Esnart Chikuni, 33, is distraught. She feels, like a can of a soft drink, which is discarded upon completion of its contents, politicians have used her for too long.
Chikuni, who comes from Eneko Village in Sub-Traditional Authority (ST/A) Govati in Mwanza, has seen politicians capitalise on their communities’ social and economic difficulties to lure prospective voters to their side.
She shudders to remember the number of development projects politicians gunning for various positions have been promising them since 1994, but all ends as mere dreams.
“Prior to the 1994 General Elections, we were promised schools with adequate teaching and learning materials, safe and clean drinking water and good road network.
“However, 20 years down the line, we are still struggling to get even a single borehole for our area. Our schools are in tatters; not to talk about the poor road network in Mwanza,” explains Chikuni.
Away in Mzimba, Lawrence Chisambi, 38, says he is always cautious to celebrate the laying of a foundation stone for a certain development projects by a minister or president.
Chisambi says majority of the projects whose foundation stones were laid soon after the 1994 General Elections remain unfulfilled in the area.
He cites Jenda-Edingeni Road project, which remained unfulfilled until late 2014 when construction finally took off.
“Since the 1994 General Elections, we’ve seen each administration coming to lay its own foundation stone on this road; with each promising that construction would start ‘very soon’. It raises questions, therefore, on the seriousness of our leaders to fulfill their campaign promises,” he narrates.
Chisambi emphasises that it is even harder to engage leaders on developmental issues because politicians rarely live in their areas after elections.
It is the same story across Malawi. Politicians visit almost every corner of the areas they want to lead once elected and make several promises to woe voters, but once the mission is complete, they hardly visit the voters and meet their promises.
Group Village Head (GVH) Mpeni of Mwanza observes that inaccessibility of elected leaders undermines efforts to consolidate democracy and governance; prerequisites for achieving a meaningful social and economic transformation in a country.
Mpeni stresses that constant interaction and sharing of ideas and opinions between leaders and the electorate is critical for consolidating democracy and good governance at the grass-roots.
“But since 1994, elected leaders have continuously disregarded fundamental requirements for institutionalising democracy and good governance, thereby denying voters a chance to engage them on pressing issues.
“This makes it difficult for the electorate to engage their leaders in social, economic and development matters,” he explains.
Mpeni, who is under Govati, complains that their member of Parliament (MP) for Mwanza West, Paul Chibingu, and councillor for Thambani Ward as some of the politicians who have rarely visited their areas after triumphing in the 2014 Tripartite Elections.
During the campaign, Chibingu is reported to have promised various development projects, including rehabilitation of earthroads, construction of health centres and school blocks, among others.
But Mpeni village development committee (VDC) chairperson, Maurice Phiri, says the MP has never visited the area since the casting of the ballots in May 2014.
Phiri further states that it was proving hard for them to formulate development plans in the absence of councillors.
In an interview, Chibingu defended his absence and attributes this to ‘tight schedule’ as he is also Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.
“It’s not deliberate. As a minister, I serve the whole nation, but this does not mean I will not do what I promised them. There is still time and it’s too early to start making such conclusions,” says Chibingu.
National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust regional civic education officer for South, Enock Chinkhuntha, deplores the tendency by politicians to love people during campaign time and ‘throw them away’ once they are put in positions of leadership.
Chinkhuntha says this behaviour is suicidal to Malawi’s democracy as it discourages people from participating in future elections.
He, however, expresses hope that things could improve if both parties patronised ‘media clinics’, which Nice introduced to enhance engagement between leaders and the electorate.
Chinkhuntha says media clinics bring duty-bearers and people at the grass-roots together to discuss various social and economic issues in the presence of journalists.
“Some politicians used to complain that it was costly for them to organise rallies in their respective areas because of the ‘allowance syndrome’ among the constituents. Nice is now assisting in organising the rallies as part of civic educating masses on various issues.
“Leaders incur no costs for attending media clinics. And they are proving to be effective tools for bringing voters and the elected leaders together on critical issues. However, we’re baffled to note that some leaders are shunning these clinics without giving explanations. This is unacceptable in a democracy,” he emphasises.