- If people like me stop, the country won’t go anywhere
Njenje Chizu has been arrested and beaten numerous times for his critical reporting on the Zambian government. He says he will never stop speaking out. The African Charter for Democracy, Elections and Governance is a valuable tool for him to hold the Zambian government accountable, and the youth movement around it is a vital space to share ideas.
I grew up in a family of more than 20 children. My mom was my father’s eight wife. He also went blind when I was in grade 9, 16 years old. So, as you might imagine, there was very little money in my family when I was growing up. My upbringing was tough. I was on the streets. I did not smile a lot. There was never enough money, and smiling did not get you anything.
To this day I mainly smile to make a good impression on people I meet, to put them at ease, but it doesn’t come naturally. Even still, I could not get government help to get an education. This is because I was not considered “vulnerable”. But from a young age I was very critical of the status quo. And so I was told:
- You don’t sound vulnerable. You are too vocal, too critical.
During my early education, I began writing poetry, and interviewing people around campus. This led me to a great opportunity when I was offered training at a local radio station in Mpulungu [town in Northern Province of Zambia - Ed.]. And through this training I got into journalism and started to find work.
I’ve been doing TV reporting for private networks. In Zambia you have to make a choice: Work in private media and be critical of the government, or work in state media and always support the government.
Things have been getting worse in Zambia, and people are becoming more critical of the government and the president. It is my job to be the voice of people. If there is a good road and a bad road, I believe I should report on the bad one, to show where government is not doing its job.
The African Charter for Democracy, Elections and Governance is vital to my work. The work of journalists in developing democratic countries like Zambia cannot be overemphasized as they play a pivotal role in offering checks and balances.
Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are cardinal to an open democracy.
I as a journalist can operate freely once ACDEG is ratified or implemented because then I can have a democratic right to be critical on matters affecting the poor community.
It is important to note that most of the problems Zambia is facing today are caused by corrupt leadership but when I write about corruption, government paints me as its enemy which cannot be the case if the country had respected the ACDEG agreement.
Politicians are stealing from the poor community, they are stealing donor aid money, and I can't freely bring these reports because I am seen as a journalist denting the image of the current government.
Cadres are assigned every day to monitor my movements, all this is happening because Zambia has ignored the need to implement ACDEG.
This youth movement around the ACDEG is what allows me to understand African politics better and share ideas on how to fight injustices. I am not only a journalist but also an activist and I need other youth to equip me with powerful knowledge I can use in my advocacy.
I have been arrested 3 times. Detained 2 times. Beaten 6 times. For simply reporting.
For example: I was interviewing people around Lusaka, and so some more people gathered around to see what I was working on.
The police came, determined that this was a “gathering” and asked me for my permit to have a public gathering.
They then arrested me on a charge of conduct likely to “cause the breach of peace”. And I was beaten. It is tough; you are brutalized by the very people who are supposed to protect you.
Freedom of expression is very important. Even if it can be hard to focus on that when you are poor and hungry.
But if I don’t speak out about my hunger, I will keep living in hunger! And my children will as well. I don’t intend to stop reporting. If people like me stop, the country won’t go anywhere.
Stopping is joining politics. It means there is no one to speak for the voiceless. It means you are defeated and let the people in power move on.
- Mpulungu, Zambia
- Completed ACDEG training with ActionAid Zambia in 2018
- Journalist, Muvi TV, Prime TV
- Recipient, FNB Bank Best TV Journalist Award 2018
Zambia and the ACDEG
Signed: January 31, 2010
Ratified: May 31, 2011
“As long as ACDEG remains unapproved, my work as a journalist remains hard and can only be achieved by means of courageousness as well as partnering with NGOs like ActionAid who help me when I face unlawful detention by state police. ACDEG promotes rights of general citizens, journalists and civil society organizations, so once implemented these can have a benefit to enjoy the freedom of operation.”