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Bridging information dilemma for rural areas development

 “While other countries in the world aim to reach the moon, we must aim for the time being at any rate to reach the villages by providing them with necessary information” – Julius Nyerere (1967).

The emergence of information and knowledge in local societies can probably be a significant intervention with the potential to ensure that knowledge and information are readily available to local masses for the nation to achieve meaningful development.

The least expensive input for rural development is knowledge. Knowledge and information are basic ingredients of making one to be self-reliant and are essential for facilitating rural development and bringing about social and economic change.

The purpose of rural development is to improve the standard of living of the rural population which is multi-sectoral including agriculture, industry and social facilities. Rural communities require information inter alia on supply of inputs, new technologies, early warning systems (drought, pests, and diseases), credit, market prices and their competitors.

However, a thorn in our quest to bridge the information gap in rural areas is the process of disseminating the information. More often than not, dissemination of information is primarily through printed materials which are often unreadable, written in the languages of the ruling elite and do not relate to the needs of ordinary people.

This is the case with most of the handbooks here in Malawi including the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) guidelines that local councils use to implement CDF projects. Paradoxically, the booklets are printed in English and yet they are meant to empower local communities, 65 percent of them do not have basic education to read the elite language given the illiteracy levels in the country, to monitor the implementation of LDF projects by councils in their areas.

Realising this disparity, a Community Based Organisation (CBO) in Nguludi Chiradzulu, Tiwasunge CBO, embarked on a good governance programme aimed at empowering local masses with the operations of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).

The CBO with funding from the Tilitonse Fund, made sure that the CDF guidelines are hooked from the Chiradzulu Council’s drawers initially, where they are caged, away from the local masses, who are the owners of the CDF projects.

According to Tiwasunge CBO Programmes Manager Daud Kadzalira, eventually they ventured into another project to translate the CDF Guidelines from the ruling elite language, English, into vernacular for the local, uneducated masses to access how CDF projects are handled, and how they can monitor them to avoid being duped by government officials who out of self- aggrandizement, end up mismanaging the projects.

“It remains imperative for local communities to track down how CDF projects are being implemented because the projects are for them. We conducted sensitisation meetings local people in our catchment area that is in GVHs Likoswe and Mitawa. We felt they needed something permanent in the vernacular language that they can refer to at any given time when government allocates funds for any CDF project in this area,” said Kadzalira.

The booklet which was launched last week is titled “Tilondoloze Zitukuko za LDF ndi CDF” gives the background of CDF and the aims behind the institution of the fund.

It also discusses the Decentralisation and devolution concept, nature of projects that can be funded by CDF, and conversely, projects that cannot.

“Any member of parliament and any other council official are not allowed to use the CDF for personal gains, or use for funeral arrangements, or fuel expenses on his personal travels, or use as payment to local people who volunteered themselves to work on the project, or use as schools fees for needy children, or use the fund to buy relief in times of natural disasters etc,” reads the booklet in part.

Selection and evaluation of projects have also been highlighted in the booklet, how the funds are disbursed, how the project should be implemented, the roles and responsibilities of an MP on CDF projects; councilors, councils, local masses.

It has also tackled budgeting skills for projects, procurement, keeping and protection of CDF project materials, management of the project contractor, usage and safeguarding of CDF funds, and compilation of financial reports.

We have for a long time shared the notion that information (or knowledge) is power, however, information by itself is worthless and cannot solve problems. Information has power only when used and applied effectively.

The joy of the chairperson for the Village Development Committee in Group Village Headman Likoswe Kelvin Masautso could not be short-lived at the coming of the CDF Guidelines in Chichewa.

He regrets the days they have been passive in the implementation of CDF projects in the area and the fate of a classroom block at Malavi Primary School in the area readily comes to his mind.

“Government funded a class block at Malavi Primary using CDF and because of our passivity, the project stalled in 2012 and nobody in the village cared. It wasn’t until Tiwasunge CBO tipped us that we partnered with them and started making follow ups to Chiradzulu District Council where we discovered that some council officials had mismanaged the funds. After a series of interface meetings in 2015 with council officials, our MP O.G Issa; Chiradzulu Central, and Chiefs, we discovered some irregularities in the way the project was implemented,” said Masautso.

Masautso further said they irregularities forced O.G Issa to intervene and used his personal money amounting to K700,000 to rescue the pupils and have the block finished.

Here it is apparent that information is a basic resource which the local masses used to improve their conditions of living and is essential to uncover the mismanagement that characterised this development process. It should be registered here that information does not only expand the possibilities of social, political, educational and economic development of any community, but it also facilitates awareness and empowerment as evidenced by the classroom block saga.

Councillor for Nguludi Ward Joseph Manyenje hailed the good governance programme that Tiwasunge is implementing in his area. He noted that the importance of information especially in local languages in rural community development cannot be overemphasised because information has become a supportive input for any development programme.

“The CBO has given me a helping hand in this ward. I lament that their project comes to an end this July but I just pray that Tilitonse Fund or any other donor bankrolls Tiwasunge CBO. It is only then that we can be assured of development in this area,” said Manyenje.

Tradition Authority Likoswe observes that no community can develop without knowledge and a community can only become knowledgeable if they recognise and use information as their tool for development.

“The launch of the CDF Guidelines here in my area should act as an eye opener to other communities’ country wide. Let chiefs in those areas support the establishment of Community Based Organisations. We need this project of empowering local masses with information on good governance be replicated across the country. There are many ills being done to CDF projects that the local masses; illiterate and passive as they are, cannot unearth and correct the status quo if they are not empowered with information and skills on how CDF projects are implemented,” said Likoswe.

Ideally, information brings about knowledge, and a knowledgeable community is also an informed community. It is so vital that is why Nyerere stated at the opening of the National Central Library in Tanzania in 1967 that, “while other countries in the world aim to reach the moon, we must aim for the time being at any rate to reach the villages by providing them with necessary information”.

Thus, it can be said that, information, if well-articulated could eradicate ignorance and gives enlightenment on how to achieve economic, educational, social, political and cultural objectives towards the development of our beloved country.

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