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CSO deplores increasing authoritarianism in West Africa

By Innocent Anoruo
08 February 2023   |   9:34 am
Spaces for Change (S4C) has raised the alarm over increasing authoritarianism in West African countries.


Spaces for Change (S4C) has raised the alarm over increasing authoritarianism in West African countries.

At the launch of ‘Civic Space in West Africa: Trends, Threats and Futures’ in Lagos, stakeholders called for collaboration to stem disregard for rule of law in nations claiming to practise democracy.

Presented by Executive Director of S4C, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, the report highlighted flashpoints on the civic space in the sub-region.

Further, it uncovered tactics popularly used by governments to suffocate opposition and the ignoble role of non-state actors in heating the polity.

The report reads in part: “There are five major drivers of future threats to the civic space in West Africa: coups, elections, youth bulge, digital technologies and insecurity. Persisting bad governance, combined with widespread anger and political reawakening among large swathes of unemployed youths in West African countries, will incite military coups and more protests across the sub-region. The Internet will empower tech-savvy youths to organise, mobilise and propel rise of people’s power through continuous expansion of spaces for civic engagement.”

“As insecurity soars in the Sahel region, international terrorism will redraw the lines between external and internal security, emboldening governments to use insecurity as an excuse to curtail civic freedoms.”

According to the document, press freedom is under attack across West Africa, signalling a hostile environment for journalists, bloggers, investigative reporters and news media.

Ibezim-Ohaeri added: “Crackdowns on journalists and media outlets were documented in all 16 West African countries, taking mostly the form of arrests, detentions, office raids, brutality, seizures of journalistic equipment, sanctions and fines on broadcast media, anti-media laws designed to gag the press, hacking of cell phones, among others.

“Free speech is the right most at risk in the sub-region. Expressing one’s thoughts, especially online, now comes with greater costs and risks. Internet freedom is equally declining, compounded by harsh consequences and fewer protections for free speech, while increased use of regulatory and legislative measures to censor free speech and content on online platforms were notably observed mostly in Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia.”

Based on the findings, the report recommended free and fair elections under national and international electoral laws.

Other recommendations include: “Citizens and civic groups should design and propose legal frameworks and digital tools that assure them of adequate protection from abuse and censorship, while expanding their digital skills and access to online resources and networks.

“Civil society organisations (CSOs) need to adopt new ways of collaborating within and beyond borders, allowing for complementarity of skills and deepening bonds of solidarity to maximise strategy, results and scale of impact.”

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