In this interview, National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust executive director OLLEN MWALUBUNJU talks to our reporter BRIAN ITAI on the forthcoming fresh presidential election, Covid-19 pandemic and bloodsuckers’ myths, among other issues currently affecting the country. Excerpts:
As an institution that handles national civic education, how have you approached the Covid-19 pandemic which is so far surrounded by so many myths?
As a civic education body this is our job to raise awareness to all Malawians on issues that affect public life of citizens. We have the capacity because we have structures across Malawi and we are competently doing this. On the ground, we have over 9 000 volunteers’ country wide and 62 professional and well trained civic education officers, two at each of the Nice Trusts’ 31 offices.
We have already started mainstreaming Covid-19 messages in all on-going civic and voter education mobilisation activities. We also have made sure that we are following government set guidelines on Covid-19 in our work. This is to make sure the safety of our staff and volunteers is taken care of. We started the Covid-19 campaign awareness by developing comprehensive workplace guidelines that seek to protect our staff and volunteers from contracting the virus.
Handling the Covid-19 pandemic and the forthcoming fresh presidential election should be some sort of a challenge to you. How are you balancing up the two?
It is indeed a challenge to mobilise people in the ongoing voter registration exercise considering that mobilisation involves people. The guidelines say we cannot have crowds of over 100 people. As experts in civic education, we have strategies that do not require the presence of people we are targeting. These strategies have been used also in past mobilisation and awareness activities and have been proved to be very effective.
At present, we are using loud hailing and door-to-door activities but also radios, especially community radios, to get messages across. These non-contact strategies are being used to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The other current burning issue is on the alleged bloodsuckers that have resulted in people killing each other in some parts of the country. Have you weighed in on this by civic educating the masses about the myth?
We are taking this issue head on. We are aware that some people’s human right—like a right to life—has been violated for example, the killing of two Mozambicans in Karonga and other killings in Kasungu, Mzimba and Nkotakota.
In some cases, people’s right of movement has been violated in that some people have been denied access to some roads, especially in rural areas of Ntchisi. Nice Trust wishes to conduct comprehensive intervention to help change the attitude and perception of people towards upholding human rights and respect for rule law.
On the ground, what facts have you gathered in as far as the issue on bloodsuckers is concerned?
Cumulatively, 15 people have died nationwide as per April, due to mob justice for being suspected to be bloodsuckers and many more rescued and narrowly escaped death or if fortunate harassed. Due to rumours, Malawi continues to face un-lawlessness. People are beaten and or torched to death for being suspected to have committed crimes of different nature. The suspected offenders have had their properties damaged and burnt as a punishment by the mob. The lack of respect for rule of law is costing the lives of many people, both Malawian citizens and citizens of other nations. The rumours of bloodsuckers have caused intense fear which is growing every time. As a result, some communities have resorted to sleeping outside their houses and in groups. Community leaders have also set up teams of young people to do night patrols in the villages. Some youth mobilised themselves and started the night patrols. Nice Trust intends to do a comprehensive public awareness campaign to help change the attitude and perception of people towards upholding human rights and respect for rule of law.
Lastly, Nice Trust recently held an interface meeting with Parliament to lobby for more funding. Were you encouraged with the outcome of the meeting?
We indeed had a meeting with the Social and Community Affairs Committee of Parliament. The committee wanted to know what we as Nice Trust are doing as a civic education body. We informed the committee what we are doing, but we needed to get more funds to effectively compliment all the efforts by government being made on Covid-19.
The meeting went on well and the committee understood why we needed more funds for the awareness of Covid-19. The meeting was very promising and assured us that, they would do their best to lobby for more funds for Nice Trust so that, we can effectively do awareness. The committee committed to support Nice Trust in lobbying for funds from the government to enhance awareness given our comparative advantages. The committee through its chairperson also acknowledged the work Nice Trust is doing in Malawi on civic and voter education and the need for it to be adequately funded.