On Thursday, human rights lawyer Chikondi Chijozi took the oath of office as the newest commissioner of the Malawi Human Rights Commission. The co-founder and former deputy executive director of the Centre for Human Rights, Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) rises to the helm of the commission two years after she was struck off the list by the Peter Mutharika regime after receiving overwhelming nominations from the civil society and passing the interview. Our Staff Writer JAMES CHAVULA catches up with the commissioner entrusted to defend and protect your human rights to share a bit of her background, beliefs and illustrious career.
Chikondi was born in a family of four children on December 24 1984. She is a twin and they are the first-borns. The lawyer is a mother a 10-year-old girl, Isabella.
The new commissioner holds a Master of Laws in international human rights law from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College.
She started working as a paralegal officer in November 2004 at the Paralegal Advisory Service.
In 2006, together with other 11 paralegals, Chikondi founded Chrea where serving in various capacities. Her last role was deputy executive director until February 2020 when she joined Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) where she is heading the criminal justice programme.
Commenting on her appointment as MHRC commissioner, Chikondi says she is deeply humbled and honoured to be appointed as a member of the MHRC.
“It is quite a privilege to serve the people of Malawi in that capacity. I know a lot of people have confidence in me and I look forward to discharging my duties as a commissioner. My obligation in my new role is to promote and protect human rights. The membership of the commission gives me power to investigate, make recommendations and provide advice on issues of human rights.
“As a human rights activist, there is no better forum for me to discharge my duties than serving in the commission. There are a lot of human rights violations happening daily and I fully understand the huge task ahead of me, but I am committed to make the change that is required of the offence of the commissioner,” she says.
The lawyer says she brings to the commission 17 years of experience in human rights work.
She adds: “I am a passionate advocate for human rights and I believe that the commission will benefit from my experience and I am looking forward to learning from my fellow commissioners, who are very dedicated to the work of the commission and I know, together, we will make a huge difference for the people of Malawi.”
From public interest litigation in defence of the rights of poor people affected by colonial rogue and vagabond laws to the court battle in favour of Rastafarians’ deadlocked children who were being denied access to school, Chikondi has consistently fought for the rights of the silenced. What drives her passion for human rights?
Chikondi says it is the understanding that we all are equal before God and the law. She believes that equality cannot mean anything if those of us entrusted with power and authority do not take deliberate steps to promote that equality.
She believes God blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others and this applies in everything we do.
Chikondi also believes we have to fight for every person because we are equal beings.
“I always say that if you want to know what action you should take for any person, first you have to ask yourself: If I was in that person’s shoes, how would I want to be treated? If you are honest to yourself, you will understand that every person is as equally and as important as you are. There is no greater pleasure in life than to put a smile on that poor person who felt neglected and forgotten. I enjoy doing that, it is more satisfying that the recognition we get in this life,” she says.
On who inspires her, she says she has a lot of role models, but will pick two. One that tops my her is her boss at Chreaa Victor Mhango who she says has taught her since she was 19 how to be an advocate.
She describes him as fearless and does not apologise for standing for his rights and others. She says he is a risk taker and has brought out the fire inside her and the passion she has.
“He is a great man and all the team at Chreaa that I have worked with for all the years I served the organisation,” sayd the lawyer.
She is also inspired by the Ombudsman Martha Chizuma who Chikondi says is everything she wants to be and more— fearless, committed and dedicated to the promotion of human rights and the rule of law.
Asked what role Malawians should play to make the MHRC a people’s commission, she says they should look up at the commission as their advocate and their protector for the rights guaranteed in our Constitution.
Chikondi adds that the commission was set up to make those rights a reality, so she urges Malawians to engage with the commission and demand their rights.
She joins the MHRC at a time women representation at the commission is increasing. What does she make of this shift a few years after gender activists petitioned against male domination at the commission?
“This is a positive step and I hope that this will trickle down to other government institutions. We need to empower our women so we can have the change we want. I believe the appointing authorities are listening and will continue to do so in order to fully implement the Gender Equality Act,” she responds.
And on her foiled appointment at the commission two years ago by Mutharika, she says God’s time is the best.
“God wanted to give me my own moment. He did that. I am the only commissioner in this cohort that has been sworn in by the State President, Lazarus Chakwera and it’s a great pleasure to come in at this time when the commission has great people serving it and a vibrant secretariat,” she beams.
She says Malawians should expect results as she is fully dedicated and committed to discharge the duty entrusted to me under the Constitution of Malawi.
To the young women, she says they have everything that it takes to excel. All they have to do is focus on their dreams and press on.
She says there are no shortcuts in life and everything that easily comes, easily goes.
“Follow the basic principle of life, work hard and work harder, the results will show and your time will come when you will look back and be proud of the woman you have become because you didn’t have to sleep with anyone to get to the top.
“You will be proud that you worked and worked your way up to the top. The joy comes when you sit alone and you can confidently say, ‘I worked hard for this.’ It’s more fulfilling. Let God guide you. He will lead you all the way to the top,” she adds.