West Africa: Military Regimes Have Turned the Sahel Into a 'Black Hole' of Information

In the central Sahel, journalists and reporters have seen their working conditions deteriorate ever since the countries were taken over by military juntas, reports by international organisations marking World Press Freedom Day on Friday have found.

Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have been turned into "information deserts", observers warned, following the suspension or closure of over a dozen media outlets - including RFI and France 24 - over the past three years.

The expulsion and non-issuance of visas or accreditation to foreign journalists - especially French journalists - is seen as a sign of the determination of these regimes to rid themselves from a free press, deemed incompatible with their principles.

Journalists are also ufaced with the threat of terrorist attacks.

According to a Reporters Without Borders report published in 2023, the intensification of attacks by armed groups has "continued to reduce the space for journalists to gather information and weaken the means of [news] circulation".

Community radio stations have been closed down or destroyed in the face of terrorist pressure and at least five journalists have been murdered in the region and half a dozen have gone missing since 2013.

For RSF, the Sahel has become one of the biggest black holes for information.

The space for press freedom has shrunk considerably in the face of pressure, arrests or - as in Burkina Faso - forced conscription into the army.

🔴 #RSFIndex | In 2024, the World Press Freedom Index shows that press freedom is under threat from those who should be its guarantors - political authorities. #WorldPressFreedomDayhttps://t.co/5hHMzwc8KJ pic.twitter.com/MUiir0shsR-- RSF (@RSF_inter) May 3, 2024

Journalists in exile

As a result of the swathe of coups across West Africa, most coverage of the region comes from abroad - not least by journalists from Sahel countries who are now in exile, such as Malick Konaté and Ahmed Barry, who continue to report on news from their countries.

There are also many internal sources who help journalists to find out what is happening on the ground.

However, without access to the field, it is always more difficult to cross-check information.

To provide free, reliable and diverse information, the local media need to get organised, but the coverage of sensitive subjects has become extremely complicated.

On security issues, for example, journalists are stonewalled by officials.

The approach to handling information is mainly factual, with the media reduced to just repeating official statements from the authorities.

Testimonies are rare and often anonymised to avoid any risk to sources and whistle-blowers.


Due to increased surveillance, investigative reporting on armies and their auxiliaries - as well as on conflicts - is generally avoided by colleagues working in the central Sahel.

In Niger, Idrissa Soumana Maiga, editor of the newspaper L'Enquêteur, was arrested on 25 April.

He has since been placed under a committal order and imprisoned for "undermining national defence".

He faces between five and 10 years' imprisonment after publishing a report in Le Figaro newspaper about "the alleged installation of bugging equipment by Russian agents on official buildings in Niger".

Garé Amadou, a human rights defender and publication director of Le Canard Déchainé, visited Maiga in prison earlier this week.

"It's difficult to work as you would in a democratic [system]. It's difficult to act as if nothing has happened," he told RFI

"There is a certain amount of self-censorship and some people avoid talking about certain subjects in the media for fear of being targeted by the junta ... whatever people say, a military regime is not a democratic regime.

"But some of them are doing their best to do their job. There really are some extremely courageous journalists who carry on despite the risks involved."

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