Sub-Saharan Africa Sees "Disheartening" Declines in Freedom


Freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa faltered in 2008 after nearly two decades of gradual gains, according to a new report released by Freedom House this week. Freedom in the World 2009 indicates that Sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union experienced the most acute deterioration in political rights and civil liberties last year, part of a global trend in which freedom has retreated for three consecutive years.

"Sub-Saharan Africa has seen notable increases in freedom over the past generation, making these recent setbacks all the more disheartening," said Arch Puddington, Freedom House director of research. "While some new democracies have emerged, a larger number of states are struggling or failing to consolidate freedom. It is particularly disturbing that declines were registered by African countries on every indicator measured by Freedom in the World during the past year, with a notably sharp drop in the region's civil liberties scores."
Freedom in the World examines the state of freedom in all 193 countries and 16 strategic territories. The survey analyzes developments that occurred in 2008 and assigns each country a freedom status—either Free, Partly Free or Not Free based on a scoring of performance in key freedoms. Worldwide, 34 countries registered declines in freedom and 14 registered improvements.

Among the 48 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, 10 were rated Free in 2008, while 23 were rated Partly Free and 15 were rated Not Free. Twelve countries and one territory—about one-fourth of the regional total—experienced setbacks. That number was second only to the former Soviet Union, where fully half of its 12 countries suffered declines. (Download the Map of Freedom: Sub-Saharan Africa.)

Senegal was downgraded from Free to Partly Free due to the government’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies and Mauritania declined from Partly Free to Not Free because a military coup ousted a democratically-elected president. Mauritania and the Central African Republic lost their status as electoral democracies. In addition to Senegal and Mauritania, declines were also registered in Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Namibia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Somaliland.

However, there were some positive developments. Gains were noted in Zambia, which improved its judiciary, and in Angola following the country's first legislative elections since 1992. Political rights also improved in Cote d’Ivoire, which saw the number of eligible voters increase for its upcoming elections, and in Comoros, which restored its constitutional government.

"African democrats should take the initiative to arrest these declines, several of which occurred in the continent's largest and most influential countries," said Thomas O. Melia, Freedom House deputy executive director. "More must be done to break with Sub-Saharan Africa's enduring patterns of poor governance, authoritarian rule and repression.”

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties worldwide since 1972.

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