Networking for Alter-information and Against Repression

pdficon_64Von Andrea Plöger

Videoactivist, researcher and activist at Africa-Europe-Interact. In-
volved in the initiative ‘Education No Limitation.’
With the migration of the World Social Forum to the African Continent,
transnational ties of media networks are being strengthened and the
idea of an interactive media network is taking shape.
In 2011, a number of West African movements and organizations took part
in the Caravan for Free Movement and Fair Development to the World So-
cial Forum in Dakar, Senegal. On the Island of Gorée, before the WSF took
place, the World Charter of Migrants was launched. One of the results of
the Caravan was the creation of the transnational network Afrique-Europe-In-
teract (AEI) 1 .
The question was raised of not only how to disseminate the necessary informa-
tion but also how to enable social movements to communicate with each other
and with the wider public. Last year at the World Forum at Free Media, we
were discussing the need to expand the network of free media and to strengthen
ties with Northern and Western African media activists, so as not to leave it to
journalists entrenched in interventionist armies or the ever fewer mainstream
journalists in the area to inform the public about what companies, corrupt ad-
ministrators and ministers and both national and international armies want the
public to know – or rather what they DON’T want them to know.
Communication rights campaigns would enable free media to be more secure
and more sustainable over the long run, and North African and West African

Cyber café.
media networks 2 are currently working to get these underway. But even in those
countries where rights are assured – like Tunisia with the adoption of the new
constitution – they are not being implemented without public pressure. The
threat that so-called secure rights will be taken away is always a possibility, as
seen in the example of Egypt.
Elsewhere, military conflicts in Libya and Mali and the ongoing conflicts in the
DR Congo 3 , including threats and repression of often-unidentifiable sources
are an ever-present reality. And even the most basic resources to create local
and free media are lacking, such as community radio, Internet cafés and public
In this article I will explore three cases from Central, Western and Northern
Africa concerning activists from the Afrique–Europe-Interact network. All three
cases are similar in that the mainstream media failed, for various reasons, to
cover their stories. They are also alike in the fact that a lack of communication
rights has prevented the development of alternative media and their long-term
But in all three cases there has been an attempt to create an infrastructure from
the grassroots level, to break isolation and get through to the public. And in all
[2]     As for example those participating in the conference „Promoting and Defending Freedom of Expression in the MENA Region“, held in May 2014 in Tunis, and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC:, West Africa.
[3]     These wars are also know as the ‘African World War’ with about six million deaths over the last 20 years.

three cases transnational ties with free media in other continents have played an
important role. The idea is to strengthen these ties for the benefit of social move-
ments in the global South and North and to facilitate the exchange of news and
background information that is usually absent from the mainstream media but
which is of utmost importance to activists and victims of human rights violations.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Victor Nzuzi Mbembe is a well-known journalist and land rights activist who
joined the Caravan for Free Movement and Fair Development in its journey
to the World Social Forum and represents AEI in the DR Congo. He is often
featured on mainstream radio and television and also has his own programs on
the community radio in the Mbanza Ngungu district where he works as a small-
scale peasant. As an outspoken critic of landgrabbing and the corruption sur-
rounding mega projects between the Congolese government and transnational
companies, he has emerged as a defender of the local population and is being
targeted by the various authorities trying to silence him: „In my country, the so-
called Democratic Republic of Congo, there are a lot of radio stations, not only
in the capital of Kinshasa but also in the rural areas. And there are more than
30 television channels, but they usually belong to influential politicians or the
evangelical / Christian churches. The same is true for the press. Politicians and
churches own most of the newspapers and there is a very close alliance between
the mainstream media and political influence. If, here in Congo, you have the
financial resources, you can easily appear in ten radio and TV programmes a day
and have your opinion published in all the papers. What matters is how much
you pay, not what the message is. The content of the media is clearly orientated
in maintaining the political influence of the owner.
So there is an urgent need for alternative media which takes an analytical ap-
proach and is not governed by commercial and political interests. Technically,
this can be as simple as viewing DVDs or listening to tapes of radio programs
or having a caravan with live music and debates in the villages – which we have
planned for the summer. This is one way of making our struggle visible throughout
the world and to let people see what is happening even if they are in Germany,
Belgium or France.
At an international level, I would like to mention Brazil and South Africa as
emerging countries where it is hard to talk about their economic successes
without mentioning their inequalities and the environmental problems. In Congo
we were led to believe that Brazil is a role model in managing the rain forest
and yet Brazilian companies continue to drill for oil in the Congolese rain forest,
even though the damage caused by oil drillings in the Amazon are well-known.
One example of international cooperation could be talking with our colleagues
in Brazil so that we can get a better idea of the real situation of Brazil’s rain for-
est management. That could really influence the discussion here. Similarly, the
struggles of activists in Europe for the free movement of migrants and refugees,
against landgrabbing, for food sovereignty and for debt relief is NOT known here.
In defence of the global south’s natural resources, we could also work together
exchanging information on the way in which multinationals’ have stripped our
resources: this would mean waking up the population in the South and putting
pressure on those responsible in the North.
In my case, as a victim of repression and with the threat of fifteen years of prison
for influencing the public opinion, the transnational network in Germany, Bel-
gium, France and Senegal has played an important role. With the Internet, my
colleagues were able to react and help me. Yes, it really is a small world.“

