A comment on the latest affair rocking the Ivory Coast

A blogger I mentioned a while back, Theophile Kouamouo, who is also a managing editor for the Ivorian newspaper Le Nouveau Courrier was arrested last week along with two other journalists from the same newspaper.

On the 13th July Le Nouveau Courrier published a story on corruption in the cocoa business  which included leaked conclusions from an ongoing legal inquest on the cocoa industry. The journalists are accused of “theft of administrative document” and asked to reveal their source, something they have so far refused to do according to AFP and other media.

It’s clearly discouraging that journalists are put in prison and pressured to reveal their sources. On the other hand it’s good to see that the affair has created quite a big stir among the civil society and local media as well as gathering some international attention. There has even been talk about all Ivorian newspapers publishing the leaked information together, and as Koumouo and Le Nouveau Courrier are pretty pro FPI and Gbgabo, the issue appear to cross party lines, even though so far I have mostly seen media close to the opposition focusing on it.

The way I see it is that it’s a whole lot better that when journalists are put in prison, the civil society reacts and makes a big outcry, hopefully leading to the journalists’ release without charges a few days or weeks later,  than a situation where media does not publish controversial stories or where journalists instead of being arrested are picked up by guys with kalashnikovs in the middle of the night and never seen again.

Journalist Guy-Andre Kieffer has not been seen since 2004

So the stronger civil society is in this type of situations, the better it is for the Ivory Coast, and for anyone wanting to do business there in an honest way. I’m cautiously optimistic that civil society is on a path of strengthening and there seems to be a positive trend.

In 2003 Transparency International (TI) wrote the following:

While civil society is generally weak in West Africa, there were a few cases during the year, notably in Senegal, where civil society responses to corruption had a political impact. The proliferation of private media has helped expose cases of corruption and sustain pressure for government accountability. The region’s record on freedom of expression and freedom of information is not strong, however.

And on in their latest overview text on Sub-Saharan Africa I read:

Unfortunately, in most of the region, governments are either unwilling or unable to address corruption effectively, and progress is slow even in those countries where the political will to reform exists. In addition, the level of development and organization of civil society also varies considerably. Notwithstanding, civil society throughout the region is increasingly becoming active and outspoken concerning governance issues and corruption. Media in many African countries are independent and critical, and corruption is now publicly debated.

With increased room for civil society to manoeuvre and greater freedom for the media, TI chapters in the region have become an integral pillar of national integrity in their respective countries by demanding greater accountability from government and advocating reforms in the areas of governance and the management of public resources.

But if civil society is in one corner of the ring – who is in the other?
In the case with Le Nouveau Courrier, the national prosecutor Raymond Tchimou has since 2007 led an inquest into the cocoa industry that has already caused many of the top dogs in the industry to be put behind bars on provisionary detention (including individuals with close ties to Gbagbo according to RFI). It’s Tchimou, that has ordered the arrest of the Nouveau Courrier journalists and asks them to reveal the source of the leak.

So it seems to be pretty complex, and for an external observer it’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going on, and maybe the boxing analogy makes it too much a black or white issue whereas there are likely to be shades of grey, (but putting journalists in jail for not revealing their sources, that’s a black or white issue, dammit!).

My guess is that somewhere close to the “other corner of their ring” are members of the super elite  with political connections who have gotten rich by more or less corrupt practices in the cocoa industry, and who now are doing what they can to preserve their positions.

To conclude, I found this quote on avenue225 from the police at the prison where the journalists are held:

«Ici nous gardons les criminels et autres braqueurs. Nous ne comprenons pas trop ceux que ces journalistes font ici», lance un policier en essayant de nous rassurer avec le sourire «Ne vous en faites pas. Ça ne va pas durer comme ça ».

Freely translated to:

“Here we keep the criminals and robbers. We do not quite understand what that those journalists are doing here, ” said a policeman trying to reassure us with a smile “Do not worry. It will not go on like this.”

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