The journalist as a guerrilla: Saharawi as jungle experts

Ogunsakin Mustapha
9 Min Read
Owei Lakemfa

By Owei Lakemfa

THE journalist is needed everywhere, but is endangered everywhere. Hence humanity declared May 3 as World Press Freedom Day to highlight the importance of the profession and the need for freedom of the press in the context of current global affairs.

Tragically, the day has become like a body count of journalists killed, those of them incarcerated and, in some places, the near impossibility of practising the profession. In 2023, at least 71 journalists were killed. This year promises to be far higher unless the Israeli-Palestinian War is quickly brought to an end. Already, that seven-month conflict has claimed 97 journalists with 92 of them Palestinian, two Israeli and three Lebanese.

Those figures make Palestine the deadliest place to practice journalism. Even before the on-going conflict, it was dangerous to practise the profession in Palestine, as Israel had deliberately murdered journalists in that country. One of the most brazen was the May 11, 2022 murder of Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. She was picked out by an Israeli sniper while standing with her professional colleagues, all wearing vests with ‘Press’ emblazoned on them. The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry concluded that her murder was deliberate.

As the world marked the Press Freedom Day, a week ago, Nigerian journalist, Daniel Ojukwu, of the Freedom for Investigative Journalism, FIJ, was spending his third day in detention after being abducted by Special Forces sent by the Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun. Since nobody, except his abductors, knew his whereabouts, he was presumed missing or possibly dead before, luckily, he was found in a Lagos police cell. As I write, Ojukwu remains in captivity.

He might be luckier than Segun Olatunji, Editor of FirstNews who was abducted by armed soldiers on March 15, 2024 at home in the presence of his young family, and practically vanished. Even the serving Nigeria Army Generals who directed his abduction, personally claimed they knew nothing about his whereabouts. He was lucky to have been positively located in a military dungeon in Abuja by his colleagues. At that point, the cornered Generals set him free after 13 days in captivity.

In a sense, Nigerian journalists are luckier than those in Palestine; at least they are not being shot. But those in the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, SADR, better known Western Sahara, are operating in almost impossible circumstances. At least in Palestine, Israel, even if it cannot tolerate them, recognises Palestinian journalists and, is conscious that it is an occupying force. In contrast, the Moroccan monarchy does not even recognise Western Sahara as a separate territory, does not see itself as an occupying force, and of course, does not recognise Saharawi journalists as professionals with a duty to report.

Where, during protests, Israel pretends to spare the Palestinian journalist, Morocco sees Saharawi journalists as part of the subversive forces that are fit only for prison. As an occupying force, Israel attacks Palestinians and imprisons, but does not expel them. In Morocco’s case, it claims the Saharawi are its citizens, but can expel them from their country. In one of the most infamous cases, when on November 13, 2009, the President of the Collective of Saharawi Human Rights Defenders, CODESA, Aminatou Haidar, returned home from a trip to Nigeria where I was one of the labour leaders that received her, she was denied re-entry. The Moroccan government detained her overnight at the airport, seized her passport and national identity card and expelled her as a stateless person to the Spanish Canary Islands.

So, to practise journalism in a country you can easily be declared a terrorist or non-citizen, requires the journalist operating like a guerrilla fighter. To worsen matters, the Saharawi journalist by virtue of his nationality has to work in three territories: in parts occupied by Morocco, in the liberated territories and the Refugee Camps in Tindouf, Algeria.

In marking the 2024 World Press Freedom Day, journalists from various continents gathered in the Refugee Camps in practical solidarity with Saharawi journalists and people. This first international media solidarity conference was titled: “A journalistic perspective of the issue of Western Sahara and its Developments”.

In striving to remove the prevailing international media veil over the bloody and vicious attempts by the Moroccan monarchy to recolonise Western Sahara, a member of the African Union, the international journalists, examined “Current Issues and Double Standards” in reporting the situation. They dedicated themselves to documenting the truth about the country and “ conveying the voice and stories of the Sahrawi people to the world”.

The journalists also announced that they would be: “Defending Sahrawi media professionals in the occupied territories of Western Sahara by exposing Moroccan violations that target them, highlighting the risks to which they are exposed under occupation, and contributing to the defence of their freedom and safety.”

In examining the state of journalism in today’s crisis-ridden world, the journalists concluded that the old ways of reportage is no longer adequate as the situation threatens not just the professional standards of journalism, but also, human values.

In noting the widening areas of conflict in an increasingly explosive, complex, divergent, yet intertwined world, they regretted that: “Instead of reporting and addressing events objectively, the media has become a massive propaganda machine, posing a threat to peace, stability, and security.” They warned that: “Any failure of the free press today to fulfil its pivotal role, leaves the field wide open, especially given the opportunities presented by modern communication technologies and their effects.”

Linking these to the Western Sahara situation, the visiting journalists revealed that “concealing and biasing the truth has become a consequence of colonial policies and their various forms characterised by racial, cultural, and even geographical discrimination, among others.”

They declared that the forms of occupation anywhere in the universe are essentially the same and that declaring legitimate resistance as terrorism, is no solution to such occupation.

They added that for there to be peace, it has become an urgent necessity for the conscientious across the globe to unite in protecting basic rights and principles of justice.

The media practitioners advocated for journalism with social relevance; one that would convey the concerns, hopes, and future of oppressed peoples in all “corners of the world from Western Sahara to Palestine.”

In a declaration called: ‘The appeal of Bir Lahlu’, named after the liberated Sahrawi territory, the international journalists called for a unification of the efforts of “ free advocacy for a better, possible world, with its free media serving the freedom and dignity of humanity.”

The future of journalism, and I dare say of the world, may depend on humanity, adopting and implementing declarations like the one emanating from Western Sahara.

Dear readers, we really need your support to keep on serving you with authoritative, truthful, and juicy stories everyday. For your support, please reach out to the editor @gavelinternational66@gmail.com

Share This Article