Wearing a queer and dejected face, Fidelis Mukumbwa, 47, took a seat at one of the watering holes at Nsanje Boma.
Mukumbwa spends most of his leisure time at this place. He is known to fellow imbibers as a jovial, chatty and honest person.
He is always full of life when he patronises a bar of his choice. However, this was not the case on Friday, June 17 2016.
He looked queer and dejected, and not ready to exchange a greeting with anyone as soon as he resumed a seat.
“I do not know what is wrong with this country. On this day 22 years ago, we, Malawians, demonised and showed an exit door to the late Kamuzu Banda and his Malawi Congress Party (MCP) for failing to respect our rights,” Mukumbwa offered to narrate his story before being asked.
He went on: “Inspired by the pastoral letter issued by the Catholic Bishops, we demonstrated against MCP’s rigid censorship of mass media, infringement on education, and frequently illegal imprisonment of hundreds of innocent Malawians, and so many other things.”
Mukumbwa said he was getting worried that what the Catholic Bishops and well-meaning Malawians prayed and fought for has failed to bear the much-needed fruit.
He disclosed that he expected that, by now, Malawians should have been active in voicing out their concern on matters that have direct impact on their lives.
He said he expected Malawians to be more active in demanding responses from leaders when things go wrong.
“Today, those bishops could be the last people to have led the fight for democracy because it would seem it was imposed on Malawians. I believe the bishops expected active citizenship from Malawians, but we have refused to assume it 22 years after the referendum.
“Through our passive citizenship, we have persistently refused to participate in the running of social, economic and political activities of our country. We are dead quiet as leaders are busy formulating and imposing bad and oppressive laws on us 22 years after switching to multiparty democracy,” Mukumbwa emptied his laden chest.
National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust district civic education officer for Nsanje, Kondwani Malunga, defines active citizenship as a combination of knowledge, attitude, skills and actions that aim to contribute to building and maintaining a democratic society.
Malunga says the major objective of active citizenship is to support democratic cooperation that is based on the acceptance of universal human rights and the rule of law, values diversity and includes the whole community.
But the civic educator notes that this can be achieved when citizens have the right to information on developments taking place in their areas while service providers as well as duty- bearers are tasked to provide that information in the spirit of transparency and accountability.
“The media has reported on cases where politicians, particularly members of Parliament (MPs) and councillors, are interfering in the implementation of these development projects by pressing district technical staff to divert funds towards projects that would help them gain political mileage.
“And if citizens are not equipped with skills and information to enable them to assume active citizenship, the very leaders we entrusted with responsibility to run the affairs of our nation can be threats to the tenets of democracy,” he warned.
Malunga said Nice and other organisations are currently busy creating awareness on the need for Malawians to assume active citizenship.
He said this initiative has seen citizens, through their area development committees (ADCs) and village development committees (VDCs), tracking and demanding transparency and accountability in the implementation of development projects, including those under Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and Local Development Fund (LDF).
“Using these structures, people are now questioning and demanding high levels of transparency and accountability from both elected and appointed duty-bearers.
“This is not only an indicator that the ADC members are becoming knowledgeable about their roles and responsibilities, but also effective citizen participation in decision-making processes, in monitoring resource allocation and utilisation,” he empasised.
Assistant community development officer for Nsanje, Tobby Chitengu says building the capacity of ADCs and VDCs is critical to the democratisation process as this helps people at the grassroots to get to know, participate and track development activities taking place in their respective areas.
And to experiment their authority after undergoing a series of capacity building trainings by Nice, ADC members in Nsanje Lalanje constituency two months ago engaged their MP to come up with measures that can best help the constituency transform. n