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Eradicating inequalities through citizen empowerment

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By Watipaso Mzungu, Contributor:

GRATEFUL—Chagunda

The people of Village Head Chagunda I, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kachindamoto, in Dedza District are recovering from the wounds of segregation and lopsided policies that forced them into social and economic exile.

They curse the topography of the area, believing that it created the structural disparities that locked them out of opportunities and rights to education, economy and health.

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They lived lives devoid of social services such as clean and safe drinking water, health and education.

“We have lived most of our lives like wild animals. We have never had the privilege of enjoying various rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Malawi,” Chagunda I says.

A poor road network is another barrier to access the area. While other Malawians are walking on well-paved roads, courtesy of the Public Works Programme (PWP), Chagunda I’s Village does not have even a single gravel road— only footpaths.

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Thus, Chagunda I and his subjects considered the right to development as a privilege and preserve of the elite although the Constitution of Malawi expressly states that any citizen has a right to it irrespective of their geographical position.

At the turn of political events in the early 1990s, Malawians were made to believe that their lives would be transformed and improved if they adopted multiparty democracy.

They were promised improved living standards like those of civil and public servants at Capital Hill irrespective of one being a peasant farmer in Nthalire in Chitipa, Mengwe in Dowa or Ndamera in Nsanje districts.

It has been 24 years now since Malawians re-embraced the multiparty system of governance.

Yet, the majority continues to wallow in abject poverty and perennially long for quality basic amenities such as reliable healthcare facilities, safe and clean drinking water and adequate classrooms for their children.

OFFICIALLY OPENED THE SCHOOL—Dedza Diocese Pastoral Secretary Fr Peter White

Elected leaders such as Members of Parliament (MPs), Ward Councillors and the President himself, leave their areas as soon as the electoral results are announced, making it difficult for the rural masses to follow up on their promises.

The majority of the MPs and councillors hibernate and confine themselves to towns until the the next campaign period, leaving the electorate with unfulfilled promises from the previous election.

This is what prompted National Initaitive for Civic Education (Nice) Public Trust to facilitate the formation and establishment of Citizen Forums nationwide.

And with financial support from the European Union (EU), Nice Public Trust is building the capacity of Citizen Forums across the country to enhance good governance and also empower the citizenry to demand their rights and development projects of their need.

These platforms are proving to be the most effective tools for rural and neglected communities to find solutions to various issues, including deprivation to social, economic and good governance.

Dedza Nice District Civic Education Officer (Dceo), Patrick Siwinda, says 14 forums have been established and had their capacity built to enable them to effectively engage duty-bearers.

These include Chagunda, Thiwi, Diamphwe, Mkundi, Chongoni, Kaphuka, Chauma, Mayani South, Katewe, Magomero, Chilikumwendo and Kafere Citizen Forums, Mkundi Women Forum and Dedza Social Accountability Monitoring Committee (Samcom).

Siwinda says these forums operate and complement activities of local governance structures like Council, Area Development Committees and Village Development Committees and are effectively advocating for delivery of public services on behalf of their communities by engaging various duty-bearers to account for decisions made in relation to both taxpayers’ and donor money meant for local communities in order to improve their social and economic living standards.

He adds that this has helped communities advance transparency and accountability in the implementation of various development projects in their respective areas.

“As Nice Public Trust, we are glad to see Chagunda Citizen Forum as one of such local structures that have relentlessly engaged with a number of government sectors of Dedza Council and continue holding such authorities to account for public service delivery around Chagunda area,” Siwinda says.

Today, despite some setbacks along the way, disparities in the education, water, sanitation and hygiene are narrowing in Chagunda I Village and Chagunda Citizen Forum played a key role in helping bring a measure of equity to the playing field.

CONDUCIVE TO LEARNING—A new classroom at Sacred Heart Primary School

The forum chairperson, Joseph Sipolo, says in 2015, after gaining enough skills and knowledge in good governance, they summoned relevant duty-bearers, including MP for Dedza East Juliana Lunguzi and the district commissioner.

“The main reason we summoned them was to seek clarifications and answers on why the community remains marginalised several elections after the change to multiparty democracy. It pained us that our children could not access education when our friends’ children are enjoying the right to education; we drew water from unprotected swamps when fellow Malawians upland were drinking from boreholes,” Sipolo explains.

The forum also took to the Catholic priests –Missionaries of Africa – at Mua Mission to present their grievances and plead with the clerics to join their force in fighting for equality and equity in the distribution of resources.

In 2015, the communities put up all-grass-thatched classrooms to allow children learn as the church mobilised resources from well-wishers for the construction of modern school blocks.

Lilongwe-based contractor Peter Matipwiri was the first to respond with a K25 million donation to Mua Parish and that was enough for the priests to embark on the first-ever school project and sinking of a borehole in the area.

“We have three school blocks covering Standards One to Six and three teachers’ houses at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Junior Primary School. The school has been solely built by the church and its well-wishers such as the Matipwiri Family. We would like government to come in now and provide resources for the construction of the remaining blocks to cater for the senior classes,” he says.

Sipolo says achievements like these have ignited hope and further build trust in civic education as a levelling force powering community development.

Nice Trust Regional Civic Education Officer (Centre), Christopher Naphiyo, says unless people are empowered with civic education, they will remain ignorant of their constitutional rights.

He also notes the need to consolidate democratic processes in order to achieve this.

Naphiyo emphasises that it is for this reason that his organisation builds the capacity of communities to enable them demand their right to development as well as hold service deliverers to account.

“And this is in line with decentralisation, which requires that communities have a say in any development project taking place in their areas,” he narrates.

He adds that decentralisation represents the most effective means of curbing excessive concentration of power at the central government, which is a distinctive feature of the existing governance model, and which is inimical to several basic tenets of good governance, such as openness, transparency, fairness and probity.

“Decentralisation facilitates popular participation in governance. It brings government closer to the people, and thus enables citizens to be better informed and to better understand the conduct of public business.

“This facilitates the forging of a strong relationship between governors and the governed and identification of the people with their government, which helps to reduce alienation from the political process,” he explains.

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