Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

'Free, partly free and not free nations'

By Ben Mensah

Human rights violations throughout the world continue to cause disgust among freedom-loving people of the world. This report of Freedom House is an eye-opener.
Africa remains the continent where freedom fares worst but on the whole democracy has made quiet, but substantial gains around the world over the past year resulting in a higher percentage of people living in freedom than in all but one of the past fourteen years.

This is the conclusion, described as heartening, by FREEDOM HOUSE, a New York-based organisation that under- takes annual assessments of political rights and civil liberties in 167 countries and fifty four related territories. A break- down of the organisation's report into figures reveals that in 1985 there were 1747.2 million people, representing thirty six per cent of the world's population living in fifty six countries who are classified as "FREE".

A further 1,121.9 million accounting for twenty three per cent, fall into the "PARTLY FREE" group of the world's population with a final category of 1947.6 million people, representing forty percent of the world's population classified as "NOT FREE". Significantly, the bulk of the category 'C' are countries in Africa and Asia.

The list of countries in the three categories is as follows: Free countries: Antigua, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus (Greek side), Denmark, Domin- ica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Fiji, Finland, France, West Germany, Greece, Grenada, Honduras, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kiribati, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Portugal, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent, Solomons, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, (Namibia), Vatican. United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, and these territories: Azores, Bermuda, Canary Islands, Falklands, Greenland, Liechtenstein, Micronesia, Netherlands Antilles, New Caledonia, Puerto Rico, San Marino, Virgin Islands.

In my view, however, there is much to regret about the inclusion of the Gambia and Senegal in the group of "partly free" countries instead of the "free" group. These are two countries, where elections have not only been regularly held but also where majority rule operates.

Non-free countries:

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Benin, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Central African Republic, Chad, China (mainland), Comoros, Congo, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Djibouti, Equa- torial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, East Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea- Bissau, Haiti, Iraq, North Korea, Laos, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mon- golia, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Romania, Rwanda, Sao Tomé and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, Surinam, Syria, Tanzania, Togo, USSR, Vietnam, South Yemen, Zaire.

Partly free countries:

Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Chile, Taiwan, Cyprus (Turkish side), Egypt, El Salvador, Gambia, Guatemala, Guyana, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kenya, South Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Thailand, Tonga, Transkei, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Vanuatu, Western Samoa, North Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and those territories: Andorra, Bophuthats-. wana, French Guiana, French Polynesia, Guadeloupe, Guam, Hong Kong, Martiniaque, Monaco, Israeli occupied territories, Reunion, South West Africa

The criteria used by this American organisation to categorise the various countries are: fair elections, individual and group freedom and freedom of the press. In the case of El Salvador, for example, Freedom House concluded that the latest election in that country firmly. For example, Freedom House concluded that the latest election in that country firmly established the incumbent President had 'majority support. Grenada was adjudged to have had fair and free elections, Guatemala elected a new civilian govern- ment and Uruguay also re-established a civilian democratic government.

In Asia, Pakistan was noted for having allowed long promised parliamentary elections while Bangladesh was also mentioned for having developed elected local government institutions. The last two countries have, therefore, now been upgraded into the 'partly free.

In Africa, freedom is virtually non-existent. For in all the continent only Botswana is termed 'free' by Freedom House which further noted that even though there were elections in Zimbabwe, they were followed by government pressure on the opposition and arrests. The issue of uncontested elections was also taken up in Sierra Leone and the recent election of Gen. Momoh as President was said to have eroded civilian rule.

With most countries in Africa pursuing the one-party system of government it is no wonder that the Ivory Coast and Kenya, in spite of their relative stability were also classified only as 'partly free.

In my view however, there is much to regret about the inclusion of the Gambia and Senegal in the group of 'partly free' countries instead of the 'free' group. These are two African countries where elections have not only been regularly held and where majority rule operates, but also the existence of rival parties makes the elections meaningful by giving the voters a choice of candidates and programmes.

President Abdou Diouf of Senegal is on record as having told the opening session of the inter-governmental council on non- aligned ministers of information conference held last month in Dakar that the establishment of national information and communication orders should be based on plurality of opinions, free access to ships. multiple sources of information with credibility being the major criterion.

In practice and theory, therefore, Senegal and Gambia have pursued democratic principles which make it unfair for them to be placed in the 'partly free' group like Liberia, Iran, Pakistan, Uganda, etc. Also regrettable about the report of the American based organisation is the classification of South Africa as 'partly free'. For if democracy thrives on majority rule what is the view of Freedom House on the exclusion of the majority Black population from the political life in South Africa?

Recent developments in Nigeria, including the pledge of a return to a democratically elected government in 1990, and the recommendation for the release from detention of former Presi dent Shehu Shagari and his vice came either too late to be included in the report or simply failed to attract attention in far away America.

As it is, Nigeria sadly remains in the group of countries classified as 'non free Also in this group with dishonourable credentials are Ghana, Burkina Faso, Libya, Benin, Togo, Mali and a host of others ruled mainly by military dictator-

Cameroon, Gabon and Guinea are the other African countries classified as 'non free' but it is obvious in this case that Freedom House is ignorant about Presi- dent Biya's 'new deal' programme in Cameroon nor Colonel Conte's benevo- lence in Guinea. If they did know about these, they would not have classified Gen. Doe's Liberia or even Ivory Coast in the 'partly free' group above Guinea and the Cameroon.

talking drums 1986-02-03 Demonstrations in Accra against Rawlings's economic measures