I hope you have ever heard: ‘Woleletsa ndewu samanga chitenje’ literary meaning that she who offers to pacify fighting colleagues does not need to tighten her wrapper. In the ensuing reflection, I will choose otherwise.
Some of you might recall listening to the 6 o’clock news bulletin on the then sole radio station, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). It was more than a religious ritual that never got missed. During the same period, Boma Lathu could make rounds in a whole village months after publication. That was the norm of the traditional media then.
Now enters scene two, multiplicity of media channels or what hoteliers would call La carte type of menu. Overnight, a whole media revolution engulfed Malawi and at a beat of the heart, everybody became a blogger, courtesy of social media.
What is this new phenomenon as some might ask? We have all lived with face-to-face discussions, letters, telephone, and not in the distant past, emails. So what is new after all?
What is new is that our conversations went digital, allowing one-to-many or many-to-many conversations , even in real time.
It enables creation, dissemination, and consumption of information or entertainment in an entirely public and transparent manner.
We now have at our disposal tools like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or Pinterest, among others, which allow people from different geographical locations to ‘meet’ at a virtual single point and express their views.
Elsewhere, where social media is the norm, it brings the masses together, as in sensitising the public about a pending government agenda.
During the last election, Atupele Muluzi would acknowledge social media assisted him greatly as regards propagating the ‘Agenda for Change’ campaign.
Most motorists survived the historical fuel crisis through Malawi Fuel Watch page on Facebook. You followed events surrounding the demise of the late Bingu wa Mutharika through social media.
More recently, Simbi Phiri has become a sensational, courtesy of social media. To crown it all, through Presidential Press Secretary Mgeme Kalilani, we no longer wait for MBC bulletin at 6 to hear of cabinet changes but instantaneously through some WhatsApp group.
To my amazement, we seem not to have taken full advantage of this revolution but probably the literal meaning of social as in ‘Mchezo’ or ‘Amwali mwamva?. Instead, so much energy is utilised to peddle ‘Fake News’ and get involved in character assassination.
End result, unsuccessful WhatsApp treason cases, deployment of Electronic Transactions Bill with a view to unnecessarily control what is discussed over social media as we seem to have failed in the first place probably.
But why are our authorities not embracing or promoting this innovation?
Why is our Information Minister, Nicholas Dausi, missing out from Facebook or Twitter? Malawians might want to engage with government through him on Diamphwe and Salima water projects and other national issues.
Bearing in mind Malawi’s youthful and internet savvy population, where are efforts to promote social media? In this era, why is our Finance Minister insisting on city to city Budget Consultative Meetings as one way of getting input for the next National Budget blueprint?
State House is both on Facebook and Twitter but it needs to go beyond being a mere ‘read and go’ notice board.
Let us all go deeper in embracing digital social media responsibly and see how it will go towards promoting democracy and eradicating poverty. Remember, Malawians empowered with information, have the greatest resource at their disposal.
Government needs to lead by among others investing significantly in Information Communication and Technology (ICT) and watering the playground. The tendency to have monopoly and control over what Malawians need to hear or discuss should be a thing of yesteryears otherwise some of us will choose to tighten our wrappers! n