Civil society taking things too far

It has been an important role of civil society in Malawi to raise concerns about the abuse of power by the state and advocating for various freedoms among them entrenchments of the fundamental rights to political participation and access to information.

But as Malawians slowly forget the system that brought about civil society in this country, briefcase organisations with no clue of their role in democracy have sprouted all over and CSOs that have sold their souls and integrity to the government in exchange for fattened purses.

These briefcase CSOs are growing at the same rate as the propaganda campaigns of the government widespread using the airwaves of the taxpayer-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).

But there are few that have remained to represent the interests of the people, be it in agriculture and food security, budget monitoring and tracking, health and education have their integrity seemingly intact and people look up to them.

These have played their role very well, most importantly putting a check on powers of the state, because as we have seen politicians have the uncanny ability to completely disregard the rights and freedoms of citizens when power corrupts them.

If the events of 2003 and 2011 are anything to go by, Malawi has a vibrant civil society which unfortunately is narrowing by the day, particularly on matters of governance.

In the interests of the citizens of this country, civil society vigorously led the protests against the third term in 2003 and unsuccessfully but not without effort challenged the impunity of the administration of Bingu wa Mutharika when they introduced oppressive laws like the Injunctions Act and amended Section 46 posing a danger to press freedom.

But the narrowing civil society space has left few whose role it has turned out is to propose outlandish actions and issue threats and ultimatums to the state that in the end benefit no one.

There is absolutely no joy or merit that comes out of being described as ‘vocal’, in fact it should be insulting to the civil society.

This week Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) and Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) proposed to the political parties, opposition presumably, to boycott the Parliament meeting if the government fails to bring to the House the electoral reform bills as promised.

How such an action would ensure that the interests of the citizens are represented, only the two CSOs know.

It is certainly not in the interest of the citizens that Parliament should not meet and deliberate over crucial matters that concern the majority of them.

Much as Parliament is there to enact laws, its other oversight functions, which have a more direct impact on the ordinary person out there cannot be ignored.

Sure, politicians would love to be seen to be powerful by boycotting this coming session but such an action would not be in their interest.

This government knows for sure that time for playing with Malawians is long dead and buried at Ndata Farm.

This DPP administration can dare not table those crucial electoral reform bills that will change the landscape of elections management in this country for the better.

Instead of calling for a boycott of an important tenet of democracy that is the legislature, the CSOs should stop clutching at straws and devise other mechanisms to ensure the bills are tabled.

CSOs should be using Parliament as a forum for lobbying the government on issues that concern the special interest groups that Cedep and CHRR represents.

It is sad that instead of promoting political participation of citizens, CSOs should be in the forefront denying the same citizens that right.

You cannot influence decisions of the state when you boycott crucial avenues of dialogue and advocating for change like Parliament.

Its high time these civil society organisations stopped hiding behind lengthy press statements that few people read and actually take action: action that does not involve being ‘vocal’ or walking the 1.2 kilometres length from Area 18 roundabout to Civic Offices to present a piece of paper that is discarded the moment the crowd disperses.

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