Tuesday (30th July, 2019) morning, as I was scrolling down my newsfeed on Facebook I stumbled upon a news item that really got my attention – an article by the Nyasatimes titled “Malawi VP Chimulirenji accuses CSOs of serving politicians abandoning ordinary people”. The article described how Malawi’s Vice President, Right Honorable Everton Chimulirenji, on a tour of Nyambasi Solar Scheme in Nsanje, had called out Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) for ‘serving the interests of their political masters and now stopped serving the interest of ordinary Malawians’. This really caught my eye for the fact that I had just discussed this very same issue earlier that day with a friend of mine.
Now to begin with, CSOs can be defined as “non- state, not-for- profit, voluntary entities formed by people in the social sphere that are separate from the State and the market (UN Guiding Principles). In her research paper entitled ‘What is Civil Society, its role and value in 2018’, Rachel Cooper states that civil society roles include:
• service provider (for example, running primary schools and providing basic community health care services)
• advocate/campaigner (for example, lobbying governments or business on issues including indigenous rights or the environment)
• watchdog (for example, monitoring government compliance with human rights treaties)
• building active citizenship (for example, motivating civic engagement at the local level and engagement with local, regional and national governance)
• participating in global governance processes (for example, CSOs serve on the advisory board of the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds).
All the above roles are equally important and fulfilling them plays a virtual part in the social and economic development of a nation. But sadly as the Veep stated, it seems some Malawian CSOs have taken on their role of being the watchdog of government with what some would call an unhealthy obsession to the extent that, by their actions, one can no longer describe them as legitimate CSOs, but rather partisan opposition politicians.
I am not one who generally follows the local news with a religious passion but I am always eager to see the latest headlines and going ons in this country and whenever I see a story concerning CSOs or one of their leaders commenting on issues it is always anti- government. And the actions of our civil societies leaders these past couple of months since Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) victory at the polls (which has been endorsed and accepted by our international partners and donors) have only proved the fact that what Right Hon. Chimulirenji said is not cheap political propaganda, but instead the cold hard truth and a very sad reality.
Civil society leaders are now acting like mercenaries for the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and United Transformation Movement (UTM), who have been tasked to bring down a lawfully elected government at any cost. What makes this situation much more deplorable is the fact that CSOs are supposed to be the voice of reason and sanity in a nation but it seems their leaders have forgotten this. The case disputing the election results is about to begin being heard by the High Court of Malawi, the Judiciary being the only institution with the mandate of settling legal matters, but already they have taken it upon themselves to pass a guilty verdict against the accused and hand down a sentence of them stepping down from their office. Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty?” They have since been organizing nationwide demonstrations every week in order to cause chaos and mayhem, disrupt business thereby causing social unrest in order to put pressure on the President and Chairperson of Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) Justice Dr. Jane Ansah SC to relinquish their positions. To me, this is absurd because there is no valid justification for their demands. As correctly pointed out by the VP, these demonstrations are only retarding development and in the short and long run will only hurt the ordinary Malawian – the ones the CSOs claim to represent and work tirelessly to assist.
The very same people CSOs claim to care about are the street and market vendors who are losing much needed income on demo days due to loss of business either because their goods and wares are looted or destroyed, or simply because they do not set out their stalls that day due to fear of the former, or lack of sales because potential customers not wishing to risk a trip into town on such days. Not to mention all the small and medium businesses that are suffering due to not being able to open up on these days or even worse still their premises have been vandalized and looted, thereby forcing them to stop operations or their revenue generating activities. A group of Lilongwe vendors formally demanded that the demos stop. And lest we forget, although many businesses in towns and cities maybe foreign owned, they mostly employ Malawians and in a situation where a business cannot generate revenue to pay its employees, these employees (ordinary, hardworking Malawian citizens) suffer because then they do not have the financial resources to pay for rent, food , clothes, school fees etc. to look after their families. While many Malawians suffer, a majority of whom don’t really care who holds the reins of power, directors of CSOs and their partners, leaders of opposition, still receive their hefty salaries, allowances and benefits and normally go about enjoying their lives living in their large gated compound mansions, driving their institution allocated fancy cars.
Right Hon. Chimulirenji was making his remarks whilst touring a project intended on helping flood victims and showing us all how someone who has been entrusted with the power and responsibility of helping the ordinary man should behave. Maybe it’s just the fact that I do not frequently or deeply indulge into local news but I have never really come across stories of these CSOs spearheading relief efforts in times of disasters, or even seen a story of these CSOs partnering with the private sector, or initiating new and innovative projects that are socially and economically beneficial to local and rural communities. Rather what I see when I read the local media nowadays is a civil society that has become a mouth piece to discredit, humiliate the President, his family and ruling party at every opportunity no matter how small or insignificant the ‘error’ may be. The Civil society has become an instrument for power hungry and delusional opposition leaders to grab the reins of power by any means possible, which as it turns out, is bringing total chaos and anarchy to the streets of our beautiful country and bringing it to its knees resulting in economic hardship for majority of Malawians whom they claim to have their interest at heart.
I may not have all the facts, I might not know everything and have all the answers, and probably CSOs and opposition leaders are more learned and widely travelled than me, but one thing I can confidently tell them is this; you seem to be trying to emulate the recent events that have occurred in our fellow African countries Sudan and Algeria, where unpopular governments were toppled by citizens taking to the streets and performing mass demonstrations. Unfortunately, any intellect, academic or professional with common sense, will tell you that never in a million years or how many times you try and manipulate the facts you can never (and it would be a great insult to) compare Malawi’s current situation with the situations Sudan and Algeria were in. These two countries had been under decades long suppressive and authoritarian rule by brutal regimes who abused their powers to enrich themselves and their cronies and worse still persecuted their opponents and silenced critics with imprisonment and extreme violence. Malawi has a President who has been elected in an election that has been endorsed by local and international observers and has been recognized and accepted by the international community.
Malawi has a President who has acted as the esteemed and noble statesman He is, by showing great restraint in letting CSOs exercise their democratic rights although sadly they have abused these rights and made a mockery of the judicial system. Even Undule Mwakasungura, arguably the most influential CSO leader Malawi has ever produced, has spoken against the actions of CSOs. He has described the ongoing demonstrations as uncivilised, driven by hate and jealousy and retrospective to the country. Mwakasungura, who surrendered his life to the service of God, said it is only God who will determine the future of this country.
Masile Une Wawo,
Mdyomba Che Ambute.