Donald Trump, president of the United States of America, is probably the most vilified president in the world today. Everybody knows Trump is a controversial president and there is the approval ratings to prove it.
No wonder there have been several characters who have impersonated the man including South African comedian and host of the Daily Show, Trevor Noah. Trevor is known to be one of Trump’s regular critics.
Democracy in America allows opinions to be shared on just about anything. It is easy to express a dislike or an extreme side of an issue with the president through extreme forms including insults.
The same might not apply in other parts of the world, especially in Africa. In fact, not all leaders in Africa – even for those who claim to be practising democracy – give field days to people who decide to express their freedom of speech, particularly when it involves insulting or criticizing the president.
Let us consider a few African countries where laws criminalize criticism of presidents in the form of insults.
In Uganda, the law of insulting the president attracts a jail term. A recent case is reported of how police in the central Gomba District arrested a 19-year-old man for allegedly insulting Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni.
According to the authorities, Joseph Kasumba, a resident of Kanoni town, abused the head of State who was on his way back from attending a New Year’s church service.
In Zimbabwe, it is even more restricting to criticize the president of the country. Although this practice was more predominant under the rule of the former president, Robert Mugabe; the country’s current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has not decriminalized this.
Terrence Mkhwananzi is on trial for pointing at a presidential portrait at a public hearing in the city of Bulawayo. In front of the Commission of Inquiry, an independent body mandated to investigate the Aug. 1 post-election violence, Mkhwananzi accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa of being responsible for his father’s death.
A year since Mnangagwa seized power from his former mentor Robert Mugabe and declared the beginning of a new era of freedom, it is still a crime in Zimbabwe to criticize the head of state.
Mkhwananzi says his father was killed in December 1986 during ethnic massacres in the southern and western parts of the country. As minister of state security at the time, the country’s new leader Mnangagwa is accused by the opposition and local activists of being complicit in the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade operation in the 1980s which killed at least 20,000 civilians living in the Midlands and the Matabeleland North and South provinces.
Rwanda’s Supreme Court ruled earlier this year against a challenge of the law in the country which says that insulting the president is a crime. This draconian law was introduced in 2018 and its implications are that a person faces between five and seven years in prison if found guilty of the offence.
This clearly shows how democratic values are ignored in Rwanda, possibly for the convenience of economic development. President Paul Kagame’s government has been notoriously known for imprisoning political opponents and it is feared that this law is a measure that insulates the government from being challenged.
It is true that president Kagame has done a lot to improve the economic development of Rwanda and bringing stability to the country after a period of a devastating genocide, but the citizens have described this law as tantamount to endorsing democratic and human rights violations.
In Cameroon, saying anything bad about the president, Paul Biya, might just earn you one to ﬁve years imprisonment and/or a ﬁne of 20,000 to 20 million CFA francs ($42-$42,260). And this is beside the fact that your accusations may very well be accurate.
Per the penal code, truth is not a defense. And while there may be no specific law against it, you definitely want to refrain from saying too much about the president’s wife.
A Douala based writer and printer, Bertrand Teyou, was on November 19, 2010, sentenced by the Court of First Instance, Bonanjo, Douala, to pay a fine of FCFA 2 million or serve two years in prison for instance.