Civil society organisations (CSOs) have observed that the political landscape in the country is not conducive for them to work with government to keep democracy in check.
The CSOs expressed their sentiments in response to an inquiry by The Nation on the state of Malawi’s democracy ahead of the International Day of Democracy which falls on September 16.
In his response, National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust executive director Ollen Mwabulunju observed that CSOs and government have not been fully working together as it should be although they have worked together in some instances.
He said: “CSOs are supposed to be partners of government rather than adversaries in the development or consolidation of democracy. In some cases in the past, government and CSOs have worked together on issues of common interest. For example, during debt relief campaigns and when Parliament wanted to block the budget passing.
“But, all in all, CSOs and government have not been fully working together as it should be. This is an area both have to reflect as they exist to safeguard the common good of the country.”
However, Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) executive director Steve Duwa said CSOs are operating freely at the moment although he noted that government is friendlier to CSOs involved in service delivery sector than those whose core function is to empower citizens to demand transparency and accountability from elected leaders.
He said the biggest challenge affecting CSOs is their sole dependence on donor funding which currently is becoming erratic, forcing some to “fall prey to tactics of divide and rule by politicians, especially those in power, resulting in weakening the civil society family”.
But Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education Jappie Mhango, assured the CSOs of an enabling environment to carry out their watchdog role without hindrance.
He said: “We have not harassed any CSO. They are able to trade their duties without any hindrance unlike in the past regimes.”
The day, set aside by the United Nations, is this year being commemorated under the theme Space for Civil Society to Remind Governments That The Hallmark of Successful and Stable Democracies is the Presence of a Strong and Freely Operating Civil Society.