THE AFRICAN ELECTIONS REPORT FOR MALAWI, MAY TO JULY 2009
ACTIVITY REPORT FOR MARCH
3. DISTRICTS VISITED
5. SUMMARY OF VIEWS
7. LESSONS LEARNED
Malawi, like most African states, has come to accept the tenets of democratic governance as a defacto means of running the affairs of the state (people). This is envisaged on the premise that the power to govern should be derived from the people, and that the art of running affairs of the state should be in the best interest of these people. But, for this process to be complete there must be a means of transferring this (people’s) power to duly-elected public officials under the principles of honesty, transparency and accountability. Elections offer such an integral opportunity. The International Institute of ICT Journalism, realizing the need of transparency and accountability- and, especially, aware that only well-informed citizens can make the best of choices in electing leaders of their liking- undertook to carry out the African Elections Project, an initiative that sought to increase and improve voters, and other stakeholders’, access to latest information and services that keep people up to date with latest developments on elections.
The African Elections Project concept realized, however, that the process of delegating power to elected leaders (as a first component of the initiative) would be incomplete without a means through which voters (who may have expressed their choice of leaders through the ballot) may pass their views, hopes, wishes and aspirations pertaining to priority developmental needs they feel would help improve their livelihoods and positively impact on the social, cultural well-being of the people. Voices of the People, one of the crucial components of the African Elections Project, offers just such an opportunity. It is a strategy that strives to accord policy makers and public officials another opportunity to reflect on their priorities and see if they reflect on the development wishes of the people.
In this report, Richard Chirombo of the African Elections Project-Malawi, details main issues derived from his trip to the eight Central Malawi districts of Ntcheu, Dedza, Lilongwe, Kasungu, Dowa, Ntchisi and Salima. The visits were made between Monday, May11, 2009 to Wednesday, May 14, 2009.
2.0 AIM (S)
The main purpose of visiting the seven Central region districts of Ntcheu, Dedza, Lilongwe, Kasungu, Dowa, Salima and Ntchisi was to provide a forum where ordinary people- who are often left out on issues of national development concern yet (yet) bear the brunt of policy misplacements- would air out their views on the developmental needs of their communities. It is envisaged that this could also act as a mirror reflection for policy makers and public officials entrusted with the responsibility of meeting the welfare needs of the people, especially those who may not stand on their own without some form of targeted social interventions. In summing up, the activity hoped to give the voiceless a voice, and make them feel an integral part in community and national development processes.
3.0 DISTRICTS VISITED
In trying to reach out to as many people as possible, albeit within a limited space of time, visits were paid to eights districts in the Central region: Ntcheu, Dedza, Lilongwe, Kasungu, Dowa, Ntchisi and Salima. Except for Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, the remaining six districts remain some of the country’s least developed places, as manifested by the general lack, or inadequacy, of basic resources such as water, electricity, and other social amenities.
I tried as much as possible to reach out to a representative figure in each of the visited districts, which necessitated the need for a qualitative method of interviewing. I thus set out to interview one in every ten people, also considering the limited time limit (of three days I was given to reach out to all the seven districts; most of which eat up a considerable chunk of travel time).
Great efforts were made to reach out to both men and women, but it proved a tall order to reach out to the women as most of them were too shy to speak, let alone have their voices recorded. This was exacerbated by the perceived conviction, on part of most women, that their concerns would not be addressed. Where such problems arose, I would set out to speak to the elevenths individual encountered.
Here is a summary of the number of respondents, and district, visited:
1. Ntcheu 14
2. Dedza 14
3. Lilongwe 20
4. Kasungu 20
5. Dowa 16
6. Ntchisi 18
7. Salima 18
Here is a list of the District and issues raised:
District Main Issue Figure of people
1. Ntcheu Food security 12
2. Dedza Portable water 10
Infrastructure development 2
Food Security 1
3. Lilongwe Water 14
Food security 4
(Un) employment 2
4. Kasungu Water 13
Food security 4
Medicine (health) 2
5. Dowa Food Security (subsidized fert.) 10
(Portable) water 4
Roads construction 2
6. Ntchisi Food security 9
Roads’ construction 2
7. Salima Food security 10
Road infrastructure 2
Total number of respondents: 120
5.0 SUMMARY OF VIEWS
In all, 120 respondents shared their views on what, to them, constitute priority areas. In all the seven districts visited, the issued of food security topped the list, followed by that of water and infrastructure. Most respondents described food security in a narrow sense- as the availability of cheap chemical fertilizers, perhaps because of the on-going government’s fertilizer subsidy programme.
It became apparent that respondents viewed government’s priority areas of health and education as crucial only when their food security needs have been well-taken care of. Only well-fed children made the best pupils and those who eat balanced diets rarely need medical care, half of them said, when asked why health and education were not priority issues in their view.
Over half of the women interviewed, however, pointed at portable water as a priority, followed by food security (which they meant to say accessibility to cheap farm in puts, especially chemical fertilizers).
The Voices of the People Central region findings point to the general lack of thorough consultations, if any, between the governed and those in power. This is evident in the fact that government has largely been carrying out a myriad of national consultative meetings for the past five years, such consultations have only been held in urban and peri-urban areas such as Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu. This has not only been evident through budget consultations, as some of the respondent pointed out, but also consultations’ and contribution fora for such activities as Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS), Vision 2020, and other policies (like the national condom strategy, water policy)- only traditional leaders are invited.
There is thus a big gap currently between policy makers and the ordinary man at the grass root level that new interventions need to be mapped out to fill the development-priorities void that exists between the governed and their transparently elected leaders. Issues that affect the nation should surely be debated at all levels, with more emphasis being placed on bottom-to-top approaches.
7.0 LESSONS LEARNED
7.1 The activities undertaken in the Central region revealed that people at the grassroots level are ready, and willing, to contribute towards processes and policies that stand to improve their living standards and level of participation in issues of national development
7.2 In setting out to get people’s views on issues, there is need for more sensitization (through print and electronic media) if women are to be meaningfully involved. My trip to Ntcheu, Dedza, Lilongwe, Kasungu, Ntchisi, Dowa and Salima revealed that women are still reluctant to contribute towards issues that impact, both positively and negatively, on their lives.
7.3 People, especially rural women, still feel that their contributions would not make any difference, since they are not fully engaged on various national development issues or, if they do, their views are not appreciated and taken into consideration.
7.4 There is need for thorough consultations with grass root communities on developmental issues, for them to be able to understand the processes involved, and how governments come up with priority areas.
7.5 There is, currently, a gap between government’s priorities and the needs of the people.
7.6 The gap between government, or policy makers, priorities and those (priorities) of communities at the grass root level is not very big a remedy to strike a balance can be worked upon.
7.7 There is a general lack of information on how government, policy makers, development partners, come up with their national priorities.
7.8 Most development initiatives are not borne out of people’s contributions but are dictated upon/imposed on them in a quest to satisfy financial providers’ wishes/demands.
7.9 Imposition of development initiatives often leads into lack of an ownership spirit, culminating into vandalism and short-usefulness of infrastructure meant for public use.
7.10 The growing practice of hand outs has led into people waiting for development initiatives in their areas, other than setting out to engage in self-help initiatives by themselves.
7.11 People in the Central region have the ideas to contribute towards issues of national discourse but often lack the right forum to express such views.
7.12 Cultural stereotyping still keeps women at the backwaters of development, hence the need to prioritize their contributions.
7.13 The Central region still lags behind in many aspects of basic life; a challenge that could be overcome through concerted efforts and full participation of the communities involved. That is to say, communities in general and communities of interest.
7.14 The media can play a role in fostering and influencing community development.
7.15 Media practitioners often forget their role in influencing community development
7.16 The media can do more to highlight development deficiencies.
7.17 The media is a powerful means of engaging communities in national debate pertaining to development and their living standards. It also plays a crucial law in influencing sustainable social-economic development initiatives by taking to/highlighting development challenges in various areas/distr