Independent Media in East Africa: Democratic Pillar in Peril?

Over 40 people attended the roundtable discussion hosted by CIMA, NED, and the Solidarity Center on new challenges to independent media are emerging in East Africa. Recently passed anti-terrorism and information laws allow governments to harass and imprison journalists with impunity. Under these new laws, six journalists have been arrested in Ethiopia since June 2011, and Somali journalists are facing tremendous threats covering conflict and famine in their country. How do local media react when their fellow journalists come under attack? How can an independent press play its crucial role as a pillar of democracy and overcome challenges in places such as Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya? The discussion will also examine the development of unions and media associations as well as the international donor community’s role in supporting independent media in East Africa.


Tamerat Feyisa

John A. “Al” Hosinski

Solidarity Center

Joan Mower

Voice of America

Omar Faruk Osman

Federation of African Journalists

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

About the speakers:

John A. “Al” Hosinski is a program officer with the American Center for International Labor Solidarity/AFL-CIO (Solidarity Center) in the Africa Department. He is the principal officer for program development and implementation of the Solidarity Center’s work with unions in Guinea, Liberia, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa, and Swaziland, and with the East Africa Journalists Association. His input on program development themes includes extractive industries, informal work, new media advocacy, and the rights of media workers. A former freelance writer and in-house writer/editor at the Solidarity Center, he is the author of a number of articles on workers’ rights topics, including two of the Solidarity Center’s Degradation of Work reports, investigating workers’ rights abuses in the shrimp industries of Thailand and Bangladesh and analyzing workers’ rights in Nigeria’s oil industry.

Tamerat Feyisa is an Ethiopian journalist and political activist. He began his career in journalism at the age of 20 at the English-language weekly, Capital. He then worked as a producer at an International Evangelical Radio outlet. Feyisa joined a Mennonite theological college in Ethiopia in 2003, where he started participating in meetings of the Ethiopian Democratic League. In 2005 he was elected to the city council of Addis Ababa, which was disbanded after the turmoil following the election. From 2005 to 2007, Feyisa worked as an activist to free political prisoners who were jailed during the election crisis. In 2007 he and six friends started the newspaper Addis Neger. Upon learning in 2009 that the government had decided to shut down the newspaper and charge the editors under a new terrorism law, Feyisa and his friends fled the country. Currently they are operating Addis Neger from an online platform,, and Feyisa is the editor of the publication’s Facebook page.

Joan Mower is the head of development at the Voice of America (VOA), where she oversees special broadcasting and training projects around the world. In 2007-2008, she worked at the U.S. Department of State, handling public affairs on Sudan and Darfur. She has done extensive media training and public speaking in the United States and abroad. Previously, she was the acting director of public relations at VOA and the communications coordinator at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Mower joined the BBG after serving as the director of international programs for Africa and Latin America at the Freedom Forum/Newseum. At the foundation, she promoted press freedom through public and private sector engagement with journalists. She is also a former State Department foreign service officer. Mower began her career as a journalist with United Press International. In Washington, she worked for the Associated Press, covering the State Department, Congress, and the White House. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in political science, and she holds a master’s degree in African studies from Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies.

Omar Faruk Osman is a press freedom activist and representative of journalists’ unions across eastern Africa, committed to safeguarding and representing journalists in areas often ignored by the mainstream media. He started practicing journalism in 1994 as a radio journalist in Mogadishu. In 2002, he was elected the secretary general of the then Somali Journalists’ Network (SOJON), which defended press freedom and media professionals’ rights in the war-ravaged country. He also transformed SOJON into a trade union movement in 2005, which became the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) and was supported by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). In 2007, he was elected to the international executive committee of the IFJ and became secretary general of the Eastern Africa Journalists’ Association. He has been president of the Federation of African Journalists since 2008.

The Center for International Media Assistance, an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy, brings together a broad range of media experts with the goal of strengthening the support for and improving the effectiveness of media assistance programs by providing information, building networks, and conducting research on the indispensable role independent media play in creating sustainable democracies around the world.

The Solidarity Center is a non-profit organization that assists workers around the world who are struggling to build democratic and independent trade unions. The Center works with unions and community groups worldwide to achieve equitable, sustainable, democratic development and to help men and women everywhere stand up for their rights and improve their living and working standards.