SOURCE: AllAfrica

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 make a tough choice: Marriage and a family -- or the pursuit of truth.

I chose the latter and it came with dire consequences, with which I am still living.

Living in fear

Men do not understand why I am unable -- and will never -- show them off on social media platforms, be it as display photos, on my timelines, or wherever else. They never make sense of the fact that I cannot bear their names, though it is for their good.

They disappear immediately when I open up about not being able to publicize 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 in Europe and the US, for fear of their safety, while others are in the process of doing the same.

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.

The danger of knowing too much

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 favors. 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 that I am suppressing. A car or van pulling over by my side -- even on a busy road -- sends shivers down my spine.

Other female investigative journalists in Africa who I know personally 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 that male investigative journalists in Africa 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 these 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 such as Nigeria where abortion is illegal?

When these 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.

The importance of press freedom

The International Federation of Journalists recently revealed an astonishing statistic: As of February 9, 2022, at least seven female journalists were killed in the course of their work around the world this year alone.

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 -- particularly 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 and unspeakable anguish and other external factors.

At risk

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

Some of my fellow female colleagues also struggle with some of these 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 me and my colleagues who work in the region labeled the "most violent for journalists" is on the increase. This is further hindering our independence, growth and development.

We are attacked for doing our jobs diligently and the assaults are often sparked by the mere perception that we somehow cause some harm with our reportage. 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!

A vibrant media plays an indispensable role to the sustenance of democracy. But this should be achieved in a safe environment. Unfortunately, not much is being done to ensure there are safe spaces to report. Which is quite discouraging, to say the least.

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