Malawi’s vocal Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), activists and human rights defenders have claimed government is using a ‘divide and rule, ambush approach’ to dialogue and fanning factionalism in civil society.
The vocal CSOs issued a communiqué asking government to clarify on Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), give a status report on the country’s economy, water and electricity crises, public service reforms, Decent and Affordable Housing Subsidy Programme, and presidential and foreign trips.
Cabinet Ministers on Tuesday organised a high-level meeting in Lilongwe to address issues the CSO’s raised.
However, the signatories of the communiqué shunned the meeting, saying that such an approach was deliberately designed to stifle the social accountability movement in the country.
In a statement issued by Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Centre for Development of People (Cedep), Human Rights Defenders Forum, Civic and Political Space platform, Youth and Society, Malawi Network of Religious Leaders Living and Affected with HIV and Aids, the CSOs observe that instead of concentrating addressing the concrete issues raised in their communiqué, government has gone flat out to divide and neutralise critics under the guise of preaching contact and dialogue.
The groups claim government is promoting factional rivalries within the civil society in order to counter CSOs position on the deteriorating political and economic governance in the country.
CSOs alleged that the Special Presidential Advisor on NGOs and Civil Society, Mavuto Bamusi bankrolled and spearheaded “a Civil Society Platform for Constructive Dialogue” in Blantyre inviting some CSOs and “retired” activists with the sole objective to discuss and disown the issues raised in the communiqué.
“Ironically, CSOs who were party and signatory to the statement were never invited to this politically-motivated meeting despite the fact that the agenda for the meeting was our statement. We view this conduct as not only childish but also a clear reflection that the recent calls by government for dialogue are nothing but mere political rhetoric aimed at portraying the false picture that government is sincerely interested in dialogue with the concerned CSOs and that CSOs are shunning dialogue while the actual truth is that government is playing double standards,” reads part of the statement signed by Timothy Mtambo, Gift Trapence, Moses Mkandawire, Charles Kajoloweka, Benedicto Kondowe, Kiko Mapunda and Billy Mayaya.
“As esteemed members of the Civil Society, we view this as hypocrisy of the highest order,” the statement adds.
The statement further faulted the manner in which government conducted its communication on their availability on what was dubbed high-level briefing dialogue meeting at Bingu International Conference Centre, saying it was an ambush and raised more suspicion.
“If this is not enough, the Mutharika’s regime through the same Special Presidential Advisor on NGOs Mavuto Bamusi in the evening of yesterday called [on phone] one of our members Timothy Mtambo inviting him to what he called a ‘feedback session’ where relevant Cabinet Ministers would provide direct and face to face responses to the issues raised by us in our most recent statement. According to Bamusi, the CSOs were to take this as a dialogue opportunity for constructive engagement. After being advised by Mtambo to put that in writing so that he can relay the information to colleagues, Bamusi sent an email in the same evening. In response to this late invitation, members of our team expressed concern that they wouldn’t make it to such an eleventh hour invitation, which even lacked a clear formal standard and agenda considering being an important meeting, due to other commitments.”
The CSO’s state that government would have done better on communication by informing the members in good time as well as following formal procedures of invitation to such a high level meeting, arguing that the Tuesday briefing was perceived as an ambush.
Further, the CSOs observe that contrary to the informal communication they got Bamusi the subsequent revelations of the event from the media sources as well as government official online page indicated that the event was far from being a contact and dialogue platform but rather a high-level briefing to inform the nation through media engagement on government’s responses to the issues raised in their statement.
“The statement on the official government online indicated that the media and the civil society organisations will be present. Nothing was mentioned as this being a dialogue platform. Besides, the statement further indicated that the government would respond to ‘all concerns raised by a section of CSOs on assumed leadership challenges’.”
The CSOs further faulted the use of the phrase “assumed leadership challenges” stating that this did not only signal lack of acknowledgement of the prevailing economic and political challenges by government but also raised doubts on the genuinely and sincerely of the dialogue process being preached by government.
The groups argue that the use of the phrase ‘assumed leadership challenges’ is not only insensitive to the plight of Malawians who are waiting for concrete answers from government but also a clear expression of lack of acknowledgement, ownership and admission of the prevailing current challenges facing the country as raised in the communiqué.
“Why should government portray the picture through its statement that the concerns they would be responding are merely CSOs concerns not those of Malawians? That’s being insensitive. The starting point to any dialogue process is the acknowledgement of the challenges, a thing which the current regime does not want to admit as clearly expressed through the usage of the phrase ‘assumed leadership challenges’. To us we view this as a clear sign that there is no commitment by the current regime to honest and genuine dialogue,” argued the CSOs.
The CSOs, nonetheless, pointed out that while they believe that constructive contact and dialogue with government is important, it must be done in good faith and mutual trust and in the best interest of Malawians and human rights for all rather than solely purposed on stifling the social accountability movement in the country.
“So if government is sincere, serious and sees the importance of engaging us in a contact and dialogue process, then let them organize such a separate event and inform us in good time for our preparation and availability. We remain committed to the process of contact and dialogue,” reads the statement.
On Monday, October 20, 2015, close to 40 CSOs met in Blantyre on Monday under the banner of “The Civil Society Platform for Constructive Dialogue” to discuss what the organisers said is the best way of engaging government at all levels.
The CSOs that attended the Blantyre meeting included Forum for National Development of Fryson Chodzi, Faustace Chirwa’s Women’s Lobby, and Umunthu Foundation of David Odali, Billy Banda’s Malawi Watch, and Centre for Youth Empowerment and Civic Education (CYECE) of Lucky Mbewe, Eye for Development of Edward Chileka Banda, Undule Mwakasungula and Robert Mkwezalamba.
CHRR, Cedep, Human Rights Defenders Forum, Civic and Political Space, MANERELA, and other organisations signatory to the communiqué were reportedly not invited to this forum.
According to a Daily Times newspaper article of 20th October 2015, ironically the meeting was funded by government through the office of the Presidential Advisor on NGOs and Civil Society Bamusi to unspecified tune.
“The meeting was funded by the office of Presidential Advisor on non-governmental organisations but we cannot say how much has been spent,” said Lucky Mbewe as quoted in the Daily Times.
Bamusi was non-committal on why his office funded the indaba.
“We just wanted the CSOs to come out as it is. Whatever has been said in that press conference take it as it is. But I am not providing any comment,” said Bamusi.
CHRR executive director Timothy Mtambo told the Daily Times: “I just heard it from reporters, that there was that meeting but we were not invited. This is not the first time that we are being sidelined on such issues because we were also sidelined when government was launching the NGO charter. This is government’s deliberate ploy to silence us and I must say this is sheer propaganda to further divide and silence the CSOs and this has to stop.”
Gift Trapence of Cedep said such events should not be limited to hand-clappers who in the long run have no interest of Malawians.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :