From the Editor’s Keyboard

Press Freedom and African Governments

By  | 13 June 2011 at 05:00 | 405 views

"I tell my students, If you find yourself in the company of people who agree with you, you’re in the wrong company."Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. From the book, Condi, by Antonia Felix.

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said democracy is the worst system of government if not for the others. Indeed democracy, as it is practised in the West (Not the North Korean type) can be difficult, tough, problematic, irritating and even dangerous for people in governance.

Just look at the things the media are saying about Western leaders (Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy, Berlusconi, etc), the cartoons, the photo disfigurements and the extremely critical examination of each and every action taken by government and public officials.

Irritating and painful as the criticisms may be for the those in authority, they ultimately help to create good governance, a sine qua non for national advancement and development. Yes, good, constructive criticism is painful but good for everybody concerned, from the family unit, to the school, the church/mosque and workplace. It is what makes most countries rich and prosperous.

African democracy, based on the Western model, is still an infant, a toddler still trying to walk, to be physically independent. Some African countries like Senegal, Ghana and South Africa are making rapid progress while the majority are still struggling with the "tough love" of democracy.

In our country, Sierra Leone and many other African countries, a lot of politicians are not very comfortable with criticism or with journalists. Indeed past governments in Sierra Leone did not hesitate to beat up, detain, jail, kill or force into exile countless journalists that were just trying to do their job, thus leaving the coast clear for what are known in the country as "Stomach Journalists" and AGIP (Any Government in Power) journalists.

Thank God we now have a president (Dr. Ernest Koroma) who, after four years in power, has not intimidated, harassed, detained, jailed or forced into exile any of the country’s journalists. That’s something to brag about in a continent constantly given a bad name by brutal and brutish leaders.

A continent where some journalists, because of fear and the need to survive economically tend to avoid discussing or writing about sensitive issues, fearing that doing so might get them in trouble in the form of police harassment, imprisonment or loss of jobs or financial patronage. These are real fears that only conscientious and morally strong journalists can ignore.

African leaders who are still afraid of the pen should therefore copy the example of President Koroma of Sierra Leone by accepting both the good and the bad, the soft and the harsh components of democracy, the criticisms and the praise, and gallantly lead their country men and women to the promised land of milk and honey, peace, progress and development. It can be done.