West Africa’s Independent Radio Broadcasters Targeted

Six months after the coup in Niger led by General Ibrahim Mainassara, during the July 1996 national elections, Radio Anfani managing director Gremah Boucar faced down numerous attempts by Mainassara’s military regime to force the station permanently off the air, including a one-month period where soldiers stormed and occupied the Anfani studios. Almost a year later, Boucar is still paying a high price for his commitment to airing uncensored international and local news: At 3:30 a.m. on March 3, five unidentified armed men wearing military uniforms ransacked the Radio Anfani studios and destroyed recently installed equipment valued at $80,000.

In the weeks after the attack, Boucar, three Radio Anfani journalists, and two security guards were arrested on an unspecified complaint lodged by a spokesperson for the military. Boucar and the guard who was on duty during the attack were subsequently brought before a judge and charged with “swindling”–organizing the destruction at the station with the purpose of obtaining financial aid from international agencies–then released.

One week after the attack on Radio Anfani, Burkina Faso’s first independent radio station, Horizon-FM, was ordered by the government’s Conseil Superior d’Information (CSI) to indefinitely suspend broadcast of the popular call-in programs “Sondage Democratique” (Democratic Sounding Board) and “Ca Ne Vas Pas” (It’s Not Going Well). Both radio programs invite listeners to call in anonymously and voice their opinions on democracy in the country–often resulting in extended critical discussions of government policies. According to the CSI, “These programs are threatening the public order by misleading the public into thinking that there is freedom without any responsibility.”

 The pressure on Burkina Faso’s and Niger’s independent broadcasters is characteristic of a wider targeting of independent radio broadcasters by increasingly intolerant government leaders throughout Africa. With the broadcast media firmly under state control throughout most of the region, the few independent broadcasters in operation are a pipeline supplying critical coverage of government officials and policies and international news that is rarely available through the state media. Both Radio Anfani and Horizon-FM maintain affiliate relations with the Voice of America, broadcasting international programming originating from the VOA as well as supplying local news coverage for broadcast by the VOA worldwide. Radio Anfani is also an affiliate of Radio Deutsche Welle.

As he awaits the CSI’s new regulations governing radio broadcasting and the lifting of the ban on the station’s call-in programs, Horizon-FM Director Moustapha Thiombiano, who should be celebrating the station’s 10th anniversary this year, is instead considering retaliating by airing a new satirical program, “Ca Vas Tres Bien” (It’s Going Very Well), which would invite only praise and positive comment about the state of democracy in Burkina Faso.