Azad Essa used to write for South Africa's Independent Media which owns prolific IOL. It is all in the past now as his weekly column was cancelled because he "wrote a piece on China's internment of the Uighur minority". In a Facebook message, Azad Essa said after writing the piece which was subsequently published in print media, he received a mail from Independent Media saying "a decision has been made not to publish it online". It was a harbinger of the end. Essa's column was to be cancelled due to "a redesign" of Independent Media's papers.
How does this mess point back to China? Good question. On the 7th of August in 2013, the South African Competition Commission gave the green-light for dilution of shareholding in the Sekunjalo Independent Media consortium in favour of two Chinese firms - China International Television and the China Africa Development Fund through Interacom Investment Holdings, incorporated in Mauritius. The buy-in was not an anomaly. It was a carefully strategised move, part of the greater "going out" policy by Beijing. The point is while the continent was snoozing and thinking China's biggest investments were roads, buildings and China-shops, the country was stealthily making inroads into African media. The goal, according to The Globe and Mail, is "to promote its (China's) own media agenda in Africa". The Chinese government has never been a champion of press freedoms and the most recent Freedom House report again branded the Chinese press freedom status as not free. No one is surprised. No one should also pretend to be surprised when Azad Essa says his column has been cancelled.
It is therefore scary to imagine that these Chinese "friends" with such a reputation are gaining digital territory by the minute. Globe and Mail says Startimes now has a controlling stake in TopTV, China Radio International now has FM stations in three East African countries, Xinhua has almost 30 bureaus in Africa and a television station with reports of censorship and close editorial control on content. In fact, the Center for International Media Assistance says China is generally making significant investments in telecommunications infrastructure throughout Africa but there are serious concerns about surveillance and censorship. An example is given of Zambian Watchdog's conclusion that China's Huawei Technologies installed hacking devices on all ISPs in Zambia. The disheartening fact is China is acting in cahoots with African governments to curtail citizens' freedoms. It is as pathetic as it is depraved. Surely after recovering from the great political molestation of the colonial era, Africa deserves better friends.
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