Monday, October 15, 2012

Blog Action Day: Citizenship, Technology and 'We'

This year, many bloggers around the world are participating in Blog Action Day. This year’s theme is entitled “The Power of We”. The theme aptly describes the mission and function of the Movement for Dual Citizenship for Malawi. Whilst some people underestimate the power of blogging, blogging presents new ways in which Malawians can engage with one another to bring about socio-political change. A large part of blogging about Dual Citizenship for Malawi includes engaging a multitude of stakeholders in the conversation in a participatory and informed way. It also encourages the use of citizenship participation that incorporates Malawian philosophies like togetherness or umunthu (I am because we are). This is why participating this year by blogging on this theme is well suited for the work of the movement towards Dual Citizenship.

Dual Citizenship is a sensitive topic that is easily marred by myths and rumors about “the other”. “The other” becomes ones family member, a neighbor, a clansperson, a member of one’s ethnic group, a member of an outside group and a former (or current) citizen. It is a topic where people’s fears about their fellow country man can quickly manifest in to fear or xenophobia. Many of the fears about Dual Citizenship stem from ideas about voting, lack of loyalty, integration, and the “watering down” of citizenship. Those that fear dual citizenship often worry about what allowing dual citizenship will do to their business, political carrier, or social status. These fears contradict the teachings of the spirit of umunthu.  Whether one believes these fears are real or imagined, they need to be taken seriously, debated, and addressed by politicians and the general public alike. Many people think that Dual Citizenship is largely a political topic but it is just as much a social and economic issue for developing countries like Malawi. It is important that Dual Citizenship is seen from all perspectives because it affects all Malawians and is just as much a civil issue. Dual citizenship affects Malawian’s right to travel, adopt, send sizable remittances, own or inherit land, access education and otherwise be identified as a Malawian. Dual Citizenship laws will apply to all Malawians whether they decide to move across the street or across the ocean. Dual Citizenship is not about ‘us’ and ‘them’ - it is about ‘We’.  It affects everyone’s sense of who belongs to Malawi. Having progressive Dual Citizenship laws that are inclusive of all Malawians is therefore an exercise in nation building and at the cornerstone of defining a national identity. 

One of the reasons that it is important to blog about Dual Citizenship as a part of the movement towards Dual Citizenship is because there is a need to bring issues about civic society to the center of public conversation. Dual Citizenship affects all Malawians and should not only be discussed in the halls of parliament. It needs to be discussed by everyday people. In some countries, the laws empower citizen's to participate by specifying that if an issue is to be addressed in parliament, it requires x amount of signatures. In countries like Malawi, this process is more bureaucratic. Citizens are typically not empowered to bring about changes though the use of petitions because it citizen petitions are not mandated by law. It has been the practice to find members of parliament to champion or support ones cause. This method means that more work is required to get the support of someone in government and like-minded fellow citizens. Introducing civic centered topics to the public conversation means that Malawians can better organize and mobilize on topics of common interest. Members of Parliament that may be unsure about the popularity of Dual Citizenship can then better gauge the public’s sentiment about the topic and may be more willing to discuss the issue. Blogging is therefore one way that Malawians can help to participate in the development of the legal frameworks that affect our social lives.

Blogging about civil topics for Malawians challenges the way that Malawian citizens currently engage with their government. It creates a space where freedom of speech can be exercised virtually. Malawians can communicate about what type of a country they would like to live in and what type of laws that they are prepared to live under and reach a wide audience. In a democracy such as Malawi, government is supposed to be empowered by its citizens and reflect laws that are the will of its people and that make sense for the general good of the state. Therefore, blogging about citizenship and other topics allows for the collective will of the public to be heard. It empowers that public to engage in discussion, and mobilize to help guide the laws of the land using new technologies. In an age where advances in technology allow us to collect, gather, or disseminate in a quick, easy and far-reaching way, use of technology is important for everyday people. Technology allows us to bring awareness about Dual Citizenship to a diverse cross section of the population.  When civil society is empowered with knowledge about the topic, it leads to more informed (and less sensational) debates about Dual Citizenship. It also leads to lasting solutions. Whilst one blog alone may or may not directly bring change, one blog is an integral part of the larger movement where several sites, stories or narratives are being told. One blog is also a vital tool because it helps in consciousness raising. The catalyst for action (a change in citizenship laws) occurs once there is a conscious collective voice.

The Movement for Dual Citizenship blog is an embodiment of this year’s Blog Action Day theme. The blog is a part of a larger network of groups in Malawi that encourage participatory democracy and works for the best interest of Malawi. It encourages consciousness, umunthu, and collective action and “the power of We”. It is in this spirit that this year’s theme resonates with the Movement for Dual Citizenship and with organizations like the Malawi Washington Association that work towards building a better Malawi for all Malawians - where ever in the world they may be.

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