Until November 2015, communities surrounding Phirilongwe Health Centre in the Traditional Authority (T/A) Chilipa in Mangochi did not know they had a constitutional right. They were living in a dark world.
As a result, the communities were being deprived of essential services. Chief among them were health, security, education and agriculture.
Over 20 000 people in the vicinity of the health facility were denied access to health services due to absence of a medical personnel, who had reportedly gone to school without making arrangements for his replacement.
This meant the health facility operating without a medical assistant for over three months, hence, it closed its out-patient department (OPD), which resulted in four preventable deaths.
It took the Initiative of the National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust in the district to empower the communities through civic education.
Through an interface meeting, Nice enlightened the communities on the rights they have and how they can take to task non-performing service providers and duty-bearers in the quest to enhance development in their areas.
“After hearing our ordeal, Nice empowered us to get organised and petition the office of the DHO,” said vice-chairperson of Phirilongwe Health Advisory Committee (HAC), Brandi Sabiti.
According to Sabiti, after the communities petitioned the DHO, it didn’t take long before they were answered. A medical assistant was deployed in the area a week later.
Elsewhere in Blantyre, Zomba and Machinga communities some time back were promised a road: the Lirangwe-Chingale-Machinga Road by the Democratic Progressive Party government.
If constructed, the road would ease transport problems among people surrounding the three districts and also better their lives as it would help them make trade with ease.
But due to lack of civic empowerment, the communities around the area did not know that they have rights to hold duty-bearers accountable for the promises they made, until days ago when the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) of the Zomba Diocese empowered them to dare duty-bearers their promises.
Catholic priest, Rev Father Peter Mulomole in an interview said God expects his people to know their rights (and duties) and even to demand them from their duty-bearers and service providers, stressing God, therefore, demands relevant stakeholders, including faith leaders, to educate His people.
Mulomole said people have a right to information (knowledge) as it is guaranteed by the Republican Constitution (S 37), saying knowledge is power whereas lack of it is weakness and can even lead to death.
He added: “God-fearers profess that God is almighty and all-knowing. They also believe that humans were created in the image and likeness of this God. (Gen 1: 27). It would, therefore, be surprising to see the all-powerful and knowing God creating ignorant humans in his image and likeness. Human beings share, to some extent, in God’s might and knowledge. They are born with the quest to seek and possess knowledge.”
Mulomole further said knowledge is a fundamental principle in the Bible where it is both theoretical and practical, citing the Book of Ezekiel 33: 1-9; where God directs the prophet to empower people with knowledge and not to be silent.
“In conclusion, I therefore urge human rights activists to empower people with rightful knowledge in a timely, sufficient, efficient and effective manner to enable them to demand their rights from duty-bearers and service providers. For too long the Malawian secular and religious powers have deliberately promoted theological, spiritual, intellectual, political and socio-economic ignorance for selfish and manipulative reasons,” he said.
Sheikh Alli Makalani of Cassim Uloom Mosque in Mangochi, who is also director of Forum for Peace and Justice, said it is imperative for citizens to be empowered with knowledge because the Qur’an encourages people to be knowledgeable.
He said communities from Phirilongwe could not have stayed over three months without the health personnel and subsequently lose four people to preventable deaths had they been empowered with knowledge.
“Likewise, communities around Lirangwe, Zomba and Machinga could not wait for the blessings of CCJP to empower them if they had received civic empowerment before,” said Makalani. n