The civil unrest in Guinea is provoking discussion all over the African continent about the potential for change, specifically for the potential to remove aging dictators, like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Today’s Global Voices includes a great overview of opposition voices in Congo-Brazzaville – a very different nation from the huge Congo-Kinshasa it borders to the east.
As Alice Backer, our editor for La Francophonie, points out, this is a country we very rarely hear about in the West, even those of us who follow Africa news closely. A quick spin through Google News gives pages of football news, some information on a cholera outbreak, and little else. But Alice sees Congolese bloggers wondering whether the opposition can get their act together and challenge the near 30-year off-and-on rule of Denis Sassou Nguesso. As in Guinea, corruption is a major issue and the blogs are buzzing with speculation about whether Nguesso’s anti-corruption efforts are just a sham. Posts include a Flickr-based Rogues’ Gallery, including the President’s son, who a blogger accuses of smuggling large sums of cash out of the country.
Given the early state of blogging in Congo-Brazzaville, it’s probably some time before the government starts trying to limit bloggers’ freedom of expression. That’s not the case in other countries where blogs have emerged as a major space for activist discourse. Rebecca MacKinnon outines court cases in Bahrain and Malaysia, where prominent bloggers are facing libel and defamation cases. Bahraini blogger Mahmood is facing a libel case with the minister of municipalities and agriculture – Mahmood contends that his post was legitimate political criticism, not a personal attack on the minister.
In Malaysia, Jeff Ooi and fellow blogger Ahiruddin Attan, aka Rocky, are facing a defamation lawsuit from New Straits Times Press. The blog community in Malaysia has reacted with a support effort titled “Walk With Us“, urging bloggers to fight against the chilling effects of these suits.
These sorts of efforts to protect the rights of bloggers against frivolous lawsuits, legal prosecution and other forms of harrasment are becoming a major part of blogger activism around the world. Global Voices has just brought Sami Ben Gharbia on board as our new Advocacy Director – he’ll be helping build linkages and cooperation between blog advocacy efforts around the world and featuring stories about free speech advocacy on the website. We’re very lucky to have a seasoned activist like Sami to help lead our team – as Quinn Norton pointed out in Wired News a few weeks back, he’s one of the leading innovators in the blogosphere, with projects like the Tunisian Prisons Map.