Global freedom in decline

Despite a recent study finding that South Africa is one the most miserable countries in the world, a new report shows that it is at least also one of the freest.

Independent freedom watchdog, Freedom House, has released its 9th annual freedom report, looking at the state of global freedom in 2014.

According to the group, the state of global freedom worsened significantly in 2014, marked by an explosion of terrorist violence, the use of more brutal tactics by autocrats, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

There has also been a rise in the explicit rejection of democratic standards, and open disdain for democracy by autocratic governments, the report said.

Freedom House noted more declines in freedom than gains across the globe, with the trend being seen in the Middle East and North Africa, Eurasia, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

Asia-Pacific saw an even split in declines and gains.

Overall, however, declines in freedom were almost double the gains during the course of the year.

Freedom improvements and declines
Freedom improvements and declines

Least free nations

The Freedom House report looks at 195 countries across the world and scores them out of 7, based on indicators in two main categories (also scored out of 7): Political rights, and civil liberties.

Based on these scores, countries are then designated as free, partly free, or not free.

In 2014, free countries only increased by one, with Tunisia rising from partly free to free. Four countries – Burundi, Libya, Thailand, and Uganda – fell from partly free to not free.

Overall, in 2014:

  • 89 countries (40% of the global population) are considered free
  • 55 countries (24% of the global population) are considered partly free
  • 51 countries (36% of the global population) are considered not free

Of the 51 countries designated as ‘not free’, 12 are considered the “worst of the worst”, given the lowest-possible rating of 7 for both political rights and civil liberties.

Worst of the worst in 2014

  • Central African Republic
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Eritrea
  • North Korea
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan
  • Tibet
  • Western Sahara

Freedom in South Africa

Looking specifically at Africa, South Africa remains one of the most free nations on the continent with a freedom rating of 2.0.

With regards to political rights, South Africa scored full marks for its electoral process (12/12), and maintained its position (8/12) for its functioning of government, despite an “irregular expenditure” bill of R26.4 billion.

However, increased restrictions on political events in the wake of the rise of “more assertive opposition parties”, caused a knock on the political pluralism and participation score (13/16).

According to Freedom House, leading up to the 2014 National Elections, a number of events sponsored by Julius Malema’s EFF were suspiciously blocked or delayed by authorities on technical grounds.

The report also noted scuffles between supporters of the EFF, the ANCYL, and the ANC-affiliated South African Students Congress (SASCO).

In terms of civil liberties, South Africa lifted its position slightly in 2014, thanks to strike action being “less violent” than the previous year.

With a freedom rating of 1.5, Ghana is considered the most free African nation, followed by Senegal, Benin, Tunisia, Namibia and South Africa (2.0) and then Lesotho and Botswana (2.5).

All other African nations are designated as ‘partly-free’ or ‘not free’.

Freedom map
Freedom map (click to enlarge)

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Global freedom in decline