Until April 2016, people of Traditional Authority (T/A) Mwadzama in Nkhotakota District would suffer in silence for fear of being labelled troublemakers by duty-bearers and officials at Nkhotakota District Council.
Pregnant women walked long distances to the health facilities to deliver. They painfully walked for minutes on end to fetch water both for drinking and domestic use.
And, to them, that was a normal day-to-day life for poor villagers.
They held the notion that better and improved social services are reserved for their brothers and cousins residing in urban areas.
Hence, when National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Public Trust launched a multi-council project that aims to create a critical mass of empowered citizenry, sceptics took it with a pinch of salt.
Effective April 1 2016, Nice and Water Aid Malawi entered into a partnership agreement on a three-year implementation of the Deliver Life Project to facilitate good governance in the provision of maternal and neonatal health in Kasungu, Nkhotakota and Machinga districts.
The purpose of this cooperation is to promote inclusive, equitable and sustainable access to water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) for all in Malawi.
The aim of the partnership is to work together in empowering citizens to take responsibility and actively engage in the realisation of their rights to Wash for improved maternal health in the impact areas in the aforementioned districts.
The major focus of the project, which receives technical and financial support from the United Kingdom Aid for International Development (UKAid) through the Water Aid Malawi, is to ensure that citizens, including vulnerable groups, are able to demand development and better social services and hold duty-bearers and power-holders accountable for their actions.
Nice and Water Aid Malawi are working with community-based development structures and rights groups such as Women Action Group (WAG) and Citizen Forum alongside village development committees and health advisory committees.
Benga WAG Secretary, Stella Nyirenda, 33, of Kamnjedza Village, T/A Mwadzama, confesses that until the rollout of the project in the area, she never thought public officers or duty-bearers could be subjected to scrutiny by ordinary citizens.
Nyirenda says, just like her fellow subjects, she grew up holding the notion that duty-bearers and public officers were immune to any kind of public scrutiny.
“Thus, we could neither demand transparency nor accountability in the formulation and implementation of development projects in our areas,” she explains.
Citizen Forum Secretary, Editta Kampikule, echoes Nyirenda’s views and sentiments, saying she equally never thought time would come when citizens – through local structures – would be accorded the space to provide inputs towards formulation and implementation of development projects.
Nkhotakota Nice District Civic Education Officer, James Mumba, says such mentality gave duty-bearers and power-holders the leeway to do whatever they pleased even if it meant infringing citizens’ freedoms and rights as enshrined in the Republican Constitution.
He says this was evidenced by the attitude some public officials had towards the project.
“Apparently, some officials felt creating a critical mass of empowered citizenry would also destabilise their grip on authority and public resources,” he explains.
Nice Regional Civic Education Officer (Centre), Christopher Naphiyo, told a review and planning meeting of community-based development committees and human rights groups in Nkhotakota recently that the objective of the project was not to create tension among citizens, duty-bearers and power-holders but to empower citizens with civic disposition, knowledge and skills through a new wave of civic transformation to enable them to demand their rights using civil means and participatory approach.
“Civic education is essential to sustain that constitutional democracy from the grass roots. Nice believes that democracy can only be sustained where citizens have the requisite knowledge, disposition and skills to enable them to effectively contribute to development of their respective areas,” he states.
Now that the fear of office-bearers has evaporated, the tyes of good governance can take a firm hold on Malawi’s road of democracy.
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