President Lazarus Chakwera has appointed influential female human rights activist Martha Kwataine as a presidential advisor on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) overcrowding State House with the inflation-busting league of advisors.
Kwataine appointment came to light when she spoke during a governance and human rights commentators dinner meeting on expanding the civic space to safeguard Malawi’s democracy organised by Citizen Alliance at Lilongwe Hotel on Friday night.
She was as executive director of Malawi Health Equity Network (Mehn) which she founded and had been one of the vocal voices during the Bingu wa Mutharika regime but kept a low profile during the Joyce Banda administration that offered her chairmanship at the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority.
Speaking during the dinner, Kwataine said President Chakwera is committed to engage civil society organisations (CSOs) that have constructive ideas on national building.
Said Kwataine: “The President is willing to promote indigenous organisations and he is ready to be challenged and engaged with constructive ideas.”
Kwataine assured CSOs in the country that the Tonse Alliance led government is serious on preserving human rights issues.
“I stand here to assure you that the Tonse Alliance government is committed to ensuring that there is a level playing field for local and international NGO’s operating in different spaces within Malawi,” she said.
She said there is need for, the government and NGOs to form a strong force against the country’s common enemies which include poverty, hunger, diseases and corruption.
“When civic space is open, citizens and civil society organisations can organise, participate and communicate without major barriers. In doing so, they can claim their rights and influence the political and social structures around them,” she said.
She added that the role of the state is to facilitate an environment where citizens’ rights are respected and most of the people freely exercising their will to associate, assemble peacefully and express views and opinions.
Speaking to Nyasa Times in an interview, governance commentator Makhumbo Munthali said it was reassuring to hear from presidential advisor on civic space , saying it will be a big milestone in Malawi’s democracy if President Chakwera remains firm on that.
“We are coming from a background where presidents promise good ridings in terms of civic space but do the oppositive, so we will be watching,” he said.
Munthali advises Kwataine to avoid following the bad examples of some of her predecessors who were mobilising government sponsored CSOs to attack critics of the regime who were advancing the people’s interests.
“We don’t expect her office to be a conduit of Tonse government propaganda to suppress the voice of the voiceless,” said Munthali.
Chairperson of the CSOs and a citizens grouping advocating for good governance and respect for human rights known as the National Advocacy platforms, Benedicto Kondowe, observed that the civic space in Malawi has been fast shrinking.
He said engagement by civil society is a ‘threshold issue’, making it more likely that all human rights are guaranteed. Thus, the linkages between civil society and human rights work both ways.
Kondowe then called for support from international civil society to build the capacity of local civil society to empower them to demand and promote and protect civic space in the country.
“The NGO Act needs to be reviewed and amended to reflect the spirit of constitutionalism and there is need for a robust, responsive and inclusive NGO Policy that will address the challenges faced by CSOs,” he said
On his part, Citizen Alliance executive director Edward Chileka Banda said the civic space should be beyond ordinary freedom of speech, with the results being realised from activism.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :