Civil Society in developing places needs to trade cautiously. This point is important because it is at their own discretion that this caution can be applied. If government were to request it of them – well, to put it mildly, it would be undemocratic (whatever that means these days).
I am of the view that any organized or free-lancing civil society activist needs to take it upon themselves to learn the history of the society whose civil rights they claim to stand for, and to become – however far they are able to – properly versedin the material conditions of that society and whatsoever structures that might be in place to sustain them. The reason for this is simple: history affords us the vantage point from which we can see ourselves within the workings of broader systems of this not-so just world, while the material conditions (that is the material economy) enables us to see what fundamentally holds together the pleasant and not-so pleasant attributes of our social systems.
Within an appreciation of the complementary and sometimes conniving relationship between the two (that his history and economy) we can begin to delimit the extent to which certain forms of politics contribute to our apparent decay, and other forms of politics whichspeak directly to historic-economic processes that need fundamental change. In Malawi, though commentary is vast and growing daily, there is no clear sense as what it is that Malawian progress entails.
Those who listen and read carefully will see clearly that some voices especially our newspaper columns speak “modernization”, others speak watered-down “Marxism”, and yet others speak ambiguous “nationalism” while still more articulate utopian “[neo-] liberalism”. Very scarcely will you hear, in our vociferous filibustering (if I may borrow that parliamentary word) how nationalism, for instance, does not bode well with [neo-] liberalism, and how Marxism is essentially anti-nationalism, and how modernization is generally a form of social engineering that silences tradition – but only that tradition stands in the way of capital. This therefore means that we have become a society of loudmouths lacking a fundamentally consistent epistemic base upon which we look at and thereupon critique ourselves. We are, for all intents and purposes, a country of rumor mongers. And we all know that in the realm of rumors, everyone becomes a leading authority.
Now to focus starkly on the matter of civil society, I would like to begin by extending a word of caution: that within their important duties of representing various marginalized groups they do not become the accomplices of the drivers of history and economy who have by and large constructed Malawi and Malawians as they are today, and who have created systems that reproduce poverty in our struggling country. In particular, I will refer to Cashgate which was a crime against Malawian humanity and for which all the perpetrators should be severely punished.
And yet – I am deeply suspicious that the withholding of donor aid has much to do with cashgate. Cashgate, in my own opinion, is a pretext that legitimizes the actions of external actors to destabilize a government that they do not like. Evidence of this type of approach is severally apparent in various parts of the world, particularly in the post-colonies and of course in the troubled regions of our Arab brothers and sisters. This means that in their efforts as civil society to hold government to account, they must not become so naïve as to ally ourselves with forces that claim to be acting in our favor when they are in fact motivated by other ambitions.
This same error is what cost Zimbabwe there transition to democracy – when certain activists working against Mugabe’s regime naively thought that uniting themselves with external actors would garner them support. And of course this was problematic since SADC remained non-committal to tangibly add its weight to their valid concerns. This is largely because Mugabe still is a towering figure in the memory of present African governments for his contributions in the Mozambican post-independence conflicts as well as the South African anti-apartheid struggles. But this, nonetheless, is the soup within which any responsible African civil society should learn to swim.
This is our history, these are our realities, and so our response cannot be to turn to London, or Berlin or wherever else global “unjust” power rests to support us in our endeavors here. We must develop a form of activism that resonates with the African public, respects our traumatic colonial histories, speaks to present faultlines, and forges new paths into previously unknown forms of activism. Even presently, South Africa doing this exact thing: reorganizing its civil society formations as it becomes clear that the Tripartite Alliance involving COSATU has become redundant in the context of a newly emergent greedy and corrupt black political elite.
And so, in my thinking, Malawi was still going to be under these “sanctions” if any one of the following parties had come to power: the UDF, the DPP, and the MCP. The UDF,for their perceived links to the Islamic Northern Africa and the Middle-East, and the DPP and the MCP for their strong nationalistic, anti-[neo] colonial, government-led capitalism rhetoric. (In fact, Mutharika’sannouncement at his inauguration about finding new partners in Russia, Brazil and China was part of this type of rhetoric that the West – and not us – hates.)
Thus, unbelievably only the PP would have been seen as the moderates, and only they would have unlocked aid againin spite of their fingers being all over Cashgate.Keep in mind that we have oil now – and the usual actors in proxy wars around oil rich places of the globe have taken notice of our oil and of us. (Recall the American army officer who said – speaking indirectly to Tanzania – that the US was committed to respecting and preserving Malawi’s territorial integrity in relation to Tanzania’s claims over Lake Malawi. He had just had a meeting with then President Joyce Banda. That, for me, was a pathetic low point even by our calamitous and laughable standards. I did not celebrate that nonsense.)
Civil society thus needs to find a frontier within which the battles for rights are articulated within processes that strength our state and nationhood, and more importantly, that unapologetically blocks prying external actors out of Malawi’s affairs. The truth of the matter is that no country works to develop another country: everyone, especially those in the non-Western peripheries, are on their own (if we are not being systematically divided). Let’s grow up, and be smart. Let our fight for rights strengthen our national base, speak to our ethnic and regional proclivities, speak to our gender issues, and further consolidate legitimate authority within good and fair democratic values embedded within our OWN CONSTITUTION and OUR OWN struggle for progress. Failing which, we will be hi-jacked in the name of aid – making the majority all the poorer and the country more self-contradictory and ungovernable.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :