It is becoming traditional that every time there are issues in the socio-political and economic spectrum, government leaders are engaged in a dialogue of some sort by CSOs. Whilst dialogue on its own is a very important strategy in seeking solutions to issues affecting and infecting the nation, this entry argues that dialogue, constructive or deconstructive, cannot be a monopoly of CSOs alone.
History attests to us that faith, traditional and business leaders have engaged in dialogue with state leadership in this country. However, the predominance of CSO leaders is putting some other key stakeholders in the periphery.
As such, any dialogue with government leaders at any time, if not inclusive of other leaders, will seem to be narrow, rushed and, more importantly, sentimental.
It is therefore critical from many stakeholders to reflect how the current version of dialogue may be sufficient for positive transformation of our society. As the nation agrees on dialogue, it is critical to liaise on representation, mandate of representatives, on skills for dialogue among representatives.
This is not to demean CSO leaders that have courageously spent their time seeking platforms and opportunities to dialogue with government. There is enough evidence that in most of the CSOs interventions towards better governance, engagement and dialogue are very critical strategies.
CSO leaders spend their time dialoguing with various stakeholders at a community, district and national level. By now CSO leaders have amassed relevant skills and technique to engage in dialogue towards positive social transformation.
This notwithstanding, CSOs are many and diversified. It’s not all CSOs that are involved in daily dialogue with stakeholders. There are a lot of CSOs that are engaged in many other equally important interventions, seeking to improve the socio-economic lives of many Malawians.
A question is: Are the leaders of such CSOs recognised when constituting dialogue platforms on national issues? Or only CSO leaders dealing with human rights and political governance issues are easily associated with national dialogue since they refer to civil demonstrations?
Would we say such important skills of dialogue are only a monopoly of political governance CSOs?
It is time to reflect.
In noticing the many challenges Malawi has been facing and in recognising the opportunity for dialogue, an inclusive approach is needed. A mapping of stakeholders is needed.
Dialogue on national burning issues would need, as per their nature, a multifaceted approach and skills. We must therefore go beyond the legitimacy of CSOs and delve into the sphere of faith leaders, traditional leaders and the business leaders. Such vast and diversified expertise and experience would enrich any national dialogue initiatives.
It will further add on the credibility of the processes as some of these leaders have very clearly defined and respected constituencies whose mandate cannot be questioned by any.
Similarly when government is convinced it needs to engage in dialogue on national important issues, it is essential that various stakeholders are approached and representation is cast wider to avoid limiting spaces to CSO leaders alone.
It is understandable that the recent history of Malawi sees more of the space of CSOs in engaging government on national issues but our 20 years of multiparty politics also are a testimony of very elegant and serious dialogue sessions between government and citizens.
Malawi has thrived on numerous political and economic melting points purely because its sons and daughters from across the divide of tribe, religion, profession and leadership positions who had passion for this country engaged in an honest dialogue with mutual respect and for the love of mother Malawi.
So dialogue, yes. Constructive dialogue, yes. But it must be beyond the CSO leadership representation for it to be rich and effectively mandated.
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