Alternate Forms of Communication

Other important links in Africa's chain of communication remain little examined by scholars. Studies about clandestine tracts or leaflets for example, are very few. The topic usually is considered in passing, and often dismissively. William J. Foltz, for example, has written that tract literature typically is not well-suited for much more than pursuing a personal vendetta or for "creating a vague feeling of insecurity within the regime. 58 But even a vague sense of insecurity can be quite irritating and unsettling to a single-party regime such as that of Côte d'Ivoire during the 1970s and 1980s.59 The significance of clandestine tracts in sub-Saharan Africa as forms of alternative political communication and as antecedents to above-ground newspapers probably is as underestimated as it is understudied.

A somewhat larger, although still modest, body of scholarship 60 has emerged about the intriguing, informal, word-of-mouth network known in francophone countries as radio trottoir 61(or, in Côte d'Ivoire, as Radio Treichville).62 Radio trottoir has been colorfully characterized as "discourse in camouflage,"63 as a nunor mill awash with political commentary, affording what James C. Scott has described as "an opportunity for anonymous, protected conimunication,"64 little of which is complimentary to those wielding state power. Indeed, radio trottoir thrives "on scandal in the sense of malicious news, and rarely has anything good to say about any prominent person or poli-tician."65 As Jean-Francois Bayart has observed, "There is no official policy which is not immediately deciphered in the back streets, no slogan which is not straightaway parodied, no speech which is not subjected to an acid bath of derision, no rally which does not resound with hollow laughter."66

Linkages between Africa's independent press and radio trottoir—that press reports feed the informal, oral networks and vice-versa have been suggested in a few studies.67 Naomi Chazan has noted that non-official newspapers and radio trottoir share the objective of seeking "to bypass state monopolies on information."68 Richard Carver has suggested that radio trottoir is "a highly effective means of conveying accurate information on important events,"69 and Monique Glasman, in a passing reference to Abidjan's Radio Treichville, identified it as a popular means of "tempering the absence of freedom of information" in Côte d'Ivoire during the l980s.70

The bite of radio trottoir—its "language of political derision"71—may have as its closest print relation the often-scalding satiric press of francophone Africa. Although titles are comparatively few, the satiric press is striking for its imagination, wit, and, at times, for its disclosures of official misconduct. Le Cafard Libéré [The Liberated Cockroach] in Senegal is regarded as one of the most aggressive in ferreting out corruption, much like the Parisian satirical weekly Le Canard Enchainé.72

The satiric newspapers certainly are the most irreverent, breezy, and even whimsical elements of Africa's independent press. Titles are often imaginative and self-deprecating, as suggested by Le Cafard Libéré and La Cigale Muselée [The Muzzled Cricket] in Mali.73 Satirical newspapers often make what are unequivocal nods to the oral components of the chain of communication. Journal de Jeudi in Burkina Faso, for example, regularly includes a column written in pidgin French and offering "home-spun wisdom" of a character called Gouina, who purports tongue-in-cheek to be "a man of the people."74 The column carries instructions that it must "be read at the top of one's voice."75

A Burkinabè sociologist, Moussa Ouedraogo, has speculated that the satiric press is inspired by the tradition in some African cultures of turning to biting humor when confronting hardship. Such a tradition, he writes, "allows the humble to blast those in power with their invective and deliver some much-needed home truths with impunity."76

In practice, however, impunity is not routinely extended to Africa's satirical press. Mocking humor and searing satire have, to be sure, enraged authorities such as Omar Bongo, the diminutive head of state in Gabon and a frequent target of barbs in the satirical La Griffe. Bongo has warned: "Let the insults, attacks and provocations stop. Let the press confine itself to what is worth knowing."77 Among the ugliest episodes of govermnent repression in the 1990s were those directed at journalists for satirical newspapers. Abdoulaye Drahame Sangard, publication director of La Voie and of the now-defunct satirical weekly Bol Kotch, was summoned in 1995 to the office of General Gaston Ouassdnan Kond, the Ivorian security minister. Kond ordered Sangard stripped to the waist and beaten by four truncheon-wielding policemen. The incident was sparked by a brief item in Bol Kotch containing a popular swearword—which the official took as a personal insult.78 Laurent Dona-Fologo, secretary general of the ruling political party in Côte d'Ivoire, dismissed the assault on Sangard, saying: "Africans have been beaten for fifty years. They are used to being smacked. It is a common practice among us. Colonists got us used to that. "79




Africa's emergent independent press was unquestionably buoyed by the wave of political liberalization and democratization in the early 1990s.80 Whether, or to what extent, the press was a stimulating force for democratization has become a subject of mild debate and contradictory analysis. Some analysts have maintained that the press was a crucial independent variable in Africa's wave of democratization. For example, Francis Kasoma has written that "multiparty democracy would not have come to Africa in the 1990s and certainly could not last without the enabling role of the independent media."81 Eric Chinje has argued: "The success of the democratic experiment in Africa may well depend on how the press articulates the concept of democracy."82 Some African journalists have likewise asserted the press was singularly vital in the emergence of democratic pluralism. Ismaël Y. Soumanou, founder of contemporary Benin's first non-official newspaper, La Gazette du Golfe, has boasted: "It is we who built this democracy."83


