Africa

MEDIA FREEDOM

Mozambique set to deport Zitamar editor Tom Bowker this week over Cabo Delgado conflict reports

Attacks by presumed Islamic State-affiliated militants on Cabo Delgado indicate the extremists’ determination to carve out part of the country for themselves to establish a caliphate from which to plan and execute further attacks in Mozambique and southern Africa. (Photo: supplied)

Journalist Tom Bowker has been covering the Islamist insurgency in the far north of the country.

Journalist and editor Tom Bowker, an important source of reliable news from the conflict in northern Mozambique, is set to be deported from the country this week.

It seems the Mozambique authorities want him out because of his comprehensive reporting on the growing extremist insurgency in the country’s northernmost province Cabo Delgado. 

As founder and editor of the respected Zitamar newsletter, a partner in the bulletin Cabo Ligado, Bowker’s journalism has often reflected the Mozambique government’s failure to counter the insurgency.

The insurgents have become ever more deeply entrenched in Cabo Delgado and have occupied the important port town of Mocimboa da Praia since early August 2020. 

Joseph Hanlon, veteran chronicler of the Mozambique scene, disclosed Bowker’s imminent expulsion in his own newsletter last week. 

He said Bowker, a British citizen, who has been a journalist in Mozambique for seven years, had been ordered to leave the country by Saturday. “The expulsion is entirely unofficial – there is nothing in writing,” Hanlon said. Daily Maverick was able to confirm Bowker’s expulsion independently and reliably – although other sources said he has to leave by Tuesday, 2 February.

“Bowker was called into the Migration Services with his lawyer on Monday (25 January) and told verbally that he had to leave by Saturday, based on a complaint from Gabinfo, the government information office,” Hanlon wrote.

“Mendes Mutenda, communications director of Gabino, told the new daily newspaper Ponto por Ponto (28 January) that it has withdrawn Bowker’s press card because he ‘failed to provide documents that prove that Zitamar exists.’ ”

Hanlon noted that Zitamar was registered in the UK and that Bowker had provided details of the UK company registration to the Mozambique authorities to prove the company does exist.

The registration says: “Nature of business: News agency activities.” 

“But Gabinfo demanded a press registration and refused to accept the explanation from Bowker and British diplomats that the UK does not have any form of press registration,” Hanlon said.

“In December, Egidio Vaz, a social media blogger who lauds President Filipe Nyusi, called for Bowker’s expulsion because of his reporting of the Cabo Delgado war. But this is apparently the first expulsion of a foreign journalist in more than 30 years.”

It is understood that on Monday, Bowker was still trying to negotiate a reversal of the decision to kick him out. 

Hanlon said the real reason for Bowker’s expulsion was not clear since the Mozambique government had provided no explanation. But he speculated that it was because “Zitamar has been one of [the] best and most accurate reporters on the war in Cabo Delgado. 

Zitamar and MediaFax have a good network of correspondents there and with Acled last year set up Cabo Ligado which is now the best weekly report on the war. The government has consistently been trying to prevent reporting of the war, and expelling Bowker may be seen as a way to stop Cabo Ligado and reporting of the war.”

Acled is the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project which publishes comprehensive data and analysis of conflicts around the world. It is highly regarded by researchers and others for its objectivity.

Angela Quintal, Africa director at the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York, said Maputo’s move was “another sign that the press is far from free in Mozambique, especially when it comes to reporting about Cabo Delgado or on matters that the government wants its citizens to remain in the dark about.

“Tom’s case is the latest example of how journalists in Mozambique are being targeted by the government of President Filipe Nyusi. We hope sense will prevail and the government will back off from censoring the press.”

Quintal also observed that the action against Bowker was ironic in the light of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s remarks on Friday at the launch of the Digital Platform for Safety of Journalists in Africa. Speaking in his capacity as chairperson of the African Union, Ramaphosa said; “The media has a crucial role to play in the historic and continent-wide movement by Africans to build a continent of their dreams.

“Our march towards the achievement of the aspirations of Agenda 2063 – of the Africa we want – requires that we nurture and protect a free and independent media. 

“It requires that we vigorously defend the right of journalists to do their work, to write, to publish and to broadcast what they like, even if we disagree with some or all of it.

“The Digital Platform for the Safety of Journalists in Africa is an important tool in promoting the safety of journalists and other media workers across Africa.

“We look to this digital platform to contribute to an enabling environment for the media to operate in AU member states through respect for the rights of journalists and media workers and an end to impunity for crimes against journalists.

“We urge all Africans, all institutions, and all heads of state and leaders of government to support this historic project.“

Fifty years from now, when Africa celebrates the achievements of Agenda 2063, we will look back with pride at this moment, and at the role that the Digital Platform for the Safety of Journalists will have played to end the harassment, detention and even murder of journalists.” DM

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