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Monday, January 28, 2008

Freedom in the World 2008: Global Freedom in Retreat (Kenya among the Worst Perfomers)

The year 2007 was marked by a notable setback for global freedom, Freedom House reported in a worldwide survey of freedom released today.

The decline in freedom, as reported in Freedom in the World 2008, an annual survey of political rights and civil liberties worldwide, was reflected in reversals in one-fifth of the world’s countries. Most pronounced in South Asia, it also reached significant levels in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. A substantial number of politically important countries whose declines have broad regional and global implications—including Russia, Pakistan, Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria, and Venezuela—were affected. Kenya is now being pronounced in the same breath as the Lawless Somalia among other unstable countries in the world all because of the last elections that many believe was openly stolen in full glair of the media in favour of the incumbent. Kenyans have reacted angriliy with many retaliating as evidenced in the spate of violence that has rocked the once peacefull and stable East African State over the past one month.

“This year’s results show a profoundly disturbing deterioration of freedom worldwide,” said Arch Puddington, director of research at Freedom House. “A number of countries that had previously shown progress toward democracy have regressed, while none of the most influential Not Free states showed signs of improvement. As the second consecutive year that the survey has registered a global decline in political rights and civil liberties, friends of freedom worldwide have real cause for concern.”

While the profile of world freedom as measured by the number of countries designated in Freedom in the World as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free changed little during the past year, there were many negative changes within these broad categories. In all, nearly four times as many countries showed declines during the year as registered improvement.

Many of the countries that moved backward were already designated Not Free by the survey. The past year saw the intensification of an effort by authoritarian regimes -- Egypt and Pakistan are two examples -- to consolidate power through the suppression of democratic opposition, civil society, and independent media in their own societies. Especially important in carrying out this assault on freedom of association was a group of market-oriented autocracies and energy-rich dictatorships, including Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and China.

Not one of the countries that registered the lowest possible scores in the Freedom House index -- the “worst of the worst” -- exhibited signs of improvement. This represents a break from a trend formerly observable even in past years when world freedom stagnated or declined, in which progress was registered in some of the world’s most tightly controlled dictatorships.

Just as concerning, countries that had made progress towards freedom in recent years took significant steps backwards. The deterioration within Nigeria and Kenya, two of Africa’s most important countries, should be of great concern for those who had hoped that the incremental gains of recent years would continue. Two countries that had “color” revolutions in past years

While sub-Saharan Africa has made incremental if uneven progress in the last several years, 2007 saw an overall deterioration of freedom on the continent. Fifteen countries registered reversals, while six countries marked improvements. Togo moved from Not Free to Partly Free, and Mauritania was designated an electoral democracy this year. Two countries that were conflict zones, Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, showed major improvements, as did Mozambique and Rwanda. However, political manipulation of ethnic tensions and intolerance by many of the region’s leaders were important factors in the declines of a number of countries, including Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria. Mali and Niger registered declines in civil liberties, while in East Africa, Somalia’s already low score declined further. Other countries that showed declines included Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Comoros, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Madagascar, and Malawi. Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world, has monitored political rights and civil liberties around the world since 1972.

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