Amplifying service users’ muted voices
Despite basking in the abundance of fresh waters from Lake Malawi, striking mountains, sufficient land for agricultural production, minerals as well as hard working citizens, Malawi remains a state in need.
Consequently, the majority of citizens continue to wallow in abject poverty, hunger, ignorance and diseases.
The question could be: Why should Malawi still be counted among the poorest countries in the world when it has a mountain of policies?
The government has, among others, implemented a number of initiatives intended to transform the socio-economic strata of the nation. These include the Farm Inputs Subsidy Programme (Fisp), Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP) and Public Works Programme.
It has also implemented development financing mechanisms such as the District Development Fund (DDF), Local Development Fund (LDF) to facilitate infrastructure development, bursaries and scholarships to promote equitable access to quality education.
But, apparently, all these have been in vain as Malawi continues to rank highly on the list of countries struggling to feed its citizens.
Uneven distribution of resources is one of the reasons highlighted as one of the causes of underdevelopment in Malawi.
For a good picture of this situation, one need go no farther than Mangochi, where the haves of this world freely mingle with the have-nots.
To address the problem of rising inequalities in Mangochi, Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) has been implementing a project, which aims to raise active citizens that can drive the development agenda of the district.
The project, which is being funded by the Norwegian Aid for Development Cooperation (Norad) through Norwegian Church Aid, aims to address problems such as inequality and gender-based violence (GBV) by utilising media platforms to amplify the voice of the voiceless.
Mejn acting Executive Director Bertha Phiri observed that Mangochi, just like other districts, has remained at the periphery of development because of passive citizenship.
“Active citizenship is one of the most important steps towards healthy societies, especially in democracies. Active citizenship drives people to get involved in their local communities and democracy at all levels, from towns to cities to nationwide activity in driving the development agenda from the local through to the national level,” Phiri said.
In November 2020, MEJN trained 40 residents from Mangochi in how best they could follow developmental projects being implemented in their areas.
The training had been designed to equip residents with necessary skills to enable them to track projects being implemented through constituency and local development financing baskets.
Phiri said the knowledge would enable residents to demand answers from duty-bearers on issues they do not understand.
And through specially-designed television programmes, television stations situated in Mangochi have been sensitising residents of Mangochi to issues such as democracy and nation-building.
One of those involved with the media aspect of the project, Father David Niwagaba, said, throughout the project timeframe, they provided a platform for residents to voice out their concerns on development and other human rights issues.
“We also organised interface meetings where rights-holders and duty-bearers would interact and ask each other questions that are pertinent to their areas. It was an exciting project and we must admit that we have also learnt a lot from it,” he narrated.
Fosco Mazeze, one of those trained, testified that the training made them stronger, stressing that they would now be able to follow things through.
“We have gained adequate skills for lobbying for development projects for our area as well as tracking how the officials from the district council are using the money allocated to each project,” Mazeze said.
Another participant, Steve Mvula, said, through the project, they had learnt that active citizenship is a combination of knowledge, attitude, skills and actions that aim to contribute to the building and maintenance of a democratic society.
Mvula challenged that the training had empowered them in many aspects, including, but not limited to, public expenditure tracking.
“My first task will be to track how officials at the council spend Central Government allocations as well as locally generated resources. I feel this is where the problem starts from,” he said.
How residents address challenges from the root will determine the extent to which Mangochi can become a beacon of hope in as far as sustainable development is concerned.