By Llywellenie Mpasa:
Sandwiched between trees and farmland, one would have thought Jonathan Jones Saidi from Chadzunda area in Blantyre has stopped keeping tabs on national issues.
Far from it.
“I follow issues taking place in my area as well as Blantyre [district and city] as a whole. I have been a member of a citizen forum for six years now, all because I want to actively participate in issues affecting us.
“And, for your information, I have been voting since 1993, when Malawians went to a referendum to choose between one party rule and multiparty politics. In 1994, I voted, too; including in the 1999, 2004, 2009, 2014, 2019 general elections as well as the June 23 2020 court-ordered presidential election,” said the 58-year-old father of five.
Jones Saidi added that he does not regret taking part in community and national development activities, although he concedes that his expectations have not always been met by those he votes into power.
“But, then, no one is perfect. We are all striving for perfection. I have not lost hope that, one day, things will be alright,” he said, vowing to press for change on issues such as poor governance through Local Government representatives.
According to a World Bank article titled ‘Citizen Participation in Local Governance’, “while many initiatives and efforts to promote good governance have taken place at the national level— for instance, civil service reform, Judiciary and parliaments reforms— poor governance is a problem at the local level”.
If further observes that, through the passage of time, citizen participation in local governance has become somewhat different “from previous more limited efforts on community participation”, lauding efforts aimed at linking “citizens’ participation more structurally to local governments through institutional linkages” among factors that have contributed to citizens’ improved involvement in issues that affect them.
The bank indicates that, overall, issues of transparency and efficiency are strategic entry points for addressing citizen participation in local governance, adding that such issues are also key features in enhancing credibility and legitimacy.
In Malawi, one of the organisations that have been promoting this is the National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust, which points out that the country can only reach the desired levels of progress it wants if it takes adequate steps to ensure inclusivity.
It cites the use of neighborhood-based fora among the tools for improving citizens’ participation in national issues, further indicating that, if properly used, such mechanisms may lead to reduced levels of poverty.
Nice District Civic Education expert for Blantyre, Glory Ngosi Maulidi, said, during a review meeting for citizen fora from Blantyre Urban, that community members are key to addressing challenges that persist at the local level.
She said empirical evidence has revealed that citizen fora are a valuable method of facilitating the dissemination of information on views that are viewed as “complex” in some quarters of the society.
Speaking at the conference on Tuesday, Maulidi said the target is to facilitate discussions between service users and duty bearers on rights and responsibilities, respectively, with the view to enhance service provision and uptake.
She stressed that certain excesses of the State and other ruling elites would be curtailed when decision-making regarding the use of local resources is owned at the local level.
“By understanding their roles, citizens can better question duty bearers, not only politicians but everyone, including their local leaders, checking to ensure that quality services and development projects are delivered to the right holders,” Maulidi said.
During the meeting, people from 21 citizenship fora from Blantyre Urban discussed achievements and challenges registered during the course of designated citizen forum duties, and proposed unified solutions going forward.
M’dala Citizen Forum Chairperson, Dinala Makawa, said, through their fora in Chileka, residents have, among other things, managed to buy land on which they are planning to build a public clinic and is now being used by HSAs as an under-five clinic in Chileka.
“Apart from owning the land, we have been raising money through other means and have constructed four wooden bridges.
“For example, we have constructed Kajidi Bridge, Pa Anacha and repaired Chilimba Bridge and another bridge between Mwachande and Mdala, after a pregnant woman and a school-going boy got washed away by running water,” Makawa said.
He said, as at now, the community has, through the forum, raised K1.2 million, which will be used for building Mpachika Bridge in their area.
And Johnston Phuka, who is Secretary for Kabula Citizen Forum, which has members from two villages of Mbayani and Magasa, said they have, through their forum, raised money from churches and other well-wishers.
They used the money to install electricity at Mbayani Clinic.
“We also repaired doors and built a waste incinerator bank at the clinic. Through this forum, we also recovered school land which was encroached on by the community and also initiated the signing of contracts with local councillors so that they commit to fulfill promises they made during the political campaign period,” Phuka said.
Funded by European Union under Chilungamo Project, implementers of the impartial and non-partisan review meetings hope that citizens can take their rightful role in development.