Of chaotic activism and change

This week, we on the streets spent some hours in the library and stuck on our eyes was one file exposing how tight civil activism has become in Malawi. In our hands was one fat file with several petitions by civil society organisations (CSOs) and Public Affairs Committee (PAC) as well as pastoral letters, among others. Don’t even mention news articles, talk shows and demonstrations. The shelf has everything on civil activism.

Undeniably, the watchdogs are biting. But as usual, we on the streets once again chose to think beyond the horizon and we are concerned with the increase of what we are calling ‘chaotic civil activism’. This is just an extension of civil activism.

Several scholars define activism as a policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. In Malawi, this concept is hugely utilised. We have witnessed a number of activism, some in defence of human rights and others for good governance.

To some extent, the reaction from authorities, including government has been positive, but some leaves a lot to be desired. This week, we on the streets focus on civil activism for good governance.

Two issues came out of the research—most activism yield nothing and some are becoming too chaotic. Chaotic activism is a form of activism with the potential to lead to chaos while pressing for social change.

We on the streets are too sensitive about chaotic activism. The aftermath of the July 2011 still haunt us and we will never support initiatives with the potential to risk our lives again. We learnt that some people take advantage of our poverty to advance their interests and when east comes to west; their position in the society favours them as we die like dogs in a hit-and-run accident by a careless driver.

As we went through some of the government petitions by PAC, we concluded that their recent actions have achieved too little to be proud of. However, we on the streets realised that despite yielding little results, the religious grouping has never turned chaotic and still practice sober activism. So as Catholic priests. The two continue to shift their approaches, trying to have their voice heard. We need to commend them on that. Other activists need to borrow a leaf. Indeed, others can emulate.

We were shocked a fortnight ago when some activists challenged that they have no time for dialogue with government on the issues they have been pressing on. They vowed never to listen to the ruling party. Their argument is that the ruling party has not listened to them for so long.

We agree, when someone chose not to listen, you can seek other options, but not chaotic alternatives. We on the streets also do not believe in giving up. Edson Mpina, in his novel A Low Road to Death, argues that accepting defeat is writing you own will to death. In life, you need to fight on.

By saying we will never dialogue with government, we feel the activists are writing their own will to death. Yes, that is a failure. This is civil activism and not political activism and we urge them to seek other options until they are heard, but should not lead to chaos. We believe the options have not been exhausted.

Demonstrations are not the only last resort. Our fear is that too many demos water down their relevance and popularity. Demonstrations should not be wholly negative. The use of reason, rather than emotion, is usually much more successful.

For government, remember in 11 months time, we will be back in the voting booth and do not blame us when our wide mouths make loud noises as we did in last elections. Many have vacated the air-conditioned offices while in tears because they never listened to local men and women on the streets and chose to use emotions rather than reason to respond to citizens concerns. n


*Sharra is a guest writer of this column.

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