Lawrence Chisambi of Zebera Village in Traditional Authority M’mbelwa in Mzimba should be celebrating the laying of the foundation stone of the Jenda-Edingeni Road. After all, good roads spur social and economic activities of any area.
But the 36-year-old Chisambi is cautious.
He and fellow villagers do not believe the construction will roll out anytime soon.
They have seen governments come and go, leaving behind promises of this road. What strikes their mind is the timing of the promises.
“Just like the current administration, the two previous governments made their promises a few months away from elections. None translated into action although we gladly gave them the votes in the hope that they would develop our area,” says Chisambi.
Pan African Civic Educators Network (Pacenet) executive director Steven Duwa predicts that as Malawi approaches the May Tripartite Elections, politicians will initiate new development projects just to woo voters.
Duwa says that it is for this reason that his organisation sourced funding from the Department for International Develpment (DfID) through National Democratic Institute (NDI) to implement a project whose aim is to sensitise eligible voters on issue-based civic and voter education in Thyolo, Mulanje, Machinga, Dedza and Chiradzulu.
“Above the promises and handouts, brace for the introduction of new projects during elections period. Our traditional leaders will receive unprecedented VIP treatment, all in an effort to win public sympathy so you can give the political parties the vote in May,” he says.
He urges citizens to scrutinise the manifestos of political partiesd to avoid repeating the mistakes committed during the past elections.
Chisambi says Malawians have themselves to blame for making poor electoral choices even when it was clear that those elected would not deliver on their promises.
Duwa notes that over the past elections, Malawians have voted based on proximity, tribe, region or religion, not on merit.
Chisambi questions the timing of laying of the foundation stones for different development projects and other promises.
“Why do they lay the foundation stone a few months away from elections? Couldn’t this be another political bait?” he wonders.
Duwa, whose organisation is implementing an issue-based civic and voter education (CVE) with funding from Royal Norwegian Embassy, says the Republican Constitution guarantees people’s right to development.
He stresses that such statements should not be tolerated because they are a catalyst for unaccountable governance systems as people tend to look at development projects as tokens of appreciation from authorities.
“True democracy empowers citizens—they hold the power which they then delegate to elected leaders. Therefore, the May Tripartite Elections offer an opportunity to entrench true democracy by voting for candidates as individuals or as a political party based on their sound, realistic, practical and achievable election campaign promises,” tips Duwa.
He, however, warns that this requires Malawians to religiously interrogate and critique promises made by aspiring candidates and parties way before the voting day, creating bench marks against which they can measure the strength and reality of the various electoral promises.