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For democracy to survive, civic engagement is important

A few months after US President Barack Obama left office, he said, at a time of political divisiveness, more civic activism was needed to solve community problems across any nation.

This resonates well with our Malawi today.

Theoretically, and empirically, in the case of mature democracies like Obama’s USA, democracy has a positive relationship with governance.

In contrast, our government, at any level and in any of the communities, has failed to provide rule-based governance, responsive to the needs of citizens, with very limited exceptions.

If you have had a chance of visiting Capital Hill in Lilongwe or any government office anywhere for anything, you will experience absenteeism and disrespect – unless you are somebody and come with some connection – reference or introduction.

Moreover, go to any public place, you will see garbage uncollected, grass uncut. A case in point is how the Bingu Stadium has been left to self-destruct

The question is, at what level should we judge governance? A regular point of connect with the citizens is the basic and most important measurement of judging the quality of governance – offices, public schools, colleges, universities, and hospitals.

What about big issues of economy, infrastructure, development and a vision to change and transform the society from poor and unequal to just, fair and prosperous?

We have heard a lot about visions of political parties in Malawi, but the fact is any public service that any government handles continues to perform badly.

It is because of institutionalised corruption and political expediency. A narrow-self-interest in not ruffling feathers of civil society groups has prevented the Mutharika dynasties and others before them from taking difficult decisions of improving governance structures by providing personal leadership and cleaning entities of powerful political appointees.

While we see some attempts to improve in a few sectors, many sectors remain as bad as they have been for decades. It proves the point that, with better democratic leadership, we can do far better for the country and citizens.

So when the Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) calls for active citizen state engagement to rid Malawi of corruption and fraud, they are spot on.

Mejn’s leadership has said bluntly that Malawians should know that politicians and all people in leadership positions would really like the environment where nobody asks them questions on governance and they [politicians] will do anything to frustrate citizens’ engagement.

Sure enough, it is high time citizens who are engaged in governance issues started asking questions naturally without having to wait for somebody.

Above everything else, citizens should understand that governance is an issue of collective responsibility. If we sleep, others will take advantage of the situation and give us a raw deal.

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