Niger Delta
Alassane Dicko is president of the Association Malienne des Expulsés (AME: www. which was founded in coordination with Radio Kayira due
to massive deportations of Malians from various African and European coun-
tries in the 1990s. The AME is a founding member of the transnational network
Afrique-Europe-Interact (AEI).
In April 2014, a small group from AEI went to the Niger delta region to contact
the peasants who fought fiercely for years against land grabbing in their terri-
tory (in the region of Sanamadougou and Sao). The local population – around
50,000 people – is now seriously threatened by starvation due to the theft of
their land. When they went to court to protest against their land being taken
away from them, police forces came into the villages and violently attacked the
villagers, leading to the death and serious injuries of several people, including
the mayor of Sanamadougou.
Alassane Dicko: „Information and communication is central to what peasants are
fighting for. The villages concerned had no access to any information until we
came with the caravan. The territory is so vast and there is no public transport,
so peasants had no way of communicating with people in other villages. We
needed to set up collective meetings so that everyone could understand each
other’s reality and to rouse a feeling of mutual solidarity. We also talked about
everyone rallying together in case of emergency.
The community and rural radio stations in all twelve zones don’t even attempt to
address these issues, even though they are well-known problems, and some unions
have started representing the peasants. But the peasants have lost all confidence
in the representatives of these unions who previously supported the administra-
tion of the Niger delta region, which is itself supporting the investor. They are
tired after years of accusations and threats against those who resist this colonial

Niger Delta, April 2010. Environnementaml Rights Action activists in Nigeria look at damage
caused byb oil tankers.
administration. There are many peasants who work hard for the benefit of the
colonists. Since the land grabbing started, the land they have at their disposition
is not enough to feed their extended families. Added to this is the deterioration of
the soil due to agro-industrial use. 50,000 people in the area will either die from
starvation or they will be forced into the dangerous adventure of migration.“
This case also urgently needs the media’s attention. And the local population needs
communication tools. Often it is also a matter of distributing local information both
nationally and transnationally. There is a film about the situation in the Niger delta,
called Terre Verte. It gives a very good account of it, but due to lack of Internet access
and the lack of transnational relations, the film has not yet reached the wider public.
AEI is trying to make contact with the filmmaker and publish it on their website.

Geraud and Trésor also participated in the caravan in 2011. Years before the caravan
to Dakar, they had been forced to leave their home country Cameroun due to threats
against homosexuals in Cameroun and to the fact that there was a severe crack down
on the student strikes in which they participated. On their way to North Africa they
were held back in Mali and there joined the Association des Réfoules d ́Afrique Cen-
trale en Mali (ARACEM), also a founding member of AEI. During the last two years
of their long migration route, which took them across more than 25 borders, they
lived in the forest in miserable clandestine camps near the border fences of Ceuta and
Melilla. There, they encountered all sorts of brutality and violence. They were also one
of the first to hear about the killing of fifteen refugees on the 6th of February 2014

by Moroccan and Spanish police forces. Those comrades who were unable to cross
the sea or get past the fences sent them pictures of the dead corpses thrown on the
loading platform of a truck. They posted pictures and information on the incidents
on their newly established site Voix des Migrants (
Trésor said that it was the only way for refugees, hiding from the police, to con-
tact the outer world and to tell their side of the story. The site is also a source of
hope for those trapped between the sea, the bladed fences and the desert. It is a
connection to a world that seeks to deny their very existence, Trésor adds. And
it is a way to deal with all the cries for help which arrive daily from Morocco.
On the blog they also describe the conditions of survival for Central, West- and
East African refugees in Morocco. Since the EU established the Frontex frontier
regime, racism has increased sharply against Black Africans in Morocco. Geraud
says that it is like an apartheid system in which they have to survive, without
any basic human rights and subjected to police and racist attacks.
With the publication of various articles by activist journalists, the blog and pro-
tests outside Moroccan and Spanish Embassies in different countries, this issue
has received increased media attention. The next step will be giving refugees in
Morocco access to computers and mobile phones so that the wider public can
learn about the human rights violations that are taking place.
In conclusion, the overall challenge that alternative media and communication
activists face is strengthening the transnational network of alternative media, and
fighting for their recognition – which is often their only resource and their only
shield against repression. As for the concerned population, there is not only a
lack of information and communication but there is also little awareness of the
potential support available in the form of movements and NGOs in the global
north. Alternative media and communication rights campaigns could play an
important role in strengthening ties between movements in the global South and
North and in supporting activist networking.
There is a need for media networks that can provide information on a regular basis –
not only in times of mass protests or when there is some particularly gruesome human
rights violation. In addition, alternative media should have access to the structural
resources needed to carry out thorough investigative work. It is for this reason that
the current campaigns for media reform and financing of alternative media in Latin
America offer some hope for communication rights movements in other parts of the
world. It is clear that work of the World Forum of Free Media is of utmost importance
and should be extended to Central and Eastern Africa as well. An important step for
the near future could also be coming up with a way – potentially again in the form of
caravans – to bring media activists and movement activists to the next World Forum
of Free Media in Tunis in 2015 in order to expand the network.