Young Zambian Activist Walks the Walk

Emmanuel Zulu is a young political activist in Zambia with strong convictions and sturdy shoes.

In November 2021, Zulu embarked on a nine-day, 255-mile walk from his hometown of Chingola to the capital city of Lusaka to raise awareness about government accountability; transparency; and inclusion of youth, women, and people with disabilities in civic decision-making.

"I like to call myself a voice for young people and an activist for good governance," Zulu said during a Carter Center event held in conjunction with the Summit for Democracy in Lusaka in late March 2023.

Zulu is a member of Alliance for Accountability Advocates Zambia (AAAZ), a Carter Center-supported organization that promotes the meaningful participation of youth in the public arena.

"Emmanuel’s story exemplifies what the Center is trying to do to ensure youth participation," said Rachel Fowler, the Carter Center’s country representative in Zambia. The Center supports organizations like AAAZ that mentor and inspire youth leaders, she said, helping amplify their voices as they push for democracy and human rights. It also seeks to ensure that elected leaders address youth concerns and priorities.

  • Zambian activist Emmanuel Zulu

    Zambian activist Emmanuel Zulu says young people must be at the governing table. (Photo: The Carter Center)

Zulu decided to undertake his trek after attending a Carter Center-supported workshop on governance and the rule of law.

"I am privileged to get this information as a young person," he said. "There are other young people out there who are not so privileged. So I said, 'OK, let me try to be a vessel for that person who does not have a television set or a radio where they can access this kind of information.'"

He knew it would be difficult, but he was inspired by Mohandas K. Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “For my country to develop, it was worth doing,” he said.

Zulu and three friends departed on a Monday after waiting out an hours-long storm. "It was raining cats and dogs," he recalled. One friend fell ill and had to turn back, but the others marched on through heat and fatigue and swollen feet. Zulu paid for their lodging the first night, before AAAZ learned what they were doing and picked up the tab thereafter.

"Without AAAZ, we could have been sleeping out in the bush and been eaten by lions," Zulu said, not entirely in jest. They walked an average of nine hours a day, stopping along the way to talk with other young adults about the purpose of their walk and why more of them should get involved in governance activism.

"We have this slogan: There is nothing that can be done for you without you," he said. "There is literally nothing that can be done for a young person, for a woman, for a person living with a disability, unless they are at the governing table. … If you have a mixture of people at that table, the decision that comes out is one that is going to favor everyone."

When the travelers reached Lusaka, they went to Heroes Stadium and met with a large group of young people organized by AAAZ. They were then invited to meet Zambia’s minister of justice, who had heard about their mission.

"It was a moment when I felt so, so proud," Zulu said. "I called my mom and told her we were going to the Ministry of Justice. I heard her scream, and she said, 'I knew such would happen!' So, my family members were proud, too."

After his journey, Zulu founded the Forum for Inclusion and Good Governance, an organization dedicated to generating young people’s interest in politics and governance.

"We’ve stepped into an era where we are saying young people must lead," he said. "When I look at three years from now, I picture a young person who is influential in the circles of governance, a young person who has caused so much impact in his community, in his country, in Africa at large — the entire world. I am looking at myself in so many spaces, talking about inclusive democracy, talking about good governance, educating people who are not privileged to have the information that I have."

This may not be his last long trek.

"Would I do such a walk again? Yes, because we built capacity among young people we met along the way," he said. “But we haven’t yet done a study to see if the message sank in: Did they get it? Did they not get it? So, if I am asked if I would love to do such a walk again, that would be a resounding yes, because we have to see progress.

"If you are a leader and no one knows about good governance, who is going to hold you to account? Probably no one."

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