In a case of confusion and chaos, prominent civil society activist Rafiq Hajat has courted controversy for forming an organisation that uses the same acronym as the Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn).
The new Mesn, Mtendere Electoral Support Network, which also deals with elections, has come under criticism from some quarters who believe it will confuse people ahead of the 2014 tripartite elections.
Hajat and others behind the formation of Mtendere, who claimed they were marginalised in the original Mesn, registered the organisation as a trust on December 1 2012.
The certificate of incorporation was signed by Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ralph Kasambara.
Chairperson of the network is Nandin Patel while Hajat is treasurer. The two belong to the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI).
Spokesperson for the organisation is Edward Chuka, while Apostle Willie Chaponda of the Mustard Seed Church is a member.
Chuka confirmed the formation of Mtendere, but disputed that the name would cause confusion, arguing that the other network does not exist.
Focus areas for Mtendere, according to documents we have seen, include providing voter and civic education, training observation monitors, monitoring voter registration and electoral processes, conducting post-elections audit, parallel voting tally as well as research and analysis of elections.
The original Mesn applied to government to allow it to use the name “Malawi” and the process has not been finalised. This means the name that exists legally is Electoral Support Network.
Steve Duwa, who speaks for the network, protested the use of the acronym by Mtendere.
“As a network which has been in existence since 2003 and having gone through a process of evolution and considering that we are in a democracy, we welcome any member of the Malawian society to form a network or networks of their choice as long as such a network or networks add value to the electoral process.
“What we may consider unacceptable is when such a network or networks formed after ours adopt an acronym which stands for our network. In the case of the so-called Mtendere Electoral Support Network, we would really have problems when they start using the acronym Mesn because this is the acronym which we, the registered members of the Electoral Support Network operating as Mesn, have been using officially for the past 10 years,” said Duwa.
Asked why his network is not yet registered with the name “Malawi” to it, Duwa said: “Even if we did not register officially as Malawi Electoral Support Network [Mesn], locally, regionally and internationally, we are known as Mesn.
“There is nothing wrong [with] using this acronym because we already applied to government through the OPC [Office of the President and Cabinet] for use of the name Malawi and the matter is still being followed up since government has not come forward to stop us using this acronym.”
Programmes coordinator for National Elections Systems Trust (Nest), Unandi Banda, said on Friday the use of the same acronym will confuse the electorate.
“It is sad that we are failing to redress internal differences and yet we claim that we are democrats,” said Banda.
Some organisations under the original Mesn are the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM), Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), Pan African Civic Educators Network, NGO-Gender Coordination Network, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Church and Society of the Nkhoma Synod.