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A Malaysian Surprise?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

You are familiar, I believe, with the authoritarian objection to a free, plural and independent media system. Authoritarian leaders always say: at this stage in the development of our country we cannot afford a free press. Too dangerous, you understand, too disruptive. Let's secure national unity first, let's get rid of poverty, let's be as rich as the West, then we can talk about a free press.  Or they deploy the cultural norms argument. This is Asia, they might say, and Asian values do not support imported notions like a free press, free speech and such nonsense. Others will say: this is Africa; we have to do what makes sense in Africa. A free press causes nothing but trouble. We can't afford that now.

Well, you can imagine my reaction when I read the following story in the New York Times of Thursday November 6: 'Malay Blogger Fights a System He Perfected'. The story is about Mahatir Mohammad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia. At 82, and five years out of power, he has become a blogger and a determined campaigner for freedom of expression. Amazing. I wish one could gather in one room all the leaders out there still imposing authoritarian control on the public sphere in the countries they govern and get Mr Mohammad in the room to express his current convictions. That would be simply fascinating to watch. I urge you to read the New York Times story.

I suppose the true moral of tales like this is: it is prudent to secure citizenship rights and the rule of law when you are in power; for you just might need those things when, at some point, you go back to being just a citizen like everybody else.

Photo Credit: Flickr user preetamrai

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