Political campaign periods are the most deceptive moments in history. One by oneÂ aspiring candidatesÂ come weighed with words of promises. They promise toÂ constructÂ school blocks, hospital wards, bridges and boreholes once they getÂ elected. They emphasise the â€˜whatâ€™ not the â€˜howâ€™.
The deceptive part of itÂ allÂ is not that, once elected,Â they will hide in the comfort ofÂ cities and fail to fulfil the promisesÂ made. Rather, if a borehole is constructed in their constituency, they will own it.
To launch it, they will organise a large political rally, invite the media, and women will be all over singing songs of praise. The youth will paint their bodies and go round the villages mobilising thousands to grace the launch. In their speech, they will go public boasting that if it wasnâ€™t for them, the constituency couldnâ€™t have developed.
The scenarios are prevalent, of course; but behind them there is a big story of development in Malawi. Is development a product of politiciansâ€™ pity? Is it a graceÂ from government?Â
Until June 13 this year, Joyce Moneya of Majikuta Village, Sub T/A Mpunga in Chiradzulu, used to think so.
â€œThatâ€™s why when the President or a Cabinet minister or an MP comes here to officially open a development project, we express our appreciation through traditional dances spiced with songs especially composed to please the leaders,â€ she says.
Such songs are not just for praise, mind you.
â€œWe sing to influence them to always favour our area, to always consider us first,â€ she explains.
From Chididi in Nsanje where women sing the whole day on an empty stomach, anticipating an MP who comes late just to launch a borehole, to Kameme in Chitipa where youths paint their bodies with party colours to praise a politician who is inaugurating a small bridge, development projects are deceptively politicised in Malawi.Â Â
Pan Africa Civic Educators Network (Pacenet) executive director, Steven Duwa, has an answer.
â€œThe tendency is a product of politicianâ€™s insinuation that only those areas that work with the â€œgovernment of the dayâ€ can benefit from the development projects government is implementing,â€ he says.
He adds: â€œEven during the campaign period, the voters are deceived into believing that they need to align themselves with Members of Parliament (MPs) from the ruling party for them to benefit from government-funded projects. This is very wrong.â€ said Duwa.
To right this wrong, Pacenet, with technical and financial support from Tilitonse, is implementing a year-long project titled â€œEnhancing Citizen Action for Just, Development and Democratic Governance at Local Levelâ€”Zothekaâ€.
The project runs from March 2012 to March 2013 and is targeting 89 village development committee in Chiradzulu, 72 VDCs in Thyolo and five ward committees in Luchenza Municipal Council.
â€œThe project seeks to strengthen the capacity of local governance structures to enable them effectively fulfil their roles and functions and through them to create a critical grass roots mass that can demand transparency and accountability from-duty bearers and power-holders in the delivery of social services and fulfilment of basic human rights,â€ says Stella Sagawa, Pacenetâ€™s board chair.
One of the ways Pacenet is using to cultivate a critical mass in the locals is through forming transparency and accountability clubs (TACs) across the village and providing them with training.Â
Moneya was one of the 30 locals from Chiradzulu whom Pacenet captured, put them into TACs and gave them a three-day training workshop on how local governance structures can conduct social audits.
â€œNow I understand. Politicians capitalise on our ignorance of the Constitution that development is a right, not a privilege; we need to demand it,â€ she says, brimming with confidence showing me her certificate of attendance.
And she continues: â€œI used to regard every government project as a privilege or grace because authorities donâ€™t consult us before executing them. They just impose them on us, and, therefore, people canâ€™t appreciate its ownership.â€
She advances the training has empowered her to question and even challenge government decisions that seem to have been politically-influenced.
Through people like Moneya, Pacenet wants to spread the revolution across the villages in Chiradzulu. To do that, the NGO distributed push bicycles to 50 community-based organisations working in areas of human rights and good governance.
â€œWe want to facilitate movements by TAC members when they are conducting meetings with communities, ADCs, VDCs and CBOs where they will also be expected to popularise the right to development,â€ says Duwa.
He says that lack of a critical mass has been a catalyst for unaccountable governance systems as people tend to look at development projects as a grace from authorities.
â€œThe Supreme Law of the land has enshrined development as a right for every Malawian without political strings attached. It is, therefore, misleading for leaders to sway votes their way by attaching political strings to government projects.
â€œAfter all, the money government uses for implementing different projects comes from the same people through taxes. So it would be unconstitutional if government starts denying a certain section of people of their right to development because they donâ€™t support a ruling party,â€ he says.
He observes that the absence of ward councilors and dysfunctionalÂ local governance structures, such as the village development committees (VDCs) and the area development committees (ADCs) haveÂ greatly contributed to the breakdown of democratic systems, whichÂ require that public servants should be accountable to the people theyÂ serve.
â€œUnless we are well empowered with the right information on our constitutional rights, we will always remain ignorant on governance issues and suffer in silence.Â We will always be fooled, be tricked and, in the end, vote for people on wrong assumptions,â€ says Moneya.
But now that she knows, and with a bicycle, she vows to cycle the revolution to all corners.