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A Zambian Journalist – in Pursuit of Three Freedoms | Mike Daka

Zambian journalists are rarely known for leading successful lives. Most tend to move from one job to another or retire miserably and very few have been known to be entrepreneurial.

This is a story about Mike Daka who left the bright city lights for some rural outpost, near the Malawi border.

Daka is now settled 14 kilometers west, in the bushes of Chipata, at his modern farm. How did he do it? The answer is in his autobiographical book, ‘A Zambian Journalist – In Pursuit of Three Freedoms.’

This is a human interest story of a Ngoni kid plucked out of rural Zambia, bred in the rough Lusaka Matero Township, and trained at the Evelyn Hone College in Lusaka, the Indian Institute of Mass Communication at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India and the University of Wales in Cardiff, United Kingdom.

He worked in media for over 40 years, starting out in the tough Copperbelt region and rising from reporter to Editor-in-Chief of the Zambia News Agency (ZANA) before heading the Zambia Institute of Mass Communication (ZAMCOM) and starting one of Zambia’s most successful commercial radio stations which are based in a rural area.

Of course, his location, Chipata, was nearly six years ago declared a city. But when Daka conceived the idea of Breeze FM in 2000 any thought of a ‘village’ with under half a million people being termed a city could have been regarded as mere ‘bar-room talk.’ This is a story of a successful journalist; of the life and times of a man who was determined to ‘make it’ in life.

It is also an insider’s narrative of the trials and tribulations in a government-controlled national news agency. It’s about human intrigue, foibles, ambitions, quirks and idiosyncrasies. It’s about the pettiness, hostilities and jealousies so intrinsic in the Zambian society.

It’s also a story behind the evolution of what was one of Southern Africa’s ‘most important media training institutions’ in the 1990s, the Zambia Institute of Mass Communication (ZAMCOM).When Daka was head of ZAMCOM the Institute was training mid-career journalists from 11 countries in East and Southern Africa including South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It’s about why ZAMCOM was, strategically, divorced from government and how state structures fought the ‘independence’ of a once self-financing facility curled out of a government department. Reflecting on that era, Daka writes that ZAMCOM taught him ‘how to deal with deception and duplicity and government manipulation.’

Moreover, he is aware that some of his subordinates ‘were recruited to report to the authorities’ about him. Daka writes that ‘only my honesty and positivity kept me focused on my work and…saved me from these ill-intentioned machinations.’ As a result of the conspiracies, Daka was suspended. He lay accused, through an anonymous letter, of ‘diverting ZAMCOM resources to his personal use.’

He was also alleged to be a UNIP-ist (supporter of the 1st ruling party in Zambia), something in the early days of the Multi-Party Movement for Democracy (MMD), the second ruling party in the country, amounted to ‘the same as being said to be anti-government.’ As a result, Daka was deeply investigated by the security and intelligence services; office of the Auditor-General; Ministry of Labour and the Anti-Corruption Commission. Nothing was found on him and he was ultimately reinstated.

This is a story of what it takes to start and maintain successful media institutions. It’s also about what success attracts. Success is a magnet for swarms of disappointments, ingrates and ‘politics.’

By November 2016 for example, Breeze FM was the leading radio station in Chipata. It became a prestigious ‘lay-by’ for political leaders who craved to reach the ‘masses’. All political parties were welcome. That success resulted in the cadres of the ruling Patriotic Front Party stoning, storming and bashing the Breeze FM studios and cars.

Reason? Breeze FM was hosting PF’s former strongman, Secretary General, Wynter Kabimba live on the ‘Political Hour’ phone-in programme. At the time Kabimba was in the politicall wilderness after being fired from the PF. The incident was reported to the police, the cadres were well-known but no one was ever arrested. When the attack was raised in Parliament in Lusaka, then Minister of Home Affairs, Davis Mwila said the police were ‘late’ to reach and protect Breeze FM because the radio station was more than 2 kilometers from the police station. In fact, the Chipata Police Station was about 150 meters away!

To Daka, that attack, the first in 13 years (more came later) was a big shock and great disappointment.’ Further, no support was evident from the community which the radio station served extremely well. Of the 50 traditional chiefs in the Eastern Province of the country, only one spoke against it.

Moreover only one of the 19 Eastern Province Members of Parliament cared to defend the radio station and media freedom and not one MP dared to correct Minister Mwila’s misinformation.

For the much-honored and prize-winning Daka, this was too much. He was fatigued. He threw in the towel. He was ‘tired of shaving every morning.’ Thus he retired to his bush farm where he is growing fruits and vegetables and keeping bees, guinea fowls, and free-range chickens away from the Chipata main street buzz. A person can only do so much in a lifetime and now only assists in the radio station’s planning and performance review efforts.

This lucidly written book is a must for anyone interested in Zambian or African media politics. But also of smirk interest are Daka’s liberally scattered terse thoughts on Zambian society.

For instance on the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), he says it seems to enjoy the ‘constant whiplashing and threatening to withdraw licenses from erring operators.’

On political leadership, he says the Eastern Province of Zambia is bereft of ‘good and strong leadership’ because it’s a divided area. The division is among rural and urban easterners, local and easterners of Malawian and Indian origin. Daka strongly feels that easterners of all kinds and shades should be working together in enhancing development in the region.

Daka is the recipient of many local and international awards as well as two of Zambia’s highest honors. In 2012 he received the Post Newspaper Bright Mwape/Lucy Sichone Press Freedom Award.

And he is also a recipient of the 50th Independence Anniversary Single Golden Jubilee Medal for Distinguished Service given to 1,365 Zambians including the 1st President, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, by Zambian 5th President, Michael Sata in 2014. He is the only journalist in Zambia to have received the award.

This article has been published by Dr. Samson Phiri. He is the Head of Communication Studies at the University of Zambia.

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