The making of the Constitution of 1994 was preceded by the drama of citizenship. Between 1991 and 1993, Malawi was awash with citizen action through street protests, demonstrations and dissident religious sermons and texts. This display of active citizenship led to the referendum of 14 June, 1993 which ushered in a new multiparty constitutional order and the subsequent general elections of May, 1994. Since then, the citizen in this country – I dare say – has gone into a very deep slumber. The citizen has now deferred the legitimacy of the State – the business of governing – to those in political, public office.
Between 1991 and 1993, the citizen set the agenda on how Malawi must be governed. All that has changed. The citizen seems contented – to borrow the words of Achille Mbembe – with “rhetorical devices” such as “repetition and lists, contrasts between words and things, frequent antitheses, a tendency to exaggerate and preference for imprecise propositions and vague generalisations” that those we put into political, public office use. This is the sad reality. But the citizen can do better.
Yes; we have instances of protestations against serious failings in State governance: the public outcry over the Fieldyork scandal of years gone by, the angry murmurings over the Open Term Bill, the vigil for the enactment of the National Budget during President Bingu wa Mutharika’s first term, the bitter-sweet July 20, 2011 protests, and the recent inquiry into purchase of maize in Zambia are some of the notable examples. What has been missing is that an issue, once raised, has not always reached its logical conclusion.
We can do more. Active citizenship suggests that the citizen is obsessed with holding those in public office to account for their actions, decisions or omissions at all times. This is not merely a matter of principle. It is a constitutional obligation placed on the citizenry. For example, we all witnessed the revelation of the massive plunder of public funds in 2013. The now infamous ‘Cashgate’ scandal. One can only imagine what those funds could do in the provision of public services. The Director of Public Prosecutions and the Anti-Corruption Bureau have so far done a commendable job of bringing the culprits to book. Indeed, a number of convictions have been secured. We say kudos to them. However, in the case of the Cashgate scandal, securing convictions is half the story. The follow through must be that the property of those convicted for offences under the scandal must be traced and legal processes are set in motion to ensure that such property reverts to the State. The citizen in this country must not wallow in the good news of a conviction and sentencing of a cashgater. The citizen must demand and insist on the legal process of tracing.
The Cashgate scandal is one example of the lack of follow through on issues of national importance by the citizen in this country. The drama of citizenship presupposes an active and engaged citizenry. This drama of citizenship assumes an ever agitated citizen. Why, for example, can’t we resolve the challenges in our electricity sector once and for all? Why are we not demanding answers when a person amasses unbelievable wealth the moment they enter political, public office? Anything less shall mean that we risk elite capture where selfish, personal agenda are pursued at the expense of national, democratic governance.n
How long should musicians play on stage?