The civil society organisation (CSO) movement in the country is dying a slow death and it is time, all right-thinking Malawians to get worried.
Not so long ago some CSO officials confessed that the political landscape in the country is not conducive enough for them to work together with government in keeping the country’s democracy in check.
The CSOs were responding to this paper’s questionnaire on the state of Malawi’s democracy following the International Day of Democracy. The day is set aside by the United Nations (UN) and aims at reminding governments that the hallmark of successful and stable democracies is the presence of a strong and freely operating civil society.
I vividly recall the National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust executive director Ollen Mwabulunju’s response in that interview. He said CSOs and government have not been fully working together as it should be, although they have worked together in some instances.
“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 on as they exist to safeguard the common good of the country,” he said at the time.
However, working together with government has taken a new meaning over the years. Under the corrupt Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), working together literary means CSOs operating in the ambit of government!
This type of relationship between government and CSOs is what is worrying many of us in the streets. To see all the critical voices from the CSO community leave the activism stage pains us. So is to see intelligent human rights defenders being paraded as socio-economic commentators on State-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).
What is even worrying is that the corrupt DPP-led government has made sure that it is friendlier with cash to associations and local think-tanks that demand transparency and accountability from elected leaders.
The fact that donors are closing their aid taps on CSOs is not helping matters. Some of our CSOs have no means of survival but to run to government for ‘scones’. No wonder as one senior CSO leader once said: “For the sake of survival, some civil society organisations have at times resorted to gossip about their friends to donors and government with the hope of winning favours to receive funding. Some have fallen prey to tactics of divide-and-rule by politicians, especially those in power, resulting in weakening the civil society family.”
We on the streets are raising the issues because the split that we see in Public Affairs Committee and other CSOs in the organisation of April protests is a tip of an iceberg.
Surely, there is much more happening behind the scenes.