The Decline of Free Flow of Information lowers Peace in Africa: Insights from the Institute for Economics and Peace

Free flow of information is one of the main criteria used to determine the level of peace in a country, following the Global Peace Index (GPI). In the thirteenth edition of the GPI issued in June 2019, several sub-Saharan African countries are positioned at the bottom of the ladder of peace, one of the main reasons being their decline in the free flow of information in recent years. A broad view of the GPI report shows that these countries also have a weak index on internet freedom and digital rights, as well as the freedom of the press. 

The GPI is a yearly report produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) to measure the relative position of nations’ and regions’ peacefulness, ranking independent states and territories  according to their level of peacefulness. Established in 2009, the IEP is an independent, not-for-profit research organization dedicated to understanding the intersection between peace, prosperity and the economy. One of the IEP’s main goals is to create a shift in how the world thinks of peace, through using data-driven research to show that peace is a tangible measure of human well-being and development.

The GPI uses 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected sources, such as the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), various UN entities, and peace institutes, to rank countries (172 as per the 2019’ edition) on their respective levels of peacefulness. The Economic Intelligence Unit country analysts, who use their significant knowledge of a particular country to estimate how it would score in certain areas, provide scores for the qualitative indicators. These indicators are used to measure the state of peace and fall into three general categories: societal safety and security, ongoing domestic and international conflict, and militarization. In order to comprehend the concept of peace, the IEP establishes eight pillars of Positive Peace, then defined as the “attitudes, institutions and structures which create and sustain peaceful societies.” These pillars include the free flow of information, just as a well-functioning government, a sound business environment, an equitable distribution of resources, low levels of corruption, acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbours and high levels of human capital.

Emphasising on the free flow of information as a pillar of peace, the GPI details it as follows: “Free and independent media disseminates information in a way that leads to greater knowledge and helps individuals, business and civil society make better decisions. This leads to better outcomes and more rational responses in times of crisis.” Free Flow of Information is then measured by three main factors:

  • The Freedom of the Press Index, a composite measure of the degree of print, broadcast, and internet freedom, operated by Freedom House
  • The Mobile phone subscription rate, which is a number of mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, operated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)
  • The World Press Freedom Index which ranks countries based on media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operate, produced by Reporters Without Borders

What draws attention to the GPI’s 2019 ranking is that the lowest-ranked sub-Saharan African countries are also the least ranked in terms of freedom of expression, freedom of the press and electronic communications subscriptions. The following table presents the top 15 least-ranked countries in 2019 on the GPI, along with the equivalences on freedom of expression (Freedom House), freedom of the press (Reporters Without Borders) and the mobile phone subscription rate per 100 inhabitants (ITU).

Table GPI-Free Flow of Information
Table: Top 15 of Least Ranked Sub-Saharan African Countries per Categories

In this top 15, according to all four categories (GPI, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and mobile phone subscription rate), leading countries are Eritrea, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Burundi and Somalia. These countries have very low index that has a significant and negative impact on their GPI rankings; they appear in all four categories of the top 15. Most them have the lowest mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, their values ranked between 7.3 and 45 (the lowest subscription rate in the world being Eritrea with a value 7.3, and the highest subscription rate being Macao SAR, China, with a value of 332.09) as per the 2019 ITU’s ranking. Other countries, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Sudan and South Sudan appear only three times in the top 15. Zimbabwe, Uganda and Niger appear twice and Malawi, Madagascar, Angola and Comoros appear only once. These appear only in the top 15 of the lowest rank of mobile phone subscription.

However, the absence of a country in the red zone (top 15) of a category may represent both a positive and negative warning signal for its next GPI ranking. In other words, the low rate of mobile phone subscriptions in Angola may be a harbinger of the progressive decline in freedom of expression in the country that can lead to compromising protests for the status of peace in the country. In the same way, Uganda is not in the top 15 of the lowest-ranked GPI countries. But according to Freedom House, Uganda’s freedom status declined from Partly Free in 2018 to Not Free in 2019, due to attempts by long-ruling president Yoweri Museveni’s government to restrict free expression, including through surveillance of electronic communications and a regressive tax on social media use. If this restriction of civil liberties is not mastered, it could lead to protests that will gradually cause a precarious peace status in the country.

Ultimately, to safeguard the existing and predict any possible decline of peace, each country presented in this top 15, regardless of the number of times and category, should be closely watched and monitored by civil liberties defenders.

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