cardinal to a functioning democracy to ensure the transparency and accountability of the government in power, without which a descent into authoritarianism would be all but guaranteed.

Trump has created a phantasmagorical “rogues gallery” comprising of members of the impartial news media, whom he constantly parades to the watching world, whilst heedlessly hurling slurs and baseless accusations at them. Indeed, so baked in is the practice that it has become a hallmark of his administration. These attacks could not come at a worse time for African democracies and for our free press working to ensure good governance and an improved life for all.

Fowler is an International lawyer and a contributor to ‘The Hill, ‘ Capitol Hill,  Washington D.C., and the Global Policy Institute, Loyola Marymount University, California U.S.A.

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