Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) believes that communities can better engage duty bearers and service providers if they have information on governance issues and the skills for advocacy and lobbying work. This project therefore follows the Mwananchi theory of change, which seeks to train communities better to understand governance issues and embrace activities such as community mobilisation, advocacy, human rights education and civic engagement.
Towards this purpose, YONECO launched the Tonse Boma government and citizens engagement project, a community-based initiative in Traditional Authorities (TAs) Mwahenga and Chikulamayembe in Rumphi District. The project focuses on implementation of the Youth Enterprise and Development Fund (YERDEF). Mwahenga and Chikulamayembe were selected as areas with the highest number of YERDEF applicants.
Tonse Boma seeks to empower communities to demand transparency and accountability from duty bearers in YERDEF's management. To achieve this, the project promotes contact, dialogue, and engagement between the communities as stakeholders and service providers. It targets youth beneficiaries of the fund, community-based educators, community-based organisations, young people who belong to youth clubs from selected TAs, the media, local and traditional leaders, the district assembly, the District Youth Office and the Malawi Rural Development Fund (MARDEF), which manages YERDEF.
With its emphasis on community ownership of the project, Tonse Boma empowers community members to take a lead in engaging government and ensuring participation of community members in processes for the effective disbursement of YERDEF in Rumphi District.
Before the project no forum existed in the district or at the community level where stakeholders could meet to discuss the management of the fund. Community interface meetings organised by the project have enabled community members to raise pertinent issues about the fund with the District Youth Officer and other relevant office-bearers.
In this way, the project is stimulating local knowledge about governance issues, even among those in charge of governing. In the past, neither the District Youth Office nor the communities had much information about YERDEF, which was managed at the regional office rather than at district level. Application forms for the fund were reportedly distributed by MPs to party supporters, creating confusion and anxiety among communities. There was no transparent process involving the district in decision-making over allocation of loans.
"The MP has his committee and they declare publicly that those who did not support him will not get anything." – Community representative
According to community representatives, party representatives declared that those who did not support the MP during the 2009 elections would not be able to access Youth Enterprise and Development Fund loans.
Lacking information about where to go and whom to contact, community members could not put pressing questions to duty-bearers. They said that their MP visited the community little more than twice a year, did not attend Area Development Committee meetings and ignored decentralisation structures, making it difficult for anyone lacking privileged access, even chiefs, to discuss issues with him.
"The MP delegates most of his functions to the Constituency Governor. He acts as the gatekeeper of the MP."
They saw the Constituency Governor, who handles constituency issues in the absence of the MP, as a strongman selected to serve party faithfuls.
But the citizen interface meetings introduced by the YONECO Tonse Boma project provide an opportunity for community members to challenge such processes.
The Tonse Boma project focuses on generating evidence to support community-generated advocacy work. One of the key activities for achieving this goal is the engagement of community structures in monitoring youth projects supported by the fund so as to better understand their concerns. It also encourages the community to monitor the process to better establish the gaps that need to be taken forward for discussion in Citizens Advocacy Forums.
Incorporated in the project is a baseline survey, against which progress can be measured. The study establishes the current status in the communities in terms of understanding the fund management process and establishing issues to be incorporated into the project.
Since the start of the project, project holders have successfully sparked interest at the District Executive Committee (DEC) on the need for district level stakeholders including the DEC itself to be involved in project implementation processes and have more information on the management of Youth Development Funds.
Community mobilisation activities have seen the selection of community-based educators who are the project's key interlocutors. Training of these educators will equip them to facilitate community discussions on YERDEF.
Citizens' advocacy interface meetings (held in each of the two TAs between community members), along with the District Youth Officer represent key mechanisms to facilitate community engagement with duty bearers.