President of Niger endorses the Declaration of Table Mountain

05 NIGER CASE STUDY _ DTM signing Niger

Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou signs the Declaration of Table Mountain.

WAN-IFRA has a global mandate to respond to media freedom violations and as a result deploys a range of advocacy measures for lasting change by working with members, media freedom organisations, and strategic local, national and international partners. The Declaration of Table Mountain is an Africa-wide campaign that builds coalitions between the media, civil society and legal profession to call on heads of state to advance press freedom and repeal criminal defamation and ‘insult’ laws.

One of the biggest insults to press freedom across Africa has been the widespread existence of criminal defamation laws that have a chilling effect on a journalists’ ability to publish the news without fear of incarceration or harassment. But WAN-IFRA’s hard-hitting campaign – known as the Declaration of Table Mountain – is changing the statutes, one country at a time.

“We are not asking to be held above the law,” said Amadou Kanoute, WAN-IFRA’s lead consultant on the campaign and who has facilitated dialogue on the ground around the Declaration. “What we are asking for is that our place is not behind bars, in jail, and that we are ready to put something on the table in exchange for repealing those criminal laws.”

So far, the Pan-African Parliament, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, numerous press freedom and civil society organisations and individuals, including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have endorsed the Declaration to ensure press freedom is higher on the political agenda and to remove legislation that is often used to curb debate and investigation.

Boubacar to ADD TO WEB NIGER

Boubacar Diallo, the president of Niger’s Maison de la Presse, played an instrumental role in the signing of Declaration Table Mountain in Niger.

Kanoute says that while still only a handful of countries have successfully repealed criminal defamation laws, the page has turned. More and more media houses are calling for these laws to be repealed and are now articulating what they want them replaced with. The community around the news publishing business, including non-government organisations, academics and lawyers are becoming organised in the pan-African campaign.

“They are saying, this is what we want instead: more responsibility in exercising our duty as journalists, in the way we write, so   it’s more ethical writing,” said Kanoute. “The journalists themselves are saying that, and that’s the interesting thing.”

One of the most successful examples has been Niger, where involvement on the ground led to President Mahamadou Issoufou becoming the first African head of state to sign the Declaration of Table Mountain in November 2011.
In the nascent stages, Kanoute worked closely with Boubacar Diallo, the president of Niger’s Maison de la Presse, to comb through all the different loopholes that could be used to land journalists behind bars.

“There’s always discrepancy between text and the reality on the ground,” said Kanoute. “They will always find a way to criminalize.”

Former President Mamadou Tandja had jailed journalists for defamation and depleted their publications’ resources. But after an attempt to prolong his grip on power beyond his 2009 mandate, soldiers captured him after attacking his residence on 18 February 2010. Deposed from power after a decade, the press faced a fragile new era after the constitution was suspended and state institutions were dissolved.

As Niger’s political system began its fragile recovery, Diallo and Kanoute emerged as a crucial link between civil society, journalists, emerging politicians and the international community. Later that year after Tandja’s ouster, the transitional government adopted a new constitution that included provisions to better support an independent press and scheduled elections for early 2011.

As the campaign season was underway, Diallo and Kanoute worked to secure commitment from both leading presidential candidates – Issoufou, who went on to win and Hama Amadou of the Nigerien Democratic Movement – to endorse the Declaration if they were elected.

“When Issoufou got elected the first thing we did was to remind him that he pledged to sign the Declaration and put it into practice so no more journalists would be sent to jail,” Kanoute said.


World Editors Forum President Erik Bjerager delivers his speech in Niamey, Niger.

In front of over 1,000 people, amongst them government officials from more than 25 countries, President Issoufou signed the declaration on 30th November 2011 alongside Erik Bjerager, the president of the World Editors Forum.

“The impact is long-term,” said Bjerager. “We have to promote the signing because it causes a lot of local media coverage and forces local politicians to reflect upon freedom of expression and the importance of having a free press.”

The signing of the Declaration also prompted Niger to leap 75 places that year in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) annual press ranking, from 104th to 29th. However, the reality on the ground remained fragile and hard-won commitments could only go so far without improved professionalism in the media sector and better dialogue between layers of government.

In January 2014, a slew of journalist arrests threatened to wipe out the international acclaim Niger received for committing to the Declaration. In less than a week, four journalists were hauled away on accusations of providing false news and “appeals to hatred and violence.”

Immediately, WAN-IFRA organised a mission to Niger to find out what had gone wrong and whether Issoufou had slid back on his promise.


A full audience was present during the DTM signing ceremony in Niamey, Niger on 30 November 2011.

Kanoute said that in conversations with government MPs, media houses, and the journalists who were arrested it was clear Issoufou hadn’t backtracked. Rather, what was needed was better communication between levels of government so that local authorities were made aware that the laws had changed.

As the first country to officially commit to the Declaration, Niger has become an example for other African countries to follow. And while there will be hiccups on the way, WAN-IFRA’s on-going involvement in Niger has confirmed that there is the resolve to not only pledge to the Declaration, but also enact it.

Since Niger, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed the Declaration in July 2012. Headway has also been made in Senegal where President Macky Sall said that the new Tribunal of Peers – a sort of self-regulatory body – could take on any future libel cases involving journalists in the courts.

In Benin, a regulatory body has also stepped in to take the majority of complaints. Currently, there are 700 being reviewed while there were only several brought to a criminal court in the past year.

Today, Kanoute can say with certainty that the Declaration and the campaign’s role in the pan-African campaign, the Decriminalisation of Expression (DoX) campaign, is sweeping the continent. More and more leaders are seeing the benefits of moving away from the courts, and media houses are likewise playing their part.

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