How free is free? Reflections on freedom of creative expression in Africa


Article 19 of the Declaration of Human Rights states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Although a recognised freedom, it is viewed and experienced in different ways, depending on its discipline, the country in question and also historical precedents. Sometimes biased and violated, sometimes honoured and often misunderstood, freedom of expression is much more complicated to explain and defend in practice, particularly in Africa.

In September 2014, Arterial Network, through its Artwatch Africa project, launched a call for contributions from writers, journalists and researchers from across the continent to share their opinions and knowledge on this broad topic. After months of committed work, a collection of selected writings was brought together to produce an original compilation titled How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa.

The free e-book includes emerging and established authors from diverse backgrounds, such as the celebrated Senegalese author Boubacar Boris Diop who contributed the short story ‘Une journée parisienne’ that takes us into the world of the fictional character, Dembo Diatta, who is pushed to the edge after the Charlie Hebdo attack and struggles to hold his tongue with friends he has had for twenty years.

Also included is an essay by the late Chenjerai Hove of Zimbabwe. Titled ‘Beautiful Words Are Subversive, ’ the essay offers the writer’s personal reflections, on politics, what it is to be an artist, his questions and his aspirations:

"Subversive art is that art which makes the viewer, the reader, feel newly persuaded to question the way they have always thought the world is organised, the world of values. To write is to create new values, to move from old spaces into the realm of new spaces of the imagination. A book, and any effective piece of art, searches for new spaces in order to enrich them while at the same time enriching the old spaces by removing the rust of the imaginative spaces of the old."

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