The U.S.–Africa Leaders’ Summit, coming to a close today in Washington, is an important moment in the promotion of U.S. engagement on the continent.

However, the development of U.S.-African trade relations must be paralleled by support for the cementing and extension of universal free expression norms in these countries, including the protection of writers and journalists from harassment and persecution.

“There is a saying in southern Nigeria that a people who trade in a foreign tongue will always struggle not to be short-changed,” said PEN Nigeria President Tade Ipadeola. “Beyond profit is the cultural capital which every human language embodies and which is our duty to preserve and protect. Language rights are human rights no less than the right to life and dignity. They are part of our human heritage and should therefore be respected by all municipal and foreign authorities.”

The involvement of several leaders in the meeting whose administrations have been marred by serious rights abuses and efforts to stymie and suppress free expression gives cause for great concern, as does the lack of attention to these issues in the summit itself.

“Over the past year, we have seen a worrying rise in impunity for officials, with the persecution of Zone 9 bloggers in Ethiopia and the sentencing in Swaziland of editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko to two years in prison for libel,” South Africa PEN President Margie Orford said. “We are also worried that draconian LGBT laws throughout the continent are being used to stifle diversity and critical voices.”

PEN Nigeria
PEN South Africa
PEN American Center



Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of PEN International, the world’s only international association of writers committed to protecting free expression and supporting persecuted writers. PEN America works to defend free expression, to advance literature, and to foster international literary fellowship. Its 3,500 distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and advancement of human rights of such past members as James Baldwin, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck.

Dominic Moran, Director of Free Expression Programs:, t. (212) 334-1660 x 109
Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager:, t. (212) 334-1660 x 116, m. (617) 947-6512