Seated inside Muloza Magistrate’s Court, members of Njema Area Development Committee (ADC) in Mulanje go through one project after another, evaluating the projects’ successes and challenges.
Like a teacher marking end-of-term examinations, the ADC gives credit to the contractor who has successfully finished his or her project.
Against the contractor whose project has stalled, the committee puts a zero to show its dissatisfaction.
“We’ve been doing this for four months. We conduct these meetings fortnightly to assess the progress of projects taking place in our area,” explained 33-year-old Catherine Mussa, an executive member of the ADC.
Njema ADC is among development committees and community-based organisations (CBOs) that recently underwent intensive training in the two tenets of good governance—transparency and accountability, courtesy of Pan African Civic Educators Network (Pacenet).
Pacenet is implementing a project titled ‘Enhancing Citizen Action for Accountable and Responsive Local Governance’ in Mulanje with financial support from Hivos—a Zimbabwe-based human rights organisation.
Locals have dubbed the project ‘Zotheka’ (It is possible), to signify that it is possible for grassroots people to demand transparency and accountability from duty-bearers.
The project, which started in October 2013 and is phasing out in October this year, targeted seven ADCs and CBOs in the areas of traditional authorities Chikumbu, Mabuka, Mthiramanja, Mkanda, Njema and Juma.
But, so far, nine ADCs and seven CBOs have already benefitted from the tranings Pacenet conducted.
“This is because there were two ADCs in some areas and the organisation felt these should not be left out,” says Steven Duwa, Pacenet executive director.
Duwa says the project aims at improving and strengthening citizen’s knowledge on local governance and the decentralisation system, thereby equipping the grassroots with skills for monitoring the performance of duty-bearing structures.
“Our goal is to revive and strengthen democratic, accountable and responsive local governance and improve the quality of service delivery at the grassroots level,” he explains.
Traditional Authority (T/A) Juma said the project has helped improve people’s knowledge of the right to development, local governance and its functions in the areas where it is being implemented.
Juma said Zotheka has also raised the level of confidence among community members and leaders to drive the development agenda with the council and to demand accountability and responsiveness from duty-bearers.
“This project has helped us understand that public officers are there to serve our interests. Previously, we used to believe that civil servants are bosses and that we had to keep away from them, but now things have changed,” he explained.
Not only that. The project has also helped in mainstreaming gender inclusion.
Mussa confirmed that women in the district are now enjoying equal opportunities with men, including featuring in the hierarchy of ADCs and CBOs.
“This was not the case before. Our role was merely to prepare meals and the place where respective meetings were being conducted,” she explained.
Mussa said during their meetings, ADCs and CBOs do not forget to tackle other humanitarian issues such as poverty, unemployment; population growth, the HIV and Aids epidemic, and domestic violence.
She observed that until societies, governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) come together and make a concentrated effort to empower and grant equality to women, the world will be stuck in the past, and people will never truly realise its full and vigorous potential.
Duwa agrees, saying women’s economic empowerment could ease corruption and violence, promote greater environmental sustainability, and through education, contraception, and lower fertility rates, help lower HIV and Aids rates.
“If this kind of process is accepted by society, then it should be apparent that women’s education and economic empowerment is not only a matter of human rights, but also human security. Pacenet wants these to go together; hence, our approach to project implementation is always multi-pronged,” he stated.