Arrested by the Beninese justice, Reckya Madougou is today accused of terrorism. To silence opponents, heads of state in Africa often rely on attacking state security. A charge that allows them not to lose face.
Opponents, journalists or soldiers ... In Africa, several dozen of them languish in prisons, accused of "endangering state security" or even "terrorism" in various countries. And the cases are far from anecdotal: in October 2019, Burundi arrested four journalists, all "found guilty of attempted breach of security", summarizes Amnesty International. In 2005, Idrissa Seck, former Prime Minister, turned opponent of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, was also accused of endangering state security. More recently, it was the Beninese candidate for the Democrats party who was arrested for “terrorism”. Reckya Madougou is accused of providing money to a colonel to carry out political assassinations.
Opaque and arbitrary jurisdictions
And the examples are still numerous. Governments have always used this catch-all charge to jail, with impunity, people who bother them. With more or less finesse. When, in April 2020, Algiers decided to criminalize the “dissemination of false information” which “undermines public order and State security”, the message was clear: reduce the freedom to 'expression. For the most authoritarian regimes, it is a question of stifling the too noisy opposition. In 2000, Alpha Condé, then opponent of Lansana Conté's regime, was sentenced to five years in prison for “undermining the authority of the State and attempting to destabilize the country from abroad”. A right which he shamelessly abuses today against his opponents.
And to support these easy accusations, African states have set up opaque, and often arbitrary, judicial authorities. It was, for example, the "Conakry Security Court" which dealt with the Condé case. An exceptional jurisdiction that has its origins in the West. France had such a court in 1963, after the attacks of the OAS, to imprison the adversaries of French Algeria. Having come to power, François Mitterrand had abolished the State Security Court. The Socialist had also long denounced the "abusive use of the offense of insulting the Head of State". A crime of lese majesté, which no longer exists in France, which can now be found in African legal texts, such as in Ordinance-Law No. 300 of December 16, 1963 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"Overused offenses" by African rulers
Between these anachronistic texts, the state security courts and the military tribunals, it is always so easy for the presidents in office to muzzle too virulent opponents. The accusation of endangering state security has remained, over the decades, a formidable political weapon. A sword of Damocles suspended above the heads of opponents who would be too virulent. "It is not only the established bodies of the State (government, police, army, justice, prison, etc.) that allow the question of power to be addressed, but also all the micro-procedures and the 'most infinitesimal tactics' control and subjugation of individuals ”, summarizes Christine Deslaurier in“ Thinking about political prison in Africa ”.
So why are these accusations of “endangering state security” so widely used, when one can imagine very well that they are used for purely political reasons? By making use of such grievances, States play on an inalienable fact: their right to national sovereignty and the recognition, by other States, of their borders. "Charges of attempted coup d'etat, endangering the internal or external security of the State, collusion with foreign powers, participation in armed groups, incitement to insurrection or contempt to the Head of State have thus been widely used, ”continues researcher Christine Deslaurier, who believes that we are here facing“ overused offenses ”by African rulers who use and abuse them.