BY WANANGWA TEMBO:
The 23 June Fresh Presidential Election (FPE) gobbled K38 billion from the taxpayers’ Account Number One. This is no small amount for a poor country that is grappling with various socio-economic challenges such as perennial famine and diseases.
A good chunk of that amount was spent on paying thousands of elections and security officers that the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) had hired to man the 5,002 polling centres across the country. Mec spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa said in an interview that the electoral body was still working on figures to know the specific amount that was spent in that regard.
Prior to the election, civic educators had gone wide and wild crisscrossing the country sensitising communities and raising awareness about the election which came about following a High Court nullification of the May 2019 presidential poll. In that endeavour too, millions of kwacha were spent on such recurrent transactions as fuel and allowances.
However, for one Joseph Kafumbi, his contribution to the success of the FPE was at no cost. He says his involvement and contribution to matters of voter and civic education is out of patriotism.
“We cannot all work for money or else we will not develop this country. Some activities need to be done out of passion, goodwill and patriotism,” says Kafumbi, a volunteer Para- Civic Educator (PCE) attached to the National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Public Trust.
Kafumbi, a resident of Masasa Township in Mzuzu, is one of the 10,000 personnel that make the functional network of Nice volunteer structures from Area Civic Education Coordinators (Acecs), zone coordinators and down to PCEs throughout the country.
Trained in adult learning methodologies that enable them to effectively facilitate civic education in their communities, the volunteers assist a network of Nice District Education Officers in the 28 districts of the country. Principally, this makes Nice to have its footprints in all villages countrywide.
In the FPE process, Kafumbi and others played a critical role in that they were the main anchor of Nice’s grassroots civic and voter education programme by conducting awareness campaigns.
For instance, the volunteer network made noise in all villages countrywide through loud-hailing and night criers and helped in anchoring programmes on community radios. Additionally, they conducted door-to-door civic and voter education campaigns – a concept known as ‘ntchemberezandonda’.
As community facilitators and local contact persons for Nice, Kafumbi and his colleagues acted as the heart, soul, oxygen, and nerve centre of civic activities of Nice.
Civic awareness and sensitisation of the electorate remains the surest way to increase motivation to voter turnout so that election results reflect the will of people. Voter education provides the background attitudes, behaviours and knowledge among citizens that stimulate and consolidate democracy.
Additionally, sensitisation and awareness of the electorate is an effective means to win the war against the twin enemies of voting which are low voter turnout and null and void votes.
Gray Kalindekafe is Nice National Programmes Manager.
“Our programmes are designed in a way that they are community and needs centred. So the volunteers contribute to the sustainability of our work in Malawi since it is anchored on an active pool of volunteers who use locally available resources to facilitate transformational processes in the communities including voter education,” Kalindekafe says.
In collaboration with mHub, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Public Affairs Committee and National Democratic Institute, Nice established and managed a National Election Situation Room (ESR) which was a coordinating centre to which data on aspects that constitute a free, fair and credible election was being submitted and analysed by a team of experts to provide constructive information to various electoral stakeholders for their urgent action, operational responses and to feed into a broader report on how elections were conducted.
“The success of our ESR largely depended on the work of the 5,002 stationary and 462 roving observers that we deployed. These were drawn from a pool of our volunteers and they did a good job; we thank them for their patriotism to their country, Malawi,” Kalindekafe says.
According to him, the ESR provides a mechanism for real time interventions to incidences as they happen during the election process. Additionally, it provides early warning on issues that might impact on the integrity of elections.
Volunteering is at the heart of community-building. It promotes trust and reciprocity as it encourages good citizenship and provides people with an environment where they can learn the responsibilities of community and civic involvement.
The shifting socio-economic and environmental trends are changing how people volunteer. Regardless of the form it takes, volunteering remains an essential driver of political, social and economic development. It is an instrumental force in promoting positive and sustainable growth for democracy and humanity in general.
“The social value generated by our volunteer workforce is arguably even greater than its economic value. For record, our volunteer workforce reached to around 4 million voters during the just ended fresh elections. That is no small achievement,” Kalindekafe says.
According to Kalindekafe, the volunteer structure has provided a link between the district and communities and enhanced public confidence and trust in Nice programme activities due to its close proximity to local communities.
“Our volunteers are well-trained and have been very effective in sensitisation and awareness building and also often get utilised by various partners from several different sectors to carry out their information dissemination and awareness raising activities at the district and local community levels,” he says.
For Kafumbi, volunteering is not without challenges. He cites a culture of getting allowances as the biggest heck in providing civic education in villages.
“People think we receive money which we use to provide civic and voter education. So they demand to be given allowances for attending our sensitisation activities. This is because there are some organisations that give allowances to people for attending their activities. It is a big problem.
“But we should remember that volunteerism is also biblical as God is happy with people that help themselves. There is no way you can be paid on anything you do; more so for your own benefit,” he says.
Kafumbu is also concerned that some people fail to turn up to vote even after having duly registered as voters.
According to Kafumbi, frequent training sessions would help to plug the gaps in civic and voter education activities carried out by volunteers.
“A fully-fledged volunteer should be well trained. And as a person, he/she should be exemplary in the community in order to earn trust and respect of the people. Above all, volunteerism calls for patriotism – just the love for one’s country,” he sums up.