A podcast series on African human rights defenders in exile  

If you have to leave, leave. But refuse to keep quiet. Silencing you is what all oppressive regimes want. Don’t stop defending others because you are outside your country. Defending others is defending ourselves.” 

Interview with an African HRD in exile  

Human rights defenders (HRDs) in Africa face grave risks in conducting their invaluable work of promoting the rights of others, protecting the environment, and holding the powerful to account. All too often, they are forced to leave their homes to seek protection, after threats, surveillance, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearance, torture, and targeting of colleagues and family members.

Exile impacts every aspect of a person’s life, and no experience of exile is the same. Exiled HRDs face serious challenges in their human rights work, such as losing legitimacy in the eyes of their government and their communities, collecting information remotely in a safe manner, and accessing funding. Many exiled HRDs also continue to face security concerns, worry about the safety of colleagues and family members in their country of origin, and struggle with socio-economic integration in their host country. Exile can also take a toll on their wellbeing and family dynamics.

Yet, the majority of exiled HRDs continue their human rights work, disseminating the information received by monitors on the ground through regional and international advocacy and campaigning, mobilising diaspora communities, and at times (re-)establishing organisations in exile. If authoritarian governments, corrupt leaders, and violent militia groups aimed to silence HRDs by forcing them into exile, their strategy has largely failed.

Based on research that collected the testimonies of more than 120 HRDs, in-depth case studies, and live interviews with four exiled HRDs, Exile Shall Not Silence Us is a podcast series that highlights the professional, security, socio-economic, and psychosocial challenges of HRDs in exile in Africa, but most of all their achievements and resilience strategies.

Listen in!

Episode #1 | Activism Continued

What pushes African HRDs into exile? How do they continue their activism and what challenges do they face?

In episode 1, Cristina Orsini, Senior Programme Officer at AfricanDefenders, answers these questions and many more, giving an overview of the main findings of our research on the situation of African HRDs in exile.

Episode #2 | Zimbabwe: Young and old HRDs in exile in South Africa

We zoom into Zimbabwe, a country where HRDs have been forced into exile for decades. Here, recent transformations triggered hopes of return in a generation of human rights activists who have long been exiled, but resulted instead in new exiles.

In an anonymous interview, we speak to a young woman HRD in exile in South Africa. She not only sheds light on the challenges faced by exiled Zimbabwean HRDs, but also on the complex and painful relationship between exile and motherhood.

Episode #3 | The Gambia: A call to Reconstruction

Some of the many journalists and HRDs who went into exile during Yahya Jammeh’s regime and a widespread crackdown on civil society have recently fulfilled the dream of most exiles: return. However, return does not come without challenges.

Fabakary Cheesay, a Gambian journalist formerly in exile in Senegal and in the Netherlands, tells his story of exile and return, a story in which dreams and reality often clash, but do not break the commitment to speak truth to power.

Episode #4 | Cameroon: Exile within

In a country marred by internal conflict, HRDs can find themselves in exile without crossing national borders. Featuring an anonymous interview with a woman HRD and peacebuilder from the anglophone region of Cameroon, this episode explores the challenges and contradictions of internal displacement, as well as the multiple layers of vulnerability faced by HRDs in conflict-ridden areas.

Episode #5 | Egypt: Learning from the Tunisian experience

Egypt is one of the African countries with the highest limitations on civic space, and a growing number of exiled HRDs. Many of them seek refuge in Tunisia, a country that is often regarded as a beacon of hope in the struggle for human rights in North Africa.

An Egyptian HRD in exile in Tunis tells us about his experience, his hopes, and what he has been learning from Tunisian civil society.


This podcast is based on extensive field and desk research conducted between April 2019 and May, including the testimonies of more than 120 HRDs collected through a mix of online surveys, face-to-face semi-structured interviews, and focus groups. The names and identifying markers of interviewees in episode two, four, and five have been deliberately omitted to ensure their safety and security.

This podcast was hosted by Gentrix Barasa, and written, edited, and produced by Cristina Orsini. We thank all the HRDs who shared their testimonies with us, and the five interviewees featured in the podcast, in particular. We also extend our heartfelt gratitude to the donors who make our work possible.