The Press at the Periphery


Such claims appear to rest more on argument than empirical evidence, however. Most analyses of political liberalization and democratic transitions in Africa have accorded the press a subsidiary or reinforcing role—if they consider the press at all.84 Larry Diamond, for example, has written that the movement toward democracy in Africa "results from a unique conjuncture of remarkably broad and deep historical forces,"85 among them the widespread economic decline ot the 1980s, the general failure of authoritarian regimes, and the development of civil society.


The non-official press, international shortwave radio broadcasts, and domestic radio trottoir may have combined to heighten "consciousness in dramatic ways," Diamond wrote,86 but they were very much contributing or secondary factors. Wiseman's analysis of the role of the independent press in Africa's democratic openings is particularly well articulated:


In assessing the role of the indigenous media in the struggle for democracy it is necessary to see it as both a dependent and independent variable; as effect and as cause. The proliferation of pro-democracy newspapers free from government control, for example, can be seen as resulting from the new political space created in the struggle for democracy. Once in existence, however, [the newspapers] can be seen as a significant component of the struggle.87


As an example of the non-official press acting as a dependent and then as an independent variable, Wiseman offered the case of Zambia, where the nascent political opposition in 1991 successfully challenged strict government press controls, allowing independent newspapers to emerge. In its reporting, the independent press in turn promoted Zambia's transition to political pluralism, and the ruling party of Kenneth Kaunda was voted from power in 1991.88 Newspaper exposés describing abuses in Kaunda's regime no doubt contributed to his subsequent repudiation.89

Benin also illustrates the dynamic of the independent press securing a toehold and then expanding the realm of political debate and discussion. La Gazette du Golfe and Tam Tam Express, the first non-official contemporary newspapers in Benin, emerged in 1988 in one of the first signs of the coming collapse of a nominally Marxist dictatorship. The independent newspapers, which were soon joined by other titles, reported extensively about the regime's corruption and human rights abuses, further undercutting its legitimacy.90


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58. William J. Foltz, "Political Opposition in Single-Party States of Tropical Af-rica," in Robert A. Dahi, ed., Regimes and Oppositions (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973): 164.
59. Moreover, media historian Mitchell Stephens has noted the corrosive effect of clandestine literature called libelles in France before the 1789 Revolution. Stephens wrote: "Though these were not generally political tracts, the libelles may have had pro-found political effects: their acidic mix of scathing truth and wild exaggerations ate away at the spiritual, moral and even genetic legitimacy of the Old Regime." Stephens, A History of News: From the Drum to the Satellite (New York: Viking, 1988), 194-195.
60. See, for example: Lye M. Yoka, "Radio-trottoir: La discours en camouflage," Le Mois en Afrique (October-November 1984): 154-160; Touré Keita, "Radio Trottoir," Index on Censorship 15, 5 (May 1986): 27; Stephen Ellis, "Tuning in to Pavement Ra-dio," African Affairs 88, 352 (July 1989): 321-330; D. M. Nkanga, "Radio Trottoir' in Central Africa," Passages 4 (1992): 4-5, 8.
61. Radio trottoir translates roughly as "pavement radio."
62. Treichville is the traditional working-class quarter of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. See Monique Glasman, "L'information dans un pays en développement: La Côte d'Ivoire," Projet 182 (February 1984): 154.
63. Yoka, "Radio-trottoir: La discours en camouflage."
64. James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990), 145. Scott also noted: "Rumor thrives most. . . in situations in which events of vital importance to people's interests are oc-curring and in which no reliable information-or only ambiguous information-is available. . . . Before the development of modern news media and wherever, today, the meuia ure easoenevee, rumor might be virtually the only source 01 news about tile extralocal world," (144).
65. Ellis, "Tuning in to Pavement Radio," 322.
66. Jean-François Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly (London and New York: Longman, 1993), 253.
67. See Bourgault, Mass Media in Sub-Saharan Africa, 204.
68. Naomi Chazan, "Between Liberalism and Statism: African Political Cultures and Democracy," in Larry Diamond, ed., Political Culture and Democracy in Developing Countries (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1992): 90.
69. Carver, Truth from Below, 12-13. He noted: "The broadcasts of 'pavement radio' are always disparaged as 'rumor' but their effectiveness is measured by the num-ber of times African politicians are obliged to go on the record to deny them." Bayart, on the other hand, minimizes the power and significance of radio trottoir, writing:
"Despite the Latin sympathy one feels towards this phenomenon, the political impact of this popular parasitism of the splendors of the state is linu It can only add nu-ance to domination and seems essentially to be an indication of an amusing, but fatalist, culture of impotence." See Bayart, The State in Africa, 253.
70. Glasman, "L'information dans un pays en developpement," 154.
71. Comm Toulabor, "Jeu de mots, jeu de villains," in Jean-François Bayart, Achille Mbembe, and Comi Toulabor, Le politique par le bas en Afrique noire.' Contributions a uneproblématique de la démocratie (Paris: Karthala, 1992): 127.
72. The satiric press in francophone Africa is another example of the demonstration effects of the foreign press. Le Cafard Liberé is typographically similar to Le Ca-nardEnchainé.
73. See Emmanuel Watremez, "The Satirical Press in Francophone Africa," Index on Censorship 10 (1992): 36. Watremez's survey is perhaps the best treatment in English on the subject.
74. "Gouma's Gossip," Index on Censorship 10 (1992): 37.
75. "Moi, Gouma: Noel a tim, Wala zanvie," Journal de Jeudi [Ouagadougou, BurkinaFaso] (30 December 1993-4 January 1994): 2.
76. Moussa Ouedraogo, "Jokers in the Blood," Index on Censorship 10 (1992):35.
77. Jonathan Power, "The Good News about Africa," Chicago Tribune (16 De-cember 1992):27.
78. See Thalia Griffiths, "Pressure on Ivory Coast over Beating of Journalist," Reuters (20 June 1995).
79. "Ruling Party Boss Shrugs Off Opposition Journalist's Beating," Reuters (23 June 1995).
80. Editorial comments in the satirical press stated as much. See, for example, Diallo Souleyman, Le Lynx [Conalay, Guinea] (7 February 1992), quoted in Watremez, "The Satirical Press in Francophone Africa," 34: "Le Lynx has arrived at last. Conceived nearly two years ago, our independent satirical paper had to wait for the process of democratization that has only recently begun to galvanize our country."
81. Francis P. Kasoma, "The Role of the Independent Media in Africa's Change to Democracy," Media, Culture & Society 17, 4 (October 1995): 552.
82. Eric Chinje, "The Media in Emerging African Democracies: Power, Politics, and the Role of the Press," Fletcher Forum 17, 1 (Winter 1993): 63.
83. Vittin, "Crise, renouveau démocratique et mutations du paysage mediatique au Bénin," 48.
84. The independent press figures not at all in these analyses: Claude Ake, "Rethinking African Democracy," in Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner, eds., The Global Resu,~ence of Democracy, 2d ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 63-75; Michael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle, "Neopatrimonial Regimes and Political Transitions in Africa," World Politics 46 (July 1994): 453-489; Michael Chege, "Democracy's Future: Between Africa's Extremes," Journal of Democracy 6, 1 (January 1995): 44-51; Samuel Decalo, "The Process, Prospects and Constraints of Democratization in Africa," African Affairs 91 (1992): 7-35; Pearl T. Robinson, 'Democratization: Understanding the Relationship between Regime Change and the Culture of Politics," African Studies Review 37, 1 (April 1994): 39-68. The press re-ceives passing notice in the following: Naomi Chazan, "Africa's Democratic Chal-lenge," World Policy Journal 9, 2 (Spring 1992): 279-307, and Crawford Young, "Africa: An Interim Balance Sheet," Journal of Democracy 7, 3 (July 1996): 53-68. While Sandbrook devotes a considerable portion of his analysis, "Transitions without Consolidation," to the press, he maintains: "Although the political openings of the early 1 990s owed little to the domestic media, they did rejuvenate the private press." See Sandbrook, "Transitions without Consolidation," 83.
85. Larry Diamond, "International and Domestic Factors in Africa's Trend toward Democracy," in Festus Eribo and others, eds., Window on Africa: Democratization and Media Exposure (Greenville, NC: East Carolina University, 1993): 18.
86. Diamond, "International and Domestic Factors," 10.
87. Wiseman, The New Struggle for Democracy in Africa, 55. Randall invokes a similar argument, writing, "Though the national media themselves rarely played a 'triggering role' [in democratic openings], they could widen awareness of issues. . . . By deepening and accelerating political communication in this way they significantly added to the pressures on the authorities." See Randall, "The Media and Democratisation in the Third World," 636.
88. See Wiseman, The New Struggle for Democracy in Africa, 56-57.
89. See Richard Carver and Dan Swanson, "Africa's Press of Freedom: Le Mes-sager," The Nation [New York] 254, 6 (17 February 1992): 192.
90. See, for example, Chris Allen, "Restructuring an Authoritarian State:
'Democratic Renewal' in Benin," Review of African Political Economy 54 (July 1992):
47. Allen wrote: "The regime's residual legitimacy. . . was eradicated, at least in urban Benin, by the news of the scandals, spread by an increasingly free and confident press."