Â â€˜Civil Society is still alive in Malawi.â€™ That seems to be the message from activists reacting to accusations by some Malawians and the erstwhile ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who insist that civil society organisations (CSOs) are too quiet and too gentle in confronting the Joyce Banda administration.
Monitoring local radios and comments on the cyberspace, some Malawians, pinnedÂ down by the economic hardships, have been accusing the civil society leaders of not speaking out enough like they used to do during the late Bingu wa Mutharikaâ€™s administration.
One obeserver, Jameson Chibwe said: â€œIt seems CSOs were fighting Bingu, now that Bingu is gone their job is done, they donâ€™t mind what Malawians are going through. These CSO leaders are greedy, now they are on government payroll, shame.â€
Icing the voice of the critics, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesperson Nicholas Dausi wondered where the once boisterous CSOs are. He charged that some vocal CSOs leaders have been given positions and, therefore, cannot speak out.
Dausi said the only voice of consciousness now seems to be Consumers Association of Malawiâ€™s boss John Kapito who has been raining hard on the current administration over the bad economy.
â€œI thought CSOs are supposed to act without prejudice; or have justice and law become distant cousins? This silence is beginning to raise questions.
â€œRemember how they presented the petition to the late president Mutharika and gave him ultimatums to resign? Well, we are worried, where are they? Have they been gagged?â€ wondered Dausi.
Human rights activist Billy Mayaya said to allege that the civil society is now in inertia and neutral gear is blantantly wrong. He said the fact that John Kapito is speaking out means the civil society is speaking.
â€œOur hard line approach to issues pertaining to political and economic governance remains the same. John Kapito comes from the rank and file of civil society and the sentiments he expressed recently reflect the reservations we have as civil society and Malawian society,â€ said Mayaya.
Human rights activist Undule Mwakasungula said it is unfair to say CSOs have not stopped being proactive. They are only taking a more engaging approach than the confrontation one they used against late Bingu wa Mutharikaâ€™s regime.
â€œWe have pointed out our positions on these challenges but it seems most of the people do not noticeâ€¦we are taking a more engaging approach than the confrontation approach we used during DPP regime due to the fact that the current administration is more engaging and open,â€ he said.
Mwakasungula, however,Â challenged Malawians to stand up against ills if they see and not wait for the CSOs to speak for them.
â€œWe canâ€™t say itâ€™s too early to confront [Joyce Bandaâ€™s] administration when issues are emerging. The earlier the better so that she does not go astray like Bingu did.
â€œAt the moment another mass action will make the matters worse for all of us. We have already heard that the government is putting in place an economic recovery programme. We just have to scrutinise this plan and see if it will work for us,â€ said Mwakasungula.
According to Mayaya challenges still remain. He said there is concern that the same people who supported the failed zero-deficit budget are being welcomed with open arms within the rank and file of the Peopleâ€™s Party and serving unashamedly as ministers.
â€œThis is business as usual and as civil society we demand that the government responds to the clarion call for transparency and accountability,â€ he said.
Mayaya said a demonstration would surely be a good way to jolt the government to see the issues Malawians are facing. He said if the President does not cut her travel or face up to the economic woes, she might be nearing her first real leadership test.
Chancellor College-based political analyst and lecturer Blessings Chinsinga said DPPâ€™s sentiments might be motivated by the need to score political points.
â€œOne would argue that the CSO are giving the Joyce Banda administration the benefit ofÂ the doubt because she took over power when the economy was in bad shape. So maybe they are giving her space to deal with the problems.
â€œHowever, one can raise a red flag on the way some vocal civil society leaders were absorbed into the administration and say they are failing to speak out because some of their colleagues are in government for example,â€ said Chinsinga.