Freedom of expression organizations in Africa that are members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) last month decided to establish a regional network to be known as the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX).
IFEX is a global network of independent non-governmental organizations working at local, national, regional and international levels to promote and defend freedom of expression around the world. Founded in 1992 in Montreal, Canada, IFEX currently has its secretariat in Toronto and has members from all continents.
Following a decision taken by African member organizations during the last IFEX General Meeting held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in June 2013, to explore ways of enduring greater coordination and collaboration among freedom of expression organizations in Africa, the December meeting of IFEX members in Africa was convened by the Accra-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) to develop a framework for regional networking in Africa.
Sponsored by IFEX, the meeting was facilitated by Mr. Luckson Chipare, former Regional Director of the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) who has also previously served as IFEX Convenor (Chair).
Following two days of deliberations, the meeting decided to establish a regional network to be known as the African Freedom of Expression Exchange, whose members shall be member organizations of IFEX, which are independent and autonomous organizations and have their headquarters located in any country in sub-Saharan Africa.
The meeting also decided that membership rights and benefits as well as the duties and obligations of members should be outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding which all members of the network shall subscribe to and endorse.
The participants defined the vision of the network as an Africa where all peoples are free to express themselves. They said the mission of the network is to increase the effectiveness of IFEX members in addressing freedom of expression challenges in Africa. Such challenges include laws and policies, traditions, customs, absence of capacity arising from ignorance, poverty and lack of access to technology; and security.
The meeting outlined an organizational structure for the network, with the General Meeting, comprising all its members, being the highest authority of the network. The General Meeting will be convened annually.
The structure of the network also includes a Steering Committee, which will be its decision-making organ in between General Meetings.
It was decided that the Steering Committee should be made up of four members drawn from West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa. The founding Steering Committee was constituted with the Media Foundation for West Africa in Ghana, representing West Africa; the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) in Kampala, Uganda, representing East Africa; Journaliste en Danger (JED) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, representing Central Africa and the Media Institute for Southern African (MISA) in Windhoek, Namibia, representing Southern Africa.
Ms Zoe Titus, the Regional Director of MISA, was elected Chair of the Steering Committee.
The meeting decided that the secretariat of the Network should be hosted by a member organization with a dedicated Coordinator. It established a set of criteria by which member organizations seeking to host the secretariat would be assessed.
Based on the agreed criteria, MFWA was chosen to serve as the Secretariat. The meeting also resolved that a hosting agreement should be developed and agreed upon between the Network and its host organization to define roles and responsibilities as well as to guide the relationship.
The meeting identified a number of strategies to be adopted by the network in addressing the freedom of expression challenges on the continent, including outreach, systematic sharing of information, joint campaigns, capacity enhancement activities, sustainability plans and programmes as well as researches and surveys.
The meeting also identified specific activities which it will carry out over the first six months of its existence and decided to develop a more elaborate plan of action for activities in the short and longer term.
Members of the Network will meet again in Johannesburg, South Africa, on January 30, 2014 to develop their plans further.