Third Eye

Female investigative journalists in Africa face too much danger

Thursday, May 12th, 2022 10:00 | By
Mombasa journalists at work. Photo/PD/COURTESY

Freedom of expression is quite expensive, especially for female investigative journalists in Africa.

Nine years ago, when I went undercover, my then-fiance wanted me to quit investigative journalism, including the big story I was working on at the time. I had to choose marriage and family or the pursuit of truth. I chose the latter and it came with dire consequences.

Men do not understand why I am unable to—and will never—show them off on social media platforms, be it as display photos, on my timelines, or elsewhere. They never make sense of the fact I can’t bear their names, though it is for their good.

They disappear immediately when I open up about not being able to publicise my children or family, or even share anything about them on social media.

Some of my colleagues-turned-friends—women investigative journalists—in Africa, have fled their countries to safer spaces abroad for their safety.

Politicians aren’t the only perpetrators: So are citizens and even security personnel who ought to provide us with protection. It is darker than you could imagine. And more grim than I could even begin to explain. Too many details and information remain in the dark wardrobes of my mind and heart.

On either side the pendulum swings don’t do me any favours. So I live my life on edge, always looking over my shoulder. Certain body scents and other smells take me back to the dark experiences I am suppressing. A car or van pulling over by my side—even on a busy road—sends shivers down my spine.

Other female colleagues I know live their lives in the same manner. We fear being manhandled and forced into vehicles and driven away to unknown destinations to be tortured over our work.

There is no doubt male colleagues report similar experiences but our bodies are ravished by not just one, or two or three men when held captive. And, we are unable to share the dark experiences.

How do we start such a conversation? With whom? And revealing details of procuring an abortion—the aftermath of a gang rape intended to silence us—in places where abortion is illegal?

When such moments creep out from the hidden corners of my mind, all I do is cry. But I am unable to tell anybody precisely why. In my mind, I die — but I’m still alive.

International Federation of Journalists recently revealed an astonishing statistic: As of February 9, at least seven female journalists were killed in line of duty worldwide in one year.

Year in and year out, awareness of the importance of press freedom is raised globally, with governments being reminded of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression as enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

However, the “silent” major players that stifle female investigative journalists’ rights to freedom of expression, in Africa, remain unchallenged and unaddressed. And so, the dark cycle continues.

Indeed, being an investigative journalist in Africa is a lot harder for women: We pay a higher personal price, suffer under the long hours and high levels of stress birthed by untold anguish and other factors.

I battle mental health challenges including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and panic attacks—all caused by the slippery path of working as an investigative journalist in Africa.

Some of my colleagues also struggle with some of the issues, but are afraid of speaking up due to the social stigma. We risk losing our jobs and everything else because of the mental health challenges caused by investigative journalism work!

The spate of intimidation against us is on the increase. This is further hindering our independence, growth and development. We are attacked for doing our jobs diligently. We risk being abused, jailed and killed, while harassment is already a way of life for us.

Being a female investigative journalist is light and a major plus. It is not darkness, not a crime!

— The writer is the 2021 Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award recipient

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