Meeting Moussa Kaka

The headquarters of Moussa Kaka’s relatively new enterprise Saraounia Radio (it means ‘the Queen’ in Hausa) is an unassuming tiled building in downtown Niamey, capital of Niger. Inside the radio station too, it’s modest. They have a few computers with digital editing software and an air-conditioned studio; antennae and a multitude of satellite links connecting to BBC, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America. But the only outward sign of the station’s importance is a framed picture on the wall of the director’s office, ‘Free Moussa Kaka’ it says, with his picture below.

Moussa, Saraounia’s director, was in prison for over a year under the rule of former president Mamadou Tandja, who was deposed in a military coup 18 months ago. His crime was to have had contact, in his work as the Niger correspondent for Radio France Internationale, with Tuareg rebels in the north of the country who were then waging a war against Tandja. At the time his case highlighted the desperate situation for journalists in Niger, many of whom were jailed in the course of their day-to-day work.

In person Moussa is a man of great character; cool with outsiders but clearly someone who commands immense respect at Saraounia. The radio station is going from strength to strength, opening offices in five of Niger’s regions. It was a delight to meet Moussa’s wife Jamilah who ran the station almost single-handedly while he was in prison; she famously said, when asked during her imprisonment by a male reporter if she missed her husband “You are a man, I’m a woman. What do you think?” Moussa himself preferred not to dwell on his time in prison, and instead talked with optimism about the new democratic government of Mahamadou Issoufou, which came to power in February this year after open and widely-praised elections. Issoufou replaced the military junta which had ruled for a year after toppling Tandja. The old man himself has since been allowed out of prison and by all accounts now stays at home and receives numerous visitors, seemingly aware that the days of dictatorship in Africa look numbered. 

In fact it looks like Moussa’s optimism could be well-placed. After the fall of Tandja, the military junta helped shepherd in a new media code which led to the de-criminalisation of journalism – that’s to say bad journalism and regulatory issues are now civil matters. I have spoken to around twenty of Niger’s leading journalists in the last couple of weeks, and every one of them mentioned this development, and its enshrinement by the government of Issoufou, as one of the most important changes in journalism here for years.