Grémah Boukar Koura, Niger
World Press Freedom Hero (Honoured in 2000)
Grémah Boukar is the director of Radio Anfani, one of Niger’s few privately owned radio stations, and publisher of Anfani newspaper and magazine. During the dictatorship of Col. Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara, Radio Anfani was shut down repeatedly and its staff censored, harassed, and arrested for their critical coverage of the government.
Born Feb. 2, 1959, in Maïné-Soroa, Niger, Boukar launched Radio Anfani FM in 1994, during the administration of Niger’s first democratically elected president, Mahamane Ousmane. The station quickly became the country’s primary source of domestic and international news, but also a target of the government after a military coup led by Maïnassara overthrew President Ousmane in January 1996.
In July 1996, soldiers occupied and vandalized Radio Anfani when the station allowed opposition parties, trade unions and nongovernmental organizations access to the airwaves in the run up to the country’s presidential elections. The station was only allowed to resume broadcasting three weeks later. According to the Minister of the Interior, Idi Ango Omar, the suspension was intended to “create the conditions for the healthy practice of democracy in Niger.”
After the fraudulent 1996 elections, Maïnassara was installed as president. Boukar and his staff of investigative reporters were subjected to a painful routine of arrests, harassment and threats as the authorities sought to permanently silence the station’s critical voice.
On Mar. 1, 1997, five armed men wearing military uniforms ransacked Radio Anfani, destroying newly installed equipment worth an estimated US$80,000 and forcing the station off the air. As news of the attack spread through the capital, Niamey, thousands of citizens took to the streets to express their support for Radio Anfani, their only source of objective reporting on the government and its policies.
In the weeks following the attack, three of the station’s journalists were arrested and detained for four days on unspecified charges. The arrests followed a libel complaint by the military against the fortnightly Anfani newspaper, run by Radio Anfani’s management, which had reported that the army was responsible for the March 1 attack on Radio Anfani. Boukar was also arrested and accused of organizing the raid on the station himself to attract financial aid from abroad.
In April 1998, as supporters of the opposition demonstrated in the streets of Niamey, the government barred private radio stations from broadcasting news and statements they determined likely to increase political tension. Security agents abducted Boukar from his home, tied him up and put him in a sack, where he was forced to listen to his captors as they discussed how they would dispose of his body. According to Boukar, his life was saved only when one of the abductors said, “You know, we can’t kill him, because when we went to his house to arrest him, everybody saw us, so if he’s murdered they will be able to identify the murderers.”
After Maïnassara’s assassination on Apr. 9, 1999, a new president, retired Col. Tandja Mamadu, was elected in November in an election that was considered generally free and fair. He has pledged to restore political stability as a prelude to rebuilding Niger’s shattered economy.
Boukar, hopeful for the future, remains committed to providing his listeners with analytical reporting on local politics and extensive international coverage as an affiliate of the Voice of America, the BBC World Service and Deutsche Welle Radio. “Journalism is very hard, but I’m not going to give up, even for the cost of my life, and that’s how journalism is in Africa right now,” he has